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Ruben Navarrette: Politics first; immigrants last
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Ruben Navarrette: Politics first; immigrants last

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Migrants stand in line at a respite center after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and turned themselves in and were released on June 16 in Del Rio, Texas.

SAN DIEGO

The more you do something, the better you’re supposed to get at it. But that axiom doesn’t apply to talking about immigration.

Republicans can’t stop droning on about what they insist is an “invasion” along our southern border with Mexico. Their basic message: “The situation on the U.S.-Mexico border — and U.S. immigration policy as a whole — is a chaotic mess, and it’s all the fault of Democrats. Elect us, and we’ll fix everything.”

That line is easier to buy if you’re not keeping score at home and don’t have a clear recollection of the past. Things weren’t much better when Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Oval Office.

Oh, Republicans talk tough on the campaign trail. But once in power, they take care of their benefactors in big business, whose only problem with illegal immigration is there isn’t enough of it. Undocumented workers come in handy when employers combat labor shortages, caused by — among other things — the fact that many employers don’t treat their workers well or pay them enough.

Republicans claim that their obsession with illegal immigration is motivated by a devotion to the rule of law.

That’s laughable. Conservatives still downplay or refuse to investigate the horrific events of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob attacked officers from the U.S. Capitol Police Department and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and threatened in some cases to kill officers with their own guns.

Naturally. Nothing says “we love law and order” like killing cops.

Republicans have long been at war with the rule of law. By taking employer sanctions off the table, Republican lawmakers have — during the crafting of immigration reform bills in 1996, 2006-2007, and 2013 — protected those who break the law by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the disgraced former Arizona lawman who was convicted of criminal contempt of court in 2017 for defying a federal court order. He also pardoned GOP political consultant Roger Stone, his longtime friend and “fixer” who was convicted of seven felonies related to the 2016 presidential election.

What part of “illegal” do these people not understand?

The only reason that Republicans keep talking about illegal immigration is that they get lots of political mileage from the issue.

Republicans scare white folks into thinking that hordes of brown folks are coming to invade their homes, rob them of their stuff, ravish their wives and daughters, get their kids hooked on drugs, and destroy their quality of life.

As if. Look around any well-to-do suburb in America, and you’ll quickly see why the No. 1 employer of illegal immigrants isn’t agriculture or restaurants but the U.S. household. Often, it’s brown people — such as immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala or El Salvador — who make a better quality of life for white folks.

Instead of constantly shouting “Get out!”, a simple “Thank you” every now and then would be muy bueno.

Yet, Republicans refuse to acknowledge the obvious: That many Americans are addicted to undocumented immigrant labor because it makes their lives cushier, that jobs currently being done by the undocumented would never be done by U.S. workers, that the U.S. economy would flounder without undocumented immigrants and that Americans’ work ethic is weak but their sense of entitlement is strong.

The more Republicans talk about immigration, the more sour notes they hit.

And what do Democrats do about this? Nothing. That is, they offer nothing in response. They just go to Latinos and say: “Vote for us. We’re not Republicans.”

Oh, Democrats like to talk softly when they’re out on the campaign trail pandering to Latino voters. But once they’re in power, they swing a big stick. They rope local police into enforcing federal immigration law, put refugee kids in cages, ratchet up deportations and militarize the U.S.-Mexico border. They also take care of their benefactors in organized labor, where many in the rank-and-file oppose higher levels of immigration and legalizing the undocumented because they fear the competition. All the while, Democrats do everything they can to avoid the accusation that they’re soft on immigration — even if it means overcompensating by being extra tough. Confused about what to do, they often do nothing at all.

The last comprehensive immigration reform bill worth its salt — the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act — was signed into law by a Republican, former President Ronald Reagan.

To paraphrase The Gipper, Washington is not the solution to the immigration problem. It is the problem.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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