Jim Pendergraph is a man of these times. The problem is that these times are awful. I don't mean the bad economy, although that's awful, too. What I'm referring to is the upsurge in America of irrationality and venom toward illegal immigrants — a sad spate of foolishness that's nearing the point of mass psychosis. Pendergraph, however, being in tune with his times — at least the anti-immigrant fever part of them — is doing his best to take advantage of that irrationality and ride it to a seat on the County Commission.
A former Mecklenburg County sheriff, Pendergraph was the top vote-getter in the Republican at-large primary for County Commission. Back in his sheriffin' days, he became the poster boy and head cheerleader for the federal 287(g) program, which lets local police become immigration enforcers while investigating other crimes. Pendergraph was rewarded for his efforts with a federal job as the first executive director in charge of coordinating 287(g) for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE), even though the 287(g) program is ardently opposed by numerous police groups, who say it undermines their ability to solve crimes in Latino neighborhoods.
The bug-eyed bigotry being slung at illegal immigrants these days doesn't bode well for the country's future. Pendergraph, though, keeps milking the trend for all it's worth, positioning himself as potential trail boss of some vast illegal-immigrant round-up. He held a news conference where he reminded everyone of his 287(g) glory days, called for an Arizona-style immigration law in North Carolina, and promised to pressure state and federal government to pass tougher immigration measures.
Like most other immigrant-fixated pols, Pendergraph also flogs the supposed rising crime brought here by those pesky Latinos, and proclaims that they're costing us an arm and a leg, etc., etc. Whenever I hear these tales of illegal immigrants dragging down the economy and businesses, I want to ask the speaker a question, so I'll do it now: How bad do you think the drag on the economy, and business profits, would be if employers who take advantage of illegal immigrants' cheap labor had to pay their workers a decent wage? And why isn't that forecast included in your cost calculations?
Similarly, the accusation that Latino immigrants boost crime rates — a claim that's been debunked time and again — is one of the most popular fables spread by the Pendergraphs of this country. Despite all hard evidence to the contrary, conservative pundits and politicians talk about a mythical "spike in violent crime" by illegal immigrants, while Arizona's reality-proof Gov. Jan Brewer claims that nearly all illegal immigrants come here to transport drugs.
Closer to home, delusion ran rampant last week among the fine Christian folks who run the city of Summerville, S.C., near Charleston. The city council there gave initial approval to an ordinance that would ban illegal immigrants from living, and, for the most part, working within the city limits. The ordinance will be up for final approval next month. If it passes, expect a flood of lawsuits — for violations of civil rights and of the federal government's authority over immigration — to flow into the town, puddle up, and stagnate there for a long time.
Summerville Councilman Walter Bailey, echoing a commonly heard anti-illegals complaint, said he's frustrated that "the federal government is doing nothing." In reality, the Obama administration has been deporting illegal immigrants at a record pace, and has boosted border security. But try telling that to someone who's infected with the IHI (I Hate Illegals) virus, and all you'll get is a blank stare or, more likely, a sneer, as if that person can't consider facts as being real unless they come from Glenn Beck.
Reality has always finished a distant second when prejudice and fear enter the race for public opinion. Politicians who stand to profit from that fear — people like Pendergraph, Brewer, or famed Texas goofball Rep. Louie Gohmert — are happy and eager to stir the pile until it stinks so bad, voters will willingly vote for them to take office and start shoveling. Too often in American history, this foreigner-hating shtick has worked. Hopefully, the current nativist mania will subside once the election season is over — but with candidates like Jim Pendergraph around, I wouldn't bet on it.