Posted on Thu, Apr. 13, 2006


Hispanics should say 'gracias' to anti-Latin zealots


On behalf of the 40 million Hispanics in the United States, I extend my gratitude to the three people who have done the most to energize the ''Latino power'' in the United States: immigrant-phobic Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.; CNN's Lou Dobbs, and Harvard Professor Sam Huntington.

Without the ''three amigos'' of the anti-immigration cause, we would have never seen the unprecedented crowds of Hispanic protesters that filled the streets of more than 100 U.S. cities in recent days.

More than 500,000 protesters -- most of them Hispanics -- marched in Los Angeles two weeks ago, while another 500,000 demonstrated in Dallas on Sunday, and hundreds of thousands in other U.S. cities on Monday. They were protesting the draconian Sensenbrenner-sponsored bill approved by the House of Representatives in December, which among other things calls for criminalizing undocumented migrants and building a 700-mile wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.

A compromise bill that would provide a means for many undocumented immigrants to become citizens is to be taken up by the Senate after a two-week recess that ends April 24. And on Tuesday House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said final legislation won't include the felony provision.

The size of this week's demonstrations stunned everybody. It was as if a huge part of the U.S. population that until now had only existed as an abstract statistic had suddenly emerged from the shadows, to become an active part of American politics.


''The size and magnitude of these marches have been really surprising,'' Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, co-sponsor of the Senate compromise, told me Wednesday in a telephone interview. ``I think they have had a profound impact on the way people understand this issue in Congress.''

Many of the marchers were not undocumented immigrants, but legal residents and U.S. citizens who are angry at the Sensenbrenner bill, and at the wave of Latin bashing that has filled the air waves over the past two years.

It's hard to blame them for their anger. How would you feel if you were a U.S. citizen with a live-in undocumented nanny, or a foreign fiancÚ, and you could be charged under the Sensenbrenner bill's expanded definition of ``alien smuggling''?

And how would you feel if you were an undocumented Mexican gardener returning home after a 12-hour workday, turned on the TV set, put your feet on the coffee table and came across CNN's Dobbs warning America that you are a potential health risk, in addition to being a potential terrorist, a possible secessionist agent, who on top of everything is taking away American jobs?

On March 30, an alarmed Dobbs informed his audience that ''diseases are making an unfortunate comeback in the United States'' because of illegal immigration. On March 31, Dobbs alerted America that some Mexicans ''want to see California, New Mexico and other parts of the southwestern United States given over to Mexico,'' and that they are using illegal immigrants ``as an army of invaders to achieve the takeover.''

On April 10, Dobbs complained that poor and middle-class American taxpayers ''are paying the price'' of illegal immigration. And, periodically, Dobbs warns that terrorists may sneak through the Mexican border.

(Never mind that not a single one of the 9/11 terrorists came through the Mexican border, or that there are secessionist nuts in all countries or that the 4.7 percent U.S. unemployment rate is among the lowest in recent times, or that millions of undocumented aliens pay taxes but are not eligible for many benefits.)

And how would you feel if you were a Hispanic professional reading Huntington's latest book, Who We Are, and learned that America's ''national identity'' is threatened by Hispanic culture?


My conclusion: Thank you, James, Lou and Sam. With your help, what until now was a disorganized ethnic group has started to become a formidable political force in Washington, D.C. Don't abandon us. Keep it up!

Post Script: For the record, I'm not questioning the fact that there is a U.S. immigration crisis. But, as I explained in a Feb. 2 column, the only way to slow down the flow of migrants will be to start narrowing the income gap between the United States and Latin America, among other things through U.S. aid linked to growth-oriented economic policies in the region.