Ruben Navarrette Jr. / Syndicated columnist
Don't assume U.S. Hispanics are soft on immigration
I glean from my e-mail that some people are convinced that — since most immigrants to the United States today come from Latin America...
SAN DIEGO — I glean from my e-mail that some people are convinced that — since most immigrants to the United States today come from Latin America — U.S.-born Hispanics are somehow ancestrally predisposed to be soft on immigration restrictions.
The assumption is that most Hispanic Americans support a more porous border, weaker immigration laws, expanded benefits and privileges for illegal immigrants, and as much legal immigration as possible.
Mexican Americans, in particular, are assumed to have just one priority in this debate: to sneak in as many of their relatives as they can.
That goes double for Mexican-American columnists. Many readers are furious at me for supporting an open border, amnesty and the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The trouble is, I don't support any of those things — and I've written as much many times before.
Still, whenever I write about immigration, I get e-mails that read: "If you could separate your heritage ... you could help all of us do what is necessary."
Or as one put it, sweet as you please: "I think most folks will understand that you are for the Mexican invasion because you are Mexican."
What is mind-boggling is that some of these same people will then turn around and tell you with a straight face that they're not prejudiced and then go even further and insist that there's not a trace of prejudice or other forms of bigotry in the anti-illegal immigration movement.
Here's a news flash: When someone assumes that a whole group of people is, solely because of ethnicity, likely to believe a certain way, that's prejudice.
It is also preposterous. According to every poll taking the pulse of Hispanics in the past decade, this population takes seriously the issue of illegal immigration. That includes Mexican Americans, the one subgroup that you might think — because of their ancestors' experience — would be most sympathetic to immigrants, even illegal ones.
One of the latest polls appeared in last week's issue of Time magazine, in which 61 percent of Hispanics rated illegal immigration a "serious problem."
Then there was the recent survey put out by the Pew Hispanic Center, which measured the views of both native-born Hispanics and immigrants. It found that a majority of U.S.-born Hispanics (60 percent) support laws that deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
It also found substantial support for the view that the number of legal immigrants admitted to the United States should stay the same (44 percent) or be reduced (16 percent); only 28 percent said the number should be increased. Most native-born Hispanics also said that illegal immigrants help the economy by providing cheap labor (55 percent), but the percentage of those who felt illegal immigrants hurt the economy (34 percent) was not far behind. In every respect, the study says, "native-born Latinos are less enthusiastic about immigration than the foreign born."
So why isn't that message getting through? For one thing, those left-leaning Hispanic advocacy groups only confuse things when they try to speak about an issue on which they don't speak for the majority of Hispanics. Then there's the fact that a lot of Hispanics aren't anxious to identify with the anti-illegal immigration crowd. And it's easy to see why. Some of their proposed cures — like stationing the National Guard on the border or scrapping the 14th Amendment so as to deny U.S. citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants — are worse than the disease.
But for those familiar with U.S.-born Hispanics, the results of polls and surveys will come as no surprise. This is a community that doesn't take lightly matters of law and order or condone the fact that there are those who break the rules while others follow them. And it is full of people who have been known to, on occasion, resent those who — once they get here — defiantly, or lazily, refuse to assimilate by learning English and blending into the mainstream the way their parents and grandparents did.
Sound familiar? Like the Irish, Italians, Germans and others who came before them, there are plenty of Hispanics who played by the rules to get here and couldn't wait to become part of society once they arrived. And they're not eager to put up with less from anyone else.
Nor should they have to put up with ignorant accusations from those who criticize what they don't understand.
Ruben Navarrette's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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