Schrag Sees Racism In Tea Parties

Laura Sucheski: I attended the California Latino Legislative Caucus’s speaker series in the Capitol this afternoon for a talk by famed Californian political columnist Peter Schrag on his new book Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America. The book, according to Schrag, traces the shifts of anti-immigration racism towards each era’s respective “lowest of the low” since the founding of our nation.

The book aims to convince its reader that the arguments made to support Arizona’s infamous SB1070 and California’s Proposition 187 are unoriginal.  They’re just new manifestations of the same prejudices, linked to others on the wrong side of history: those against Irish, Germans, Catholics, Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans and Asians.

“Tea partiers are troubled by the world around them,” he said.  He also believes there is a difference in opinion by generation: younger people grew up with diversity and are less troubled by a plurality of ethnic groups.

But Schrag ignored a conclusion that he alludes to when he claims that Americans’ general ambivalence towards immigrants shifts to opposition during times of economic strain.  To imply that cash-strapped border states only have cultural superiority in mind enacting SB1070 and Prop. 187 doesn’t get at the whole story, when illegal immigration has a significant financial impact on states’ budgets and the federal government refuses to take leadership on the issue.  There are certainly disturbing elements of racism present, but there are also important issues that can’t be written off without debate.

When asked about his predictions for the future of illegal immigration reform, Schrag said he personally hoped to see more vigorous enforcement of labor laws, both promoting worker welfare and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.  He thinks it would help to invest in the Mexican government, to improve their economy and reduce incentives to immigrate northward.  In an opposite vein, he hopes to see a passage of a federal DREAM act that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for federal aid for higher education.

Schrag said we need to shift our thinking of America as a nation of immigrants to America as a nation built and defined by the blind faith of so many immigrants who came here to work hard and change their fortunes.

Senator Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, commended Schrag for his commitment to truth and careful research with a Senate Resolution.   “Legal versus illegal immigration is a fiction,” he said, “As is most of immigration law.”

Whether Schrag would go so far as to say that immigration law is or should be “fictional,” remains to be read.

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