Bludgeons of Bigotry

By Bill Nigut ADL, Marietta Daily Journal, October 31, 2007

http://www.mdjonline.com/content/index/showcontentitem/area/1/section/17/item/97577.html

There's no question that the issue of undocumented workers in this country needs to be debated openly.

Legitimate voices representing various perspectives on this thorny problem should be heard, whether they favor returning all those who entered this country illegally, support proposals that will integrate workers into mainstream American life or propose other approaches.

The Anti-Defamation League believes that our current immigration system must be reformed in a comprehensive manner that will serve America's security and advance our humanitarian and economic interests. We also believe that the tenor of our national debate on immigration will test America's character. Will we allow prejudice and bigotry to infect this essential dialogue? Or will we address the complex problem as women and men of good will?

When MDJ columnist D.A. King writes in the pages of this newspaper, he speaks with a reasoned voice to a mass audience. But this hasn't always been the case. His past speeches and writings use racial stereotyping and fear as weapons in his war against the undocumented.

Three years ago, writing for MICHNews.com, King said this: "We have become sadly acquainted with the absolute and brazen disregard for the law that comes from the Third World horde that is allowed to swarm over our border with Mexico when the mostly Mexican mob illegally 'migrates' into our nation, it brings with it the culture of lawlessness and chaos that is responsible for the very conditions that they flee in the rapidly deteriorating example of democracy without the rule of law that is Mexico." (Emphasis mine.)

In fact, there are presumed to be as many as 12 to 20 million undocumented workers now living in the United States, and crime statistics make it clear that the vast majority are living here peacefully. If King wishes to argue that their presence is a threat to full-employment for American citizens, fine. But instead he raises a specter of fear by characterizing Mexicans in offensive and pejorative terms.

In a speech to a handful of Georgia Republicans in Covington earlier this year, King cleverly intertwined our legitimate fears of the threat from Islamic terrorists with a rant against undocumented Mexicans. At one point, according to a report in the Rockdale Citizen newspaper, he displayed a mock-up of a Mexican photo ID card, filled in with the name supplied by King: "Al Qaida Gonzalez."

When he told the gathering that "They're not here to mow your lawn - they're here to blow up your buildings and kill your children, and you and me," King says he was speaking of the Islamic threat. But since Muslim yard services tend to be few and far between, his intentional mixing of images seems clear: He is out to create fear about all illegal immigrants, be they Islamic terrorists or Mexican gardeners. And once a climate of fear about undocumented immigrants becomes widespread, how quickly do we as a people begin looking at all Hispanics living here with a jaundiced eye?

To his credit, King has now distanced himself from inflammatory remarks about illegal immigrants and others that he once posted on a Website called VDare. ADL hopes King has decided to remain in the mainstream of political debate on immigration.

The ADL perspective on this issue is informed by our keen awareness of how Jews have been marginalized and demonized over the centuries. It is entirely appropriate that we speak out when we see tactics of dehumanization used against other groups of people who have no voice of their own. And so it was disturbing to see a columnist for this newspaper scornfully dismiss our deep concern for civil discourse and our call for an end to the bigoted characterizations of Mexicans that have crept into a crucial debate.

If this nation of immigrants tries to solve its current immigrant crisis using the bludgeons of bigotry and fear, then we will truly have forgotten our roots and abandoned the principles Americans uphold with such justifiable pride.

Bill Nigut is Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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