By Lee A. Daniels
One of the many questions that hover over President Obama’s historic breakthrough in ending the U.S. government’s half-century-long Cold War standoff with Cuba is this: How will it affect the rollout of the president’s executive action granting some 4 million undocumented immigrants within America’s borders temporary legal status?
The two controversial actions things are deeply related: by the history of Hispanic peoples in the United States; by the United States’ past and present relations with the Western Hemisphere’s Spanish-speaking countries; by the wealth and political influence of the fiercely anti-Castro Cuban émigré community here; and by the Republican Party’s trying to avoid taking up immigration reform until they – they hope – can install a Republican in the White House in 2016.
That’s the major reason why the Republican majority in the House during the Obama years have effectively blocked major immigration reform efforts from within its own ranks—most recently refusing last summer to let a comprehensive immigration reform bill come up for a vote. Before that, when Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents are Cuban, pledged to produce a new GOP-friendly immigration reform package after the party’s 2012 election defeat, the hardliners slapped him down hard, too.
President Obama has continually challenged the Congressional Republicans to just “pass a bill” whenever they criticize his immigration-related actions. Of course, he knows they don’t want to.
For one thing, they’re not interested in opening citizenship to a group likely to remember the GOP’s anti-Latino record when they reach voting age. For another, they’d rather berate him for not deporting “enough” undocumented immigrants—while not mentioning that the funds Congress has allocated for immigration enforcement ensures a relatively low number of undocumented immigrants will be deported. That, in turn, enables them to continue to stoke the biases of the GOP’s whiter and whiter base with rancid characterizations of undocumented immigrants.
There’s no Republican who stoops lower in doing that than Rep. Steve King of Iowa. Ensconced in a safely gerrymandered district, King’s history on the national scene is littered with racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks. One of the most vile – and particularly worth remembering – he made in July 2013 in an interview with the Newsmax outlet denigrating the so-called DREAMERS proposal that in some ways significantly influenced the Obama plan.
The passage is worth quoting in full: “There are kids that were brought into this country by their parents unknowing they were breaking the law. And they will say to me and others who defend the rule of law, ‘We have to do something about the 11 million. [the total estimated number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.] Some of them are valedictorians.’ Well, my answer to that is…it’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”
King’s bizarre rant was no slip of the tongue or assertion made in haste. A few days later, amid a torrent of criticism, he repeated them on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’
There are several things worth noting about King’s “ratio.” First, of course, he provided no statistics whatsoever to prove any significant numbers of undocumented immigrants are engaged in hauling any amount of drugs, let alone 75 pounds of it, across the desert. This is the brazen Big Lie gambit.
Even more important is that King used that ratio – 100 “bad” ones for every one “good” one – to implicitly declare that virtually all Latino undocumented children and youth are criminals, and thus undeserving of our compassion and of our envisioning them as part of America’s future. That notion is part of the reason why, when a surge of so-called border children occurred earlier this year, hundreds of Whites gathered in some cities and towns to scream about their communities being “invaded.”
In a column earlier this year, I wrote that those demonstrations recalled for me the mobs of White adults who gathered to scream their hatred of Black children at the battlegrounds of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. When it comes to bigotry, some things never change.
The specifics of the GOP’s resistance to the president’s executive action on immigration won’t be clear until Congress – with a GOP majority in both Houses – convenes next month. Then we’ll know whether, when it comes to immigration reform, the Republican Party is still following the lead of the despicable Steve King.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.