Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Needs To Cool Down

In soccer, a player will be “red carded” – kicked out of the game, without a replacement – for using threatening or offensive language, conduct that’s considered beyond the pale of good sportsmanship and fair play. At times, one can’t help wishing that similar sanctions applied to public figures whose rhetoric crosses the line between merely overheated and boiling over; it might be helpful if they sat out for a while and cooled off.

At a time when most hate speech has been banished from the public sphere, a spirit of intolerance still pervades the rhetoric of some anti-immigrant activists and politicians, who find in immigrants a convenient, one-size-fits-all explanation for everything that ails us right now: budget deficits, stagnant wage growth, the slow pace of job creation – in short, the after-effects of the recession. Never mind that, in all of these cases, immigration barely figures in the calculus of causation. This anti-immigrant rhetoric persists not because it’s true, but because it deflects responsibility from a presumably blameless “us” to a scapegoated “them.”

A recent example of this scapegoating was the speech in which Alabama State Senator Scott Beason, called on his fellow lawmakers to “empty the clip, and do what has to be done” to prevent illegal immigration from destroying their community, and the U.S. economy generally. (See On Immigration, Alabama State Senator Advises Politicians to ‘Empty The Clip,’ by Andrea Nill, The Wonk Room,, 08.Feb.2011). According to, State Senator Beason said his words were taken out of context, and weren’t meant to incite violence against Hispanics or illegal immigrants. Nonetheless, in the wake of the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several bystanders in Arizona, one would hope politicians would be mindful of the need for civility and gentleness in public discourse. Violent metaphors may have a strong visceral appeal in some quarters, but there is always the danger that some listeners will take them literally, and be spurred on to acts of vigilantism. This is not just a problem in the abstract; cites several attacks on Latino immigrants by anti-immigrant vigilantes.

Against this backdrop, a new iPhone game called “Smuggle Truck” might seem pretty trivial – it “makes a game of the perils of sneaking across the U.S.-Mexico border,” showing “a truck bouncing along a cartoon desert highway,” that “sheds men, women and children as it hits bumps and hops over creeks and canyons,” as Reuters reported recently. (See Border Smuggling Game Stirs Controversy, by Tim Gaynor and Jerry Norton, Reuters, 09.Feb.2011.) According to Reuters, the object of the game is to keep as many illegal immigrants as possible in the bed of the truck. The game’s creators call it a satire of our broken immigration system. That may be, but it seems a tasteless joke, at best. We do not support illegal immigration, and never have, but we still think illegal immigrants deserve our compassion, not mockery and scorn. Desperation and poverty drive people to these extremes, and that is no laughing matter.

America is a great country, and has flourished with the help of generations of newcomers, immigrants who bring their drive and creativity and talent to these shores because it is, and remains, the land of opportunity. Throughout our history, immigration has been a key source of our nation’s strength. The way we talk about immigrants and immigration should reflect that; graciousness and respect should be the order of the day, not fear-mongering and parochialism that is unworthy of us. A tone of generosity and forbearance would serve all of us better – newcomers and native-born alike – as we work to repair a broken immigration system.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.