SAN DIEGO – Just when I thought Chris Matthews didn’t have anything helpful, original or insightful to say about immigration, he surprises me by offering up a gem. In the past, the MSNBC host has simplistically suggested that immigrants lower wages for American workers while blaming the failure of Congress to pass immigration reform on ethnic lobbying groups like the National Council of La Raza.
Yet Matthews is spot on about why Donald Trump’s plan to get tough on illegal immigration – building a wall, deporting illegal immigrants, confiscating remittances, etc. – resonates with many Americans.
And, no, despite what you hear from some on the Latino left, it’s not because of racism. That’s just another round of simplistic nonsense.
Matthews has a bead on it. During a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he noted that, for blue-collar workers without fancy degrees and high-powered connections, all they have is their country. It’s priceless, sacred and life-affirming. It’s wrapped up in tradition, sacrifice and honor. Their ancestors bled and died for it. And the idea that it is being threatened makes them furious – especially if the threat is coming from some special-interest agenda. Mess with their country, and you’ll be sorry.
What a coincidence. This is exactly how Latinos feel about the concept of citizenship. For many of us, it’s all we have. It’s priceless, sacred and life-affirming. It’s wrapped up in tradition, sacrifice and honor. Our ancestors bled and died for it. And the idea that it is being threatened makes us furious – especially if the threat is coming from some special-interest agenda. Mess with citizenship, and you’ll be sorry.
Are you listening, Donald Trump and the rest of the “me too” chorus in the unimpressive Republican presidential field?
What about all you lawyers who go on cable television and, in your half-baked interpretation of the 14th Amendment, show that you slept through Constitutional Law 101? And you conservatives who claim to believe in strict construction but want to put the 14th Amendment through a radical remodel? And you know-nothings who think that the biggest threat to U.S. citizenship is a bunch of people who desperately want their children to be U.S. citizens? And you folks who – while opposed to granting U.S. citizenship to the undocumented because, you say, it means something – suddenly have no trouble stripping it away from the children of undocumented immigrants because, well, it turns out that citizenship doesn’t mean as much as we thought?
You know not what you do. This discussion about so-called “anchor babies” is not just the latest hiccup in the immigration debate – over driver’s licenses, or Dreamers, or sanctuary cities, or what to do with 11 million illegal immigrants. As far as many American Latinos are concerned – especially Mexican-Americans – when you fiddle with the concept of citizenship, you are juggling sticks of dynamite.
Even Jeb Bush – who, among the 2016 GOP presidential contenders, is the smartest kid in the class – was not so smart when he casually used the phrase “anchor babies” during a radio interview, and then got snippy when a reporter asked him about it. Bush challenged the journalist to give him another word.
Here, as a Latino journo, I’m happy to quote from “Chico and the Man.” As the late Freddie Prinze would say: “That’s not my job!”
It’s not up to me to help Bush find “a better term.” That’s on him. Since the Fourth Estate is the watchdog over politicians, it would be cheating if I gave him the answers to the quiz. Here is a guy who grew up around politics, got elected governor twice as a Republican in the purple state of Florida, went into consulting and made millions, and gave dozens of speeches and made millions more. Bush knows how to communicate. Or at least he should.
In fact, in his next breath, Bush answered his own question when he said: “You want to get to the policy for a second? I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens.”
You got it, Governor. That’s what we call babies born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil: American citizens. See to it that you – and the rest of the Republican Party – do everything you can to keep it that way. Or, come Election Day, and for many years to come, you will all be sorry.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.