Immigration Rhetoric: 'Untied States of America' President Bush recently warned against the "harsh, ugly rhetoric" in the debate over immigration. Author Juan Enriquez says the brutal language being used in that debate threatens to tear the country apart.
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Immigration Rhetoric: 'Untied States of America'

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Immigration Rhetoric: 'Untied States of America'

Immigration Rhetoric: 'Untied States of America'

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President Bush sent a warning recently when discussing immigration.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Remember that language can send signals about who we are as a nation. That harsh, ugly rhetoric on the debate tends to divide our country.

INSKEEP: That concern is shared by the author Juan Enriquez, who is the latest voice in our week of conversations about immigration. He has many experiences, including work as a peace negotiator with Mexican rebels. He's been thinking about the forces that pull countries apart over time. Juan Enriquez is the author of a book called The Untied States of America. That's not united, but untied.

Mr. JUAN ENRIQUEZ (Author, The Untied States of America): Countries are actually very fragile entities. Three quarters of the flags, borders and anthems in the world did not exist 50 years ago. It's a lot easier to split a country than it is to keep it.

INSKEEP: But what about the immigration debate would tend to push Americans apart?

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: Well, for one thing, you're talking about a very large group of people that has a common language, that has a history. I mean, there is a reason why, if you look at a current map of where Hispanics are settling in the United States, the density of Hispanic population tends to be in the same places where the border was in the 1840s, in places...

INSKEEP: You're talking about states that used to be part of Mexico.

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: Well, which have names like Colorado, like Texas, which means roof tiles, with cities like San Antonio and San Francisco and Los Angeles and Albuquerque, and a whole series of different names and structures. It isn't a coincidence that people are migrating to these places. That doesn't mean that those who migrate to these places want to split the country. But you could end up with a situation like Quebec, where every license plate in Quebec reads, Je me souvien, I remember. I remember when you tried to eliminate my language, tried to keep me out of jobs, tried to keep me out of services. And Canada, which is one of the greatest of all countries, came within two percent of dividing itself in 1995 over debates and angry words that were uttered 50 and 100 years ago.

INSKEEP: It's strange that there's been all this discussion of the border between the United States and Mexico, and discussions of hundreds of miles of new fencing to define that border. And you have argued that that border may not be permanent anyway. And in a few decades, it could move.

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: Well, again, some of the symbols that we hold most dear, like flags, are myths that only exist as long as our grandchildren are willing to support them. And the day that our grandchildren say, you know, I'm not willing to die for that particular flag, that particular flag goes away. How we treat each other today, what we call each other today, not just brown/white, but religious/non-religious, northern/southern, is going to resonate for a long time. And those are things that can make countries become impermanent.

INSKEEP: Well, now, you're not suggesting that we shouldn't debate immigration, right? Because there are real problems here that need to be dealt with in some fashion.

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: Every country has a right to control its borders. It's how we carry out the debate, what words we use on all sides against the other side. But...

INSKEEP: And what are some things that are being said that you wish had not been said, or, at least, not said in that way?

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: Well, there have been a series of people on the Hispanic side arguing that there should rebirth of the Mexican Empire and everything else. And I think that really doesn't do anybody any good. On the other side, you've got folks like the Minutemen running around with guns, claiming that illegals are most often drug runners and kidnappers. And there's an awful lot of that stereotyping going on.

INSKEEP: Why would you think that this immigration debate is any more divisive or dangerous than immigration debates that we've had in this country for centuries?

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: I think this debate is taking place in a different context. If you look at elections, if you look at counties, if you look at income, if you look at some race indicators, it's a time when a lot of indicators are heading in the wrong direction. People are coming apart more than they're coming together. And the language that's being used is more brutal than the language that has been used for a long time. There had been periods in U.S. history where the language has been particularly divisive and nasty.

INSKEEP: I was going to say that in the past there have been people who've publicly used expressions about immigrants or other races that we wouldn't repeat on this program.

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: That's right. But once this debate becomes ingrained, then people get angry. That's the feeling that when people get it, inside Britain or inside France, or inside a myriad of other countries, it can become very corrosive and very divisive, and you can start having debates about autonomy. And sometimes it's very hard to stop that stuff.

INSKEEP: Juan Enriquez is the author of The Untied States of America.

Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. ENRIQUEZ: Oh, it was a great pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Juan Enriquez explains how the U.S. might split along immigration lines in an excerpt from his book at And our discussions on immigration continue tomorrow with the struggles of a Korean-American family.

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