The mask is slipping, allowing all to see the white-nationalist ugliness that always lurked beneath it.
Just a few years ago, the line was that anti-immigrant groups weren’t offended by immigration in general, but only by those who came here illegally. At that time -- not so long ago, really --being opposed to legal immigration and legal immigrants would still have been considered unAmerican, even racist, so opponents were careful to couch their position as concern for the law, about abiding by the law, about respect for the law. “What part of illegal don’t you understand?”, as the question went.
That pretense has largely been abandoned. With illegal immigration down dramatically from its peak of more than a decade ago, conservative attention has increasingly focused on legal immigration as a threat to their concept of America, and they are attacking it in all its forms.
You hear it from Trump, with his complaints about immigration from so-called “shithole countries” as opposed to those from nations such as Norway. You hear it in the rhetoric from the likes of Laura Ingraham on Fox, who told her listeners Wednesday night that “in some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn't exist anymore." She went on to blame that supposed change on “both illegal, and in some cases legal immigration that, of course, progressives love."
"Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like,” Ingraham ranted. “From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed."
Later, when Ingraham was heartily applauded for that white-nationalist paranoia by the likes of David Duke and other out-and-out racists, she tried to walk back it back, claiming that “my commentary had nothing to do with race or ethnicity.”
Sorry, that’s a lie. Duke knew exactly what he had heard, and so did everybody else.
You cannot complain on Wednesday about “massive demographic changes ... foisted upon the American people,” about the fundamental character of America being threatened by immigration both legal and illegal, and then claim on Thursday that your rant had nothing to do with race or ethnicity. The truth is that her commentary reeked of appeals to race and ethnicity.
You are also seeing that change reflected in policy:
- Donald Trump once claimed to support the Dreamers, those who were brought to this country illegally as young children, who had grown up here, gone to elementary and high school here and had known no country but this one, who were as American as any of us but lacked the paperwork to prove it. Now he and his party are fighting to strip the Dreamers of what meager legal protections they still enjoy so they can be targeted and deported.
- Until now, we have taken pride in our county as a haven for refugees fleeing repression and murder, even if in reality we accepted far fewer than other countries. Now, under the leadership of racist adviser Stephen Miller at the White House, the Trump administration is fighting to slash the number of refugees accepted annually from an already paltry 45,000 to 25,000 or even 15,000.
- Hundreds of thousands of refugees who have entered the country legally under temporary legal status, but who have made lives here over the past decades, are now being yanked from those lives and forcibly deported, losing businesses and family in the process.
- Under another Miller proposal, millions of legal immigrants who have been in the country for years would be permanently barred from seeking U.S. citizenship if they had accepted food stamps, health insurance for their children through the CHIP program or had purchased health insurance for themselves through Obamacare.
- U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Republican from Georgia, is pushing legislation that would cut legal immigration levels by half, and his proposal has been endorsed by Trump.
- Trump also wants to strip refugees of their legal right to claim asylum in this country. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” he wrote in a tweet. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”
Ingraham, Trump and others are correct, in a sense. This country is indeed changing, in ways that I never would have thought possible. Our heritage as a nation of immigrants, our traditions as a safe harbor for those in need, our concept of ourselves as a nation built upon ideals and principles rather than any particular ethnic or racial identity, are being tossed aside in a spasm of racial paranoia, fanned by those who seek wealth and power and a skewed popularity. Someday, I hope, we will look back at this era in shame that we allowed it to happen and in relief that we, as a people, finally rose up against it and reclaimed our better nature. But that outcome is far from guaranteed.