December 26, 2005
From Irrational to Illogical on Immigration

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

SAN DIEGO -- Where's the holiday spirit? I bet that's what a lot of U.S.-born Hispanics are wondering as 2005 comes to an end.

These are scary times for the nation's largest minority. Everywhere you look, it seems that some Americans are trying to erect more walls, deploy more guards, and whenever possible, roll back the influence of Hispanic culture.

Maybe it's all about the numbers. There's something about accounting for 40 million people that makes some folks uncomfortable -- as if it's only a matter of time before they are edged out for admission to colleges and some of the better jobs. Or maybe what they are afraid of is that their neighborhoods and towns will be overrun and their language, culture and customs will be eroded.

And when people get uncomfortable, they act irrationally.

Case in point: Jennifer Watts, principal of the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in Kansas City, Kan. In an eerie throwback to the 1940s when Mexican students were often punished for speaking Spanish in school, Watts recently suspended 16-year-old Zach Rubio for committing just that infraction. After Zach's father, Lorenzo Rubio, complained to the school superintendent and demanded to see in writing the policy that his son violated, the district rescinded the suspension and declared that speaking a foreign language is not sufficient grounds for that kind of punishment.

Someone should have told that to Watts and her staff. According to The Washington Post, Watts wrote in the paperwork explaining the suspension: ``This is not the first time we have (asked) Zach and others not to speak Spanish at school.''

When asked about the incident by the Post, both Watts and the superintendent declined to comment -- perhaps because the Rubios are considering filing a civil rights lawsuit.

Sometimes what gets people up in arms isn't Spanish but taco trucks. The Nashville City Council considered a proposal by three of its members to ban taco trucks and other mobile food vendors. Supporters of the ban insisted that it was prompted by legitimate health concerns and not by -- as critics suggested -- a cultural backlash against Hispanics who, according to The Associated Press, operate the majority of the mobile vending trucks in the city. But the council members had a tough time explaining why the ban did not apply to smaller street vendors, such as hot dog carts.

In the last decade or so, similar bans on taco trucks have been debated in California, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and elsewhere.

After a public outcry, the Nashville council deferred action on the proposal. Supporters now say they are working on drafting a new and less stringent ordinance.

Of course, if you really want irrational thinking, you can't top Congress -- specifically the House of Representatives.

After decades of ignoring the problem of illegal immigration, some House members can't wait to take credit for helping craft a solution. Trouble is, what passes for solutions in Washington are half-baked proposals such as the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, a bill that is heavy on enforcement but light on practicality, honesty and common sense.

Proposed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the bill wastes a lot of ink attempting to keep out additional illegal immigrants, but not a drop explaining what we should do with the more than 11 million of them who are already here, or dealing with the economic incentive that brings them to this country.

Among the 239 House members who voted in favor of the legislation were 36 Democrats, some of whom might have been pressured to support the legislation by party leaders.

The Hill -- a newspaper that covers Congress -- ran a story last week saying that members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were ``furious'' at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., for lobbying Democrats with tough re-election battles next year to vote ``yes'' on the Sensenbrenner bill. Emanuel denies that he lobbied anyone.

At least, Republican leaders were smart enough to scuttle debate on an obscene amendment to the bill that would have essentially rolled back part of the 14th Amendment by declaring that the children of illegal immigrants born in this country would no longer be U.S. citizens.

The citizenship ban doesn't make any sense. You had better believe most of those who support it also oppose the idea of giving amnesty to illegal immigrants. The opponents of amnesty insist that you can't willy-nilly convert those who are illegal to legal, and yet now some of these same people want to unilaterally convert the legal to illegal.

Enough of irrational. Make way for illogical.

© 2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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