While in the midst of the immigration debate, Americans will tolerate quite a bit.
They’ll put up with politicians who deceive their own constituents – Republicans telling conservatives that they’re tough on illegal immigration while softening up to please businesses, and Democrats telling liberals that they’re compassionate toward illegal immigrants while the Obama administration deports them in record numbers. They’ll put up with immigration advocates lobbing accusations of racism and xenophobia, and politicians who exhibit both. They’ll even put up with illegal immigrants and their allies brazenly marching through U.S. cities by the hundreds of thousands, waving the Mexican flag.
Yet most are not likely to tolerate illegal immigrants and their advocates demanding that Republican lawmakers pass immigration reform legislation under threat of being heckled and harassed in their home districts and the halls of Congress. These activists, including a coalition group called the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, say they will do everything they can to embarrass lawmakers as a way of punishing them for their inaction. In fact, this harassment appears to have already started; some lawmakers such as Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., are complaining that activists are protesting outside their homes and intimidating their families. That’s unacceptable.
Just when you thought the immigration debate couldn’t become any messier, it has. Imagine the chutzpah it takes for a group of activists – some of whom, we can assume, are themselves illegal immigrants and are in no position to demand anything – to threaten and harass duly elected members of Congress.
This will turn off even those of us who agree with the activists’ cause and who would like to see lawmakers give the undocumented a pathway to legal status – even if it doesn’t lead directly to citizenship. Where the activists went wrong is that they assumed that this process was about determining what was best for those who violate our laws. It isn’t. Rather, it is about determining what is best for this country.
Along with many other Americans, I happen to think that what is best for the United States is to rescue people from the legal purgatory of being stuck between two countries and yet a part of neither. But this is a decision that must be made by Americans. And I don’t mean by “undocumented Americans” or “unauthorized Americans” or the latest euphemism. I mean by permanent legal residents and U.S. citizens.
Some will say that I’m telling illegal immigrants to stay in “their place.” Fine. Let’s talk about their place. Illegal immigrants are by definition on the outskirts of society, and – as difficult as it may be – they should remain on the sidelines in this debate. That is, if they care at all about the outcome.
The immigration debate is extremely delicate. And it certainly doesn’t help the immigrants’ cause for them to make threats, issue demands and throw tantrums as they project a sense of entitlement. The same thing was true last year when the so-called “dreamers” – undocumented youth who were brought here by their parents – took over the offices of members of Congress.
By the way, the dreamers did one thing right. Unlike most of the soldiers in the immigration reform movement, who wear their allegiance to the Democratic Party on their sleeves, they didn’t play favorites. They occupied the offices of both Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democrats such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. And the response from both parties was the same: The protesters were arrested.
That’s another problem with the current round of threats. They’re only aimed at Republicans. That’s not fair, or helpful. Democrats bear just as much blame as their counterparts for the current mess. And not just because they’re trying to ignore President Obama’s nearly 2 million deportations.
Recently, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been double-dealing on the immigration issue from the beginning, enraged activists when he suggested that Congress could pass an immigration reform bill and not have it take effect until Obama leaves office in 2017.
This would mean that everyone suffering under the current system would have to continue to tread water for three more years. And this is coming from what we are told by the East Coast media is one of the good guys! That is very reassuring.
So why are activist groups such as FIRM only threatening Republicans? Why aren’t they vowing to embarrass Democrats? Oh yes. It’s because they needn’t bother. By clumsily trying to have it both ways on this issue, Democrats tend to embarrass themselves.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.