By Cecilia Muñoz
NEW AMERICA MEDIA
WASHINGTON, DC After a quarter century as an immigrant rights and civil rights advocate, I shouldn’t be surprised when the debate over our nation’s immigration policy gets ugly. It’s a regular feature of a difficult and often emotional issue.
Immigration is at the heart of who we are as a nation, and those of us who fear demographic change and newcomers, and who worry about what these “strangers” mean to our nation’s future, have been a force in the immigration controversy for as long as the United States has been in existence.
But it still shocks me when the discourse take the form of unabashed bigotry and hatred, and I’m especially dismayed that so much of this ugliness is relayed on our airwaves, framed as legitimate debate.
Look at Pat Buchanan’s most recent book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, for example. It’s nothing new; he wrote a book just like it ten years ago, as he was preparing his failed run for the presidency. His relentless focus on race and ethnicity makes the book less a treatise on immigration than a disturbing call to arms to white Americans in what he believes is an ongoing culture war with everyone else in this country.
Buchanan starts with immigrants, but it quickly becomes clear that his argument is a white nationalist one, a pessimistic view of an America unable to cope with diversity. The country he describes is one I don’t recognize. It bears no resemblance to the rich, diverse and vibrant community that we are, a people capable of sharing values despite differences in skin color and heritage.
Buchanan is, of course, entitled to his view, even if it is inaccurate and wildly offensive. People have the right to buy his book and even agree with it. What I want to know is, why are so many television and radio programs offering time to this radical man and his outrageous views?
Since the beginning of September, Buchanan has been a guest on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show, and dozens of radio programs. Amazingly, he has appeared on these shows mostly unopposed, with adoring hosts who barely challenge his extreme views. Unfortunately, anyone who follows the immigration issue on the airwaves knows that this welcome is not unique.
The Nation recently reported that Lou Dobbs, whose program on CNN regularly covers immigration, has featured guests with ties to white nationalist organizations and hate groups without ever telling his viewers of these connections. He has them on as “immigration experts.” What’s next? David Duke, formerly of the KKK, as a legitimate commentator on race relations?
There’s room for difficult, even contentious, debate over immigration policy; it is a vital exchange we must engage in vigorously. But we cannot get to solutions by allowing the discourse to be muddied by hate mongers and worse. Racism and xenophobia not only undermine our ability to make change, but they also undermine our nation’s egalitarian values.
Americans of immigrant backgrounds meaning, millions of Latinos and Asian Americans, among others are reporting more incidents of discrimination, harassment and even hate crimes as a result of the poisonous atmosphere generated by the likes of Buchanan. We cannot allow extremist views to be presented as if they were the mainstream. America is capable of, and deserves, so much better.
Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy of the National Council of La Raza