“Racism,” my neighbor scolded me, “is not the reason for our immigration problems.”

It was barely 7:00 a.m.

I was peacefully returning from my early morning exercise.  Since I had not yet even drank a cup of coffee, I wasn’t quite ready for a long dialogue.

My neighbor, however, was fired up.  She had read my comments the day before in the Southwest Riverside News Network online paper.

Being my neighbor, she felt entitled to an explanation.

And I felt it important to explain my position, since her misunderstanding likely reflected that of others living in nearby communities.

Not wanting to add any fuel to the immigration wildfires, I put a intellectual lid on various elements of our country’s past, like Manifest Destiny – even though my neighbor’s overly broad statement called such responses to mind.

Instead, limiting my reply to the present, I clarified my view.

I had not asserted racism was the reason for our broken immigration system.  But I clearly stated racism is a major reason why we can’t start the task of fixing it.

Racism Enters The Hemet And Southwest Riverside Immigration Debate

A few weeks ago, the Hemet City Council publicly endorsed Arizona SB 1070.  They have since been joined by Temecula and Lake Elsinore, other cities located in Southwest Riverside, in supporting anti-immigration measures.

Being an Riverside immigration lawyer, with offices in Central Riverside and Hemet, I felt compelled to write an article outlining why the Hemet City Council had made a poor decision for its residents.  I openly welcomed rational discussion on my opinions anytime.  I challenged the mayor to a public debate.

Shortly afterwards, my position was addressed by a local reporter.

She wrote the Hemet City Council votes were right.  She did not provide any local reasons for her position; she emphasized stereotypical criticisms of undocumented immigrants.  More off the mark, she implied the disagreement of SB 1070 opponents was limited to playing the race card.

Her position had two major shortcomings.

First, she had ignored the main issue whether the Hemet City Council had made the right decision for the City of Hemet.

Second, besides taking the discussion off course, her view on the race card was too narrow.

I decided to join her in talking about the issues of name-calling and stereotypes – and addressing, in more depth, how racism too frequently overshadows real immigration policy debate.

The Race Card Is A Double-Edged Sword

Actually, I agreed with the SWRNN reporter’s position that SB 1070 opponents should not play the race card.

But I did not think she took her position far enough.

Both sides need to stop the arbitrary name-calling.

The reporter noted being personally offended when she hears that SB 1070 supporters, like her, are labeled Nazis by some left extremists.  I hope her experience has been limited to indirect third party accounts.

Otherwise, she would appreciate my predicament.

Every time  I have publicly stated my views, views which are not racist, I’ve received a flood of racially insulting, degrading calls, emails, and messages.  Most of these communications do not discuss policy differences; rather, they prefer to directly insult me, my wife, my kids, my cousins, my in-laws, my buddies, and even my Facebook friends.

For such naysayers, the quality of my character is solely determined by my ethnicity and my immigration positions.  Both of which I doubt they fully understand.

This type of chatter is not limited to my phones or email address.

Nearly everywhere I look, I find similar vulgar remarks being made about SB 1070 opponents, especially Hispanics.  From blog posts to newspaper columns, from online forums to radio talk shows, derogatory rhetoric and imagery portrays Latinos as the scum of the Earth.

Are these folks playing the race card?

The Role Of The Media In Sparking Fears of Immigrants

What seems like a sudden explosion in hysteria towards immigrants had been growing, almost unnoticed, for several years.

In fact, as the Anti-Defamation League’s video, seen below, shows,  the recent hate-based behaviors which I have experienced at my Hemet immigration attorney office were being fueled in part by years of exaggerated journalism and careless news reporting.

Honesty About Race Versus Playing The Race Card

With so much negative imagery, it’s not hard to fall for some of the rhetoric.

Thus, it’s important to be clear what we mean when we talk about playing the race card.

There is, after all, a difference between playing the race card and having a fruitful dialogue on how racist tendencies hinder reasonable debate about immigration.

Consider:

  • Are those persons who anonymously call my office and leave choice remarks playing the race card?
  • Am I playing the race card when I bring up the ugliness, rudeness, and mean-spirited comments of such callers and online communities?
  • Am I playing the race card when I explain the fears of certain ethnic communities, with a history of strained relationships with law enforcement, about a law which proponents assert is facially neutral?
  • Are SB 1070 supporters playing the race card when they explain how the Nazi label offends them?
  • Are SB 1070 opponents playing the race card when they point out documented white supremacist ties of Russell Pearce and Kris Korbach, SB 1070’s chief architects?

In my view, it is not playing the race card to discuss the role of race as a driving force behind the Arizona law or as an element of social divisiveness.  To assert the contrary is to ignore the genuine pain which is part and parcel of our country’s effort to form a more perfect union.

We can – and we must – be aware of the role of race, and the influence of racists, without arbitrarily calling each other racists if we are to shape immigration solutions.

This is far more difficult than one might think.

The Spirit Of Independence Day

The Fourth of July was a perfect opportunity for my family and friends – black and white, red and brown, yellow and beige, and all colors in between – to celebrate our founding fathers’ wisdom:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

My community of diverse fellowship helps to provide me with the strength to confront racists agitating in the house of immigration debate.

We must minimize, if not eliminate, their undue influence on this debate.  Then we can move forward.

If we allow them to linger around, influencing minds – the animosity between the two sides of immigration reform will continue to grow.

We cannot underestimate their role in the current debate.  Their influence is far greater than their numbers.  Their ability to devise arguments to drive a wedge between those on both sides of the immigration issue who are open to reason is uncanny.

Their goal is simple.  Disrupt and destroy.

In theory, despite the hate-filled vibes, most of us can still agree to disagree and work forward.

In reality, we cannot afford to let racist messages flourish unchallenged, without risking the internal erosion of our nation.

And we certainly can’t fix a broken immigration system if we let them keep us from talking to each other in a civilized, rational, and honest way.

Overcoming Different Perspectives

About an hour later, as the summer temperature started to move into the 80’s, I finally went inside, showered, and had breakfast.

My neighbor and I had not reached an agreement on all aspects of immigration reform.

But we developed a consensus.

Racism has no place in the immigration reform debate.

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