With the issue of comprehensive immigration reform once again stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives, the nation's deep divide on immigration remains vivid. In this edition of FM89's commentary series The Moral Is, Fresno State Communication Professor Diane Blair argues that it is our own paradoxical and spiteful rhetoric about immigrants and immigration that is paralyzing politicians and the nation when it comes to reasonable reform.
The response to a recent Coca-Cola television ad provides insight into our inability to enact common sense immigration reform. The commercial features the song, “America the Beautiful” sung in many languages, including English, Spanish, and Arabic. The song played over scenes of Americans young and old, gay and straight, of various races and ethnicities dancing, surfing and traveling the open road. They wore cowboy hats, yarmulkes, and hijabs. Immediately people took to Facebook and Twitter with comments like: “Speak English or go home!” and “Coke likes to sing an American song in the terrorist’s language.” Of course not all the comments were negative and many expressed support for the ad. One person tweeted, “Ashamed that people are upset by the Coca-Cola commercial... I think it was a good portrait of our diversity.”
Still, the visceral response to the commercial illustrates that as a nation we are in a state of contradiction when it comes to immigration. We like to celebrate our immigrant history with a view of ourselves as a “melting pot.” We romanticize the Statue of Liberty as a beacon of hope and freedom. At the same time, we engage in some of the worst kinds of immigrant bashing and vitriol. We demonize and scapegoat each new wave of immigrants that has come to our shores. It is exactly what we did to the new Americans who came from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. The number of foreign-born in the United States as a percentage of our population is no higher than it has been in our past, but according to Raul Yzaguirre, of the Council of Foreign Relations, “economic insecurity fuels our fears and brings out our meanest instincts.”
It is no wonder our political leaders cannot make progress on this issue. Politicians only talk about immigration reform in terms of their own political interests. They are preoccupied with how many votes will be gained or lost if they support or block any proposed reforms. They play a numbers game, and for many of them, obstructing and postponing any such effort is the only politically astute solution in a nation that reflects such a split personality.
Undocumented immigration is a legitimate concern for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the economic exploitation of these fellow human beings. Polls suggest broad public support for expanded visa programs, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented children, and some form of legal residency for undocumented immigrants currently living within our borders. The polls also indicate a desire for increased border security, background checks, and the requirement to learn English. Surely there is enough with which to compromise in these ideas to work out some kind of bi-partisan, reasonable, and compassionate reform. There is a debate to be had but first we need to move beyond the caustic rhetoric.
The views expressed on The Moral Is are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Valley Public Radio.