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August 15, 2006

Immigration critic has thin skin; thin logic, too

Here is an article by Ruben Navarratte published on August 13, 2006, which I am reprinting as per his permission;

"SAN DIEGO — Although his name is attached to one of the most significant immigration bills in 20 years, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner acknowledges he doesn’t have all the answers.

Believe it. During a recent and at times testy meeting with The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, the Wisconsin Republican — who was in town to preside over yet another of those insufferable field hearings on immigration — was likable enough but not very impressive.

Instead, Sensenbrenner was naive when he said that, “If we enforce employer sanctions, a lot of (illegal immigrants) will lose their jobs and go home naturally.” That is — don’t laugh — they’ll self-deport.

He was disingenuous when — after the GOP spent months insisting that immigration is the main issue this election year — he argued that it is “just one of many issues” and Republicans may not suffer a backlash from voters if they can’t get anything done on immigration this year.

He was hypocritical when — after being grilled about why his bill doesn’t include a tamper-proof ID card and relies on Social Security numbers to verify employment eligibility — he bristled that we can’t “throw up our arms” and find fault in every approach. I pointed out that this was exactly what House Republicans are doing with the Senate bill.

He was awfully thin-skinned when he talked — repeatedly — about “the name-calling ... by a lot of the pro-immigrant advocates,” including officials of the Mexican government and protesters in Mexico City who, according to Sensenbrenner, have carried signs depicting him as a Nazi.

And he was evasive when I asked him about what he insisted was the major problem with the compromise plan offered by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. The plan rejects amnesty but provides guest workers for employers.

What concerns Sensenbrenner is that the plan “provides unlimited immigration from Mexico and Central America.” I asked him if that meant he’d like to see a return to the pre-1965 system when we had immigration quotas based on country of origin.

No, he insisted, he didn’t support quotas, but he and some of his GOP colleagues did have concerns about an “immigration system heavily weighted toward Mexicans and Central Americans rather than people from other parts of the world.” Then, he tried to change the subject.

I pressed him on whether rhetoric like that fed the perception that Republicans are flirting with nativism or racism. If you say the problem is that there are too many Mexicans, I asked, then why isn’t the conversation anti-Mexican?

He tried to change the subject again. “A lot of the conversation is anti-Mexican,” he said, “because the Mexican government is committing, at the very least, a sin of omission. It’s to their advantage for people to go north so they don’t have to educate them and provide ...”

“I’m not talking about the Mexican government,” I interrupted. “I’m talking about the tenor of the debate in this country ... and when you say that what worries you about the Pence plan is that we could have unlimited migration from Mexico, if you’re Mexican and you hear that, the response is: ‘Well then, this is an anti-Mexican discussion. ...”’

By now Sensenbrenner was agitated, but still not eager to answer the question. “Well, I can say that the Mexican government has been absolutely disingenuous in attacking me right from the very beginning. ...”

“If you don’t want to answer the question, that’s fine,” I said.

Then he went from agitated to angry. “Well,” he said, “the Mexican government, I’m sorry Ruben, has been responsible for that.”

He was talking about the ugliness of the debate. He’s not the bad guy, he insisted.

“I have tried my darnedest to keep the debate on the issue and not get involved in race-baiting by anybody,” he said. “I’m trying to get a responsible immigration bill passed that treats with fairness Hispanics who wish to immigrate into the United States. ...”

Yet Sensenbrenner thinks it’s fair to object to a proposed solution on the grounds that it would allow in too many Latinos, and then insists that he’s not appealing to bigotry.

You could have fooled me.

But interestingly, Sensenbrenner may not be all that wedded to his bill. He told us that the way out of the impasse between the House and Senate is “to start with a clean piece of paper and put together a clean bill that is neither the House bill nor the Senate bill ... and then make sure it passes.”

Fine. Then get to it".

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O. Box 120191, San Diego, CA 92112-0191. Send e-mail to ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com.

Posted by VisaLawyer at August 15, 2006 07:27 AM


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