NYT Columnist (also) Slams NPR’s Role in Immigrant “Witch Hunt”

December 10, 2007

New York Times

Looks like to the logic of Of América may not be so barbarian after all.

This Bob Herbert column in yesterday’s New York Times excoriates NPR’s Steve Inskeep for “asking the Democratic candidates whether American citizens have an obligation to turn in people they suspect are illegal immigrants.”

Herbert does defend the media’s right to ask questions but also says that “…the last thing in the world that the United States needs is a signal from presidential wannabes that it’s a good idea to turn ordinary American citizens into immigrant-hunting busybodies.”

Most of you may have first heard this critique of NPR here. It’s good to know that we Of América are not alone in out thinking about the politics of media and migration.

December 8, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Spies Like You and Me

Let the witch hunt begin. Are you now or have you ever been an illegal immigrant?

Are any of your friends illegal? Relatives?

The last place you’d expect to encounter a chilling moment is at a presidential debate sponsored by National Public Radio. But on Tuesday, there was the NPR moderator, Steve Inskeep, asking the Democratic candidates whether American citizens have an obligation to turn in people they suspect are illegal immigrants.

It was not just a question asked in passing. Mr. Inskeep pressed the issue. He asked Senator Chris Dodd, for example, about the hypothetical situation of a “citizen” interviewing for a nanny.

“You interview a number of applicants,” Mr. Inskeep said. “They all seem very nice. They seem like they would take care of the kids. But it would appear that their documents may not be in order. What would you want an American to do?”

Their documents may not be in order.

Mr. Inskeep didn’t make clear what should trigger the suspicions of such oh-so-solidly American parents, causing them to scrutinize an applicant’s papers with a thoroughness worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Might it be a skin tone darker than Paris Hilton’s? Or maybe an accent, like that of my Aunt Lottie, who came here from Barbados?

You wouldn’t have wanted to face my family if you were some rat who tried to turn in my Aunt Lottie.

I have no idea how Mr. Inskeep feels about this issue. He was just asking questions. But the last thing in the world that the United States needs is a signal from presidential wannabes that it’s a good idea to turn ordinary American citizens into immigrant-hunting busybodies.

The Democrats did not rise to the bait. Senator Hillary Clinton was especially good. Mr. Inskeep said to her, “If a citizen witnessed some other kind of crime, wouldn’t you want them to report it?”

Senator Clinton replied: “It’s a very clever question, Steve, but I think it really begs the question, because what we’re looking at here is 12 to 14 million people. They live in our neighborhoods, they take care of our elderly parents, they probably made the beds in the hotels that some of us stayed in last night. They are embedded in our society.”

She warned that listening to the “demagogues and the calls for us to begin to try to round up people and turn every American into a suspicious vigilante” would do grave harm “to the fabric of our nation.”

She couldn’t have been more correct. Enlisting ordinary Americans in a nationwide hunt for so-called illegals is a recipe for violence and hysteria, a guarantee of tragedy.

We’ve already got radio-active talk show hosts spewing anti-immigrant venom from one coast to another. Media Matters for America, a monitoring group, has noted that Michael Savage, who has the third-most-listened-to show in the nation, said the following on his July 2 broadcast:

“When I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi. That’s what I see. How do you like that? A hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children.”

When a woman wears a burqa, said Mr. Savage, “She’s doing it to spit in your face. She’s saying, ‘You white moron, you, I’m going to kill you if I can.’”

That’s what’s already out there. We don’t need national leaders adding fuel to the fires of bigotry by calling for recruits to join in a national dragnet for people who look or sound a certain way.

That kind of insidious leadership helps drive people to irrational fury over neighbors speaking Spanish at a barbecue, or a Muslim co-worker competing for a coveted promotion, or a schoolteacher with a Hispanic surname who gives a failing grade to little Sally.

This country needs to cool it on the immigration front. Solutions to immigration problems need to come from rationally thought-out and compassionate government policies, not a witch hunt by all and sundry.

It was beyond ironic to listen Thursday to Mitt Romney as he went on national television to ask Americans to view his candidacy with a sense of tolerance. “We believe that every single human being is a child of God,” he said. “We are all part of the human family.”

At the same time, Mr. Romney’s political operatives were distributing campaign material (some of it inaccurate) beating up on his opponents for being insufficiently intolerant on the immigration issue.

The U.S. has a chance in this presidential campaign to emulate the best in its history, not the worst. I have a recommendation for anyone who thinks a witch hunt for undocumented immigrants is a good idea:

Don’t go there.

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