Monday, May 03, 2010

On Illegal Immigration, Not Much Difference

WARNING: Rush Limbaugh and the left agree about illegal immigration.

Not everything about illegal immigration, of course. And not for the same reason- the left sympathizes with the newcomers while for Rush the motivation is otherwise. Still, the similarity is striking.

This is the first portion of a conversation about immigration Limbaugh had on Monday with a caller:

CALLER: Yes, sorry for my not perfect English. I'm a Polish native. Mr. Limbaugh, I might have missed one of your programs, (unintelligible) since like maybe seven years ago. I may miss your program. I never hear from you about what (unintelligible) about government should do, if anything, in order to solve the illegal immigration issue, you know, long-term (unintelligible) speaking, do you have any position on it? And if you allow later I can also (unintelligible) couple comments.

RUSH: Uhhh, well, yeah, I think I have offered not a solution per se. We already have laws on the books about immigration. All we'd have to do, Paul, is enforce them. We have a bunch of different categorizations of visas. The legal immigration in this country is a long process. It requires answering questions, taking tests, ascertaining whether or not the new arrivals want to assimilate and actually become part of our culture. We are ignoring the law when it comes to immigration on our southern border, and all we'd have to do is just enforce that law like we enforce it everywhere else against the Europeans, against the Asians, I mean everybody else in the world. It doesn't require anything new here. It just requires our own federal government obeying its own laws. It's not complicated.

Following two more comments from his caller, Rush explained

Now, I know the point of your question, because I'm host, and I am well aware of many people trying to trick the host. It's a game that callers make. And what you're trying to get me to do is say something deathly unkind about the so-called 30 million illegals here. What you're hoping I will say is, "Round 'em up and kick 'em out, and if they won't go, throw 'em out," that's what you want me to say. And I'm not going to say that. I have never said, whatever number are here illegally, "Round 'em up and deport 'em." It isn't realistic.

When the conversation turns to illegal immigration, those generally labeled as "liberal" say first "well, you can't round up the 12 million undocumented workers." Limbaugh, for his part, says "I have never said, whatever number are here illegally, 'Round 'em up and deport em.' It isn't realistic." (Rush instead referred to "30 million"- but that primarily emphasizes in his mind that deportation is unrealistic.)

Limbaugh does want "laws on the books" enforced- but I have never heard liberals/progressives claim they do not want the laws enforced or even that doing so is unrealistic. Instead, they decry the idea of "rounding them up"- just as Rush does.

And the Limbaugh solution? Don't look now, but it's "answering questions, taking tests, ascertaining whether or not the new arrivals want to assimilate and actually become part of our culture." When Maverick John McCain was working with the late Senator Ted Kennedy on comprehensive immigration reform The New York Times portrayed the vaunted 'path to legalization' as one which

would let illegal immigrants get right with the law and become Americans, too, if they have clean records, learn English and pay back taxes and fines.

Ron Brownstein recently described that bill as one which which

would have toughened enforcement of immigration laws, devoting additional resources to guarding the border and policing employers who hire undocumented workers. It established a guest-worker program to regulate the flow of immigrant labor. (Under an Obama amendment, that guest-worker program would be suspended whenever unemployment reached 9 percent.) And it provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who pass a background check, pay a fine, and learn English.

A bill introduced by Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) in December, 2009

would create a program providing conditional non-immigrant status for undocumented immigrants (and their spouses and children) in the U.S., which is valid for six years. An undocumented immigrant must establish his/her presence on or before December 15, 2009, pass a criminal background check, learn English and U.S. civics and pay a $500 fine (plus necessary application fees) in order to obtain a six-year visa.

A proposal recently unveiled by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and other Senate Democrats would include a biometric national identification card and require illegal immigrants "to register with the government, pay back taxes, learn English and go to the back of the line for citizenship." And Schumer asserts "Our framework is fix the border first...."

Judging by what Limbaugh said today, how does his vision differ from that of the (mostly Democratic and liberal/progressive) supporters of comprehensive immigration reform? Certainly not in affirming the importance of fixing the borders. And Rush acknowledges "the legal immigration in this country is a long process," just as the current effort envisions those here illegally to "go to the back of the line." Moreover, "pay back taxes" and "learn English" (and especially the Gutierrez notion of learning civics) sound a lot like "ascertaining whether or not the new arrivals want to assimilate and actually become part of our culture."

Oh, okay, the language is different. While liberals/progressives favor "undocumented workers," Limbaugh prefers "illegals." No doubt that is the preferred nomenclature of the latter's audience, most of which has little sympathy for these individuals and wants them out of its midst, for whatever reason(s). And Rush continually defends the law in Arizona (or at least unfailingly attacks its opponents) but that is no contradiction, given that the legislation (contrary to media myth) targets immigrants, rather than illegal immigrants.

Most of all, Rush, like the left he enjoys flogging, opposes "rounding up" these folks.

Of course he does. But virtually no one in the political mainstream or in public life advocates "rounding up" illegal immigrants. Instead, these individuals are (periodically) arrested in workplace raids- something Limbaugh, by his avoidance of the subject amidst highly conservative listeners, appears to abhor.

Note how Rush defensively decried "trying to trick the host." Here he is, always complaining about these foreigners and intruders and now he is being cornered into a position which appears sympathetic to them. His listeners might, if they are alert, recognize the apparent contradiction. But Rush remains true to himself, standing in opposition to 'rounding them up.' As well he should; after all, we wouldn't want to inconvenience major employers by standing between them and the practice of hiring vulnerable immigrants who become poorly paid, poorly treated, vulnerable employees.

Rush Limbaugh stands accused of being a pro-war bigot. And accurately so. But that is not what he is about. Nothing in his worldview ever would conflict with his advocacy of policies designed to lower the wages and benefits of American workers and undermine the middle class. It is the central core of his economic philosophy, and of his philosophy. Sadly, when it comes to immigration reform, the strengthening of the American middle class, anathema to Rush Limbaugh, also is not a high priority of the left.

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