Politics & Society

‘Shop Talk’: Debating The Immigration Debate

Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist:

Well the immigration issue is back in a big way. Some say it never left. But now it certainly has the attention of official Washington including the mainstream media, and lawmakers in Congress. Some say Democrats are in great shape with Latino voters because Republicans are boneheaded and keep toying with all this ugliness on immigration. True and true. But do you think Democrats are doing any better? And if not, why not? And since a lot of this is bubbling up from the states — where the Arizona law that is, according to the media reports I've seen, scaring immigrants into neighboring Utah and where you then have this ugly story about a list circulating in Utah of 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants and a hastily called summit to find a way to deal with illegal immigration in that state  — how should Washington respond to pressure from the states to deal with an issue that a lot of folks would like to avoid but obviously can't any longer?

Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney:

Well, Ruben, you ask some very important questions. The one thing that is quite clear from the recent immigration debate (both in Arizona and now in Utah) is that the federal government must do something in terms of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. In light of the terrible Arizona law and the prospect of other states' creating their own state immigration laws, it is essential that Congress pass comprehensive federal legislation unless they want to have 50 different legal challenges to 50 different state immigration laws in the future. This is based on the constitutional doctrine of 'preemption'. This means of course, that any federal law trumps any conflicting state law. So any comprehensive federal immigration legislation would trump a state law in Arizona or Utah (or any other state, for that matter). That should be motivation enough for Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform now.

Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist:

I hear that. And I agree with you. The Arizona law is terribly unfair.  You and I could be stopped for some minor infraction and asked for proof of citizenship because we have brown skin while white folks get a pass. That ain't right.  And it's probably also unconstitutional because of the Supremacy Clause and maybe even the 14th Amendment's assurance of Equal Protection of the law. But what we need to confront is the reasons that — even with Democrats in control of both houses and the White House — we still can't get comprehensive immigration reform. No matter what President Obama says, the fault here is not Republicans' alone. Democrats have dropped the ball. Why? Answer, they're terrified of being seen as wimps on border security and soft on illegal immigration. So they're paralyzed. It's a shameful abdication of leadership. Q: How do we give Democrats a backbone? It's like the Wizard of Oz. Maybe Republicans are like the Tin Man, needing a heart. But Democrats are like the Cowardly Lion, needing courage. What's up with that?

Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney:

Totally valid points, Ruben. I agree that the Democrats in Congress are in dire need of a legislative backbone. To be fair though, the Republican Party has done such a stellar job of being the obstructionist party and the 'Party of No', it seems that we cannot have any intellectually honest debate in Congress because of cheap politicking on both sides. The best example of this was the health care debate because instead of focusing on the merits, the political debate quickly devolved into ridiculous assertions of 'death panels' and absurd notions that Democrats somehow wanted to kill your grandmother. The best way to give the Democrats a backbone is to remind them that they are in the majority and remember that the Republicans (during the Bush administration) rammed crappy legislation (like USA PATRIOT) down the throats of Americans with a smaller congressional majority. The Democrats must not be afraid to politically fight for the little man (whether he is white, brown or black) and strike back at the fear-mongering coming from the Right.

Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist:

Well, here's my thing. If my choices are between the party that uses me — and other people of color — as piñatas, and the party that doesn't lift a finger to stop them, then that's no choice at all. Check please! The thing about the GOP fear mongering is interesting because it hurts our cause in another way you may not have thought about — by making Democrats lazy. They're like, "We don't have to do anything for minorities because the Republicans are so boneheaded on most issues. So we lose twice — both in terms of the insult by one party and the neglect by another. Democrats only care about reaching out to suburban white voters at this point, assuming they have us in their back pocket. Meanwhile, Republicans say they want to do minority outreach, but keep digging their own grave with the ugly pandering to nativism and racism. Let's keep both parties honest, and keep knocking heads around — on both sides. Previous generations fought for their freedom and our freedom, so let's act free! Word. (smile)

Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney:

Agreed, Ruben. It is important to keep both parties honest and the only way to do that is to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Just like the Republicans tried to stonewall health care legislation, the Democrats were finally able to pass the legislation and make the Republicans look like obstructionists…By successfully passing comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama can stick to his campaign promise and also solidify the minority votes in both the 2010 midterm elections and looking forward to the 2012 presidential re-election campaign. I agree. If the Democrats do not grow a legislative backbone and fight back politically, that will allow the Republicans to pander to nativist and racist elements and dictate the framework of the discussion. By passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Democrats can expose the current Republican party as the obstructionist ‘Party of No’ and also help millions of people in this country continue to be contributing members of society and strengthen the social fabric of America.

Ruben Navarrette and Arsalan Iftikhar are regular contributors to the Barbershop roundtable, which airs each Friday on Tell Me More.

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