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Anti-immigrant bias rolls on locally

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Arizona's harsh new laws may seem to have re-ignited the national battles over immigration, but the issue had never gone away in the rest of the country, including North Carolina. The national press, as limited in scope and vision as it is rich in time to be filled, has been too busy feeding on the health care reform debates the past few months to concentrate on anything else of substance for very long.

The media's tunnel vision was never more obvious than on the day the U.S. Senate began voting on health care reform. Somewhere between 500 and 2,000 anti-reform Tea Partiers gathered in front of Congress, and the press treated the rally as the most significant news in America -- while, on the same day, practically at the same time, in fact within a mile of the Tea Partiers, around 200,000 people marched to defend immigrant rights, and got next to zero national press coverage. Even now, the media is mostly focusing on the Arizona spectacle while ignoring how the issue is playing out in other parts of the U.S.

Last week's primaries made it clear that the anti-immigrant vote is alive and well in the good ol' USA, including the Charlotte region. Tea Party candidates may not have done well nationally, but their smashmouth attitude toward immigration has so taken hold of the GOP, most mainstream Republicans are now obligated to spout thinly disguised anti-Latino venom in order to be taken seriously by the party's rank and file. Meanwhile, national support for laws that allow local police to stop anyone at anytime to check their immigration status has risen to 60 percent, according to Rasmussen polls.

In Charlotte, the most obvious sign that an anti-immigrant stance can still spell success was former sheriff Jim Pendergraph's first place finish in the GOP at-large county commission race. During his tenure as Mecklenburg County sheriff, Pendergraph became the poster boy for the federal 287(g) program, which allows local police to become immigration enforcers while investigating other crimes. Even though 287(g) has been strongly criticized by numerous police groups, who say it hinders their ability to solve crimes in Latino neighborhoods, and has resulted in children being separated from their parents, the program is still treated as a political magnet for the anti-immigrant vote.

Pendergraph's successor as sheriff, Chipp Bailey, let it be known far and wide that yes, he's a big fan of 287(g) and would certainly recommend Mecklenburg's continued participation. Bailey easily won the Democratic primary last week against an opponent who specifically ran against 287(g).

Congresswoman Sue Myrick, the right's high priestess of all things anti-foreign, who has shown her lack of bias by equally vilifying Latinos and Muslims and urging that they all be kept on a short leash, was unopposed in the GOP primary. Meanwhile, Rep. Patrick "Seal our boders" McHenry, Myrick's right-wing N.C. congressional co-star, won his primary against weak opposition.

And in the most entertaining area race, the far-far-far-right Tim D'Annunzio led the field in the GOP primary for Larry Kissell's congressional seat. D'Annunzio, er, made a name for himself by pumping more than a million bucks of his own money into his campaign; proposing the dismantlement of most of the federal government; hosting "Machine Gun Socials" as fundraisers; angrily walking out of debates; setting up a blog site called "Christ's War"; calling opponent Harold Johnson, who is a Reaganite former sportscaster, "a member of the mainstream liberal news media"; and, of course, calling for police to help speed up the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Put simply, this is all pretty depressing. As we've written before, when you get below the supposed arguments, the gut-level impetus for immigrant bashing is the terrible, ancient human habit of fearing "The Other." Every wave of immigrants to this country -- Irish, Polish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. -- has met with the same routine: They take the lowest paying jobs, after which "real" Americans (whose ancestors were, of course, immigrants) beat them up figuratively and literally, and finally, attempts are made to pass laws against their being here. It's a vile ritual whose never-ending recurrence is enough to make you ashamed to be part of the human race. And here we are in the middle of it. Again.

The dilemma, as I see it, is that when waves of immigrants come here looking for work, what you have is much more than a legal or economic problem. More than anything, you have a human rights problem. How to deal with that dilemma, however, is hardly talked about today, amid the rants and hate speech.

And another thing: the immigrants' employers. Why bash the illegal immigrants who come here for jobs, and then grant a pass to the businesses who create illegal jobs to begin with? It's as if, in the midst of the national uproar over the issue, the business owners who are driving the problem are somehow invisible. The immigrant bashers could help their cause by coming up with balanced proposals that would shift at least half the responsibility for immigration troubles onto those businesses. Needless to say, however, that's too much to ask of angry bigots while they're busy having fits.

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