13 June 2007

Drop The Personal Attacks And Argue The Merits, Linda

Nearly three weeks ago, on 25 May 2007, an opinion piece by Linda Chavez entitled, "Latino fear and loathing," was published. It appears that her main argument in it was that anyone who opposes any legislation regarding immigration, illegal or otherwise, is a xenophobe or a bigot.

Stripped bare, this is what the current debate on immigration reform is all about. Fear of "the other" — of those who look or sound different, who come from poor countries with unfamiliar customs — has been at the heart of every immigration debate this country has ever had, from the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the floor of the U.S. Senate this week.

What is said today of the Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and others was once said of Germans, Swedes, the Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews and others. The only difference is that in the past, the xenophobes could speak freely, unconstrained by a veneer of political correctness. Today, they speak more cautiously, so they talk about the rule of law, national security, amnesty, whatever else they think might make their arguments less racially charged.
Ms. Chavez' opinion article is not really an argument to the facts of the debate at hand, but rather an attack upon the character of the opposition.

She starts her piece with the statement, "Some people just don't like Mexicans — or anyone else from south of the border," and then goes on to say that the individuals who hold this sentiment are a very small minority who will not be swayed from their bigoted views. Lumped into this "small group of Americans," according to Chavez, are Lou Dobbs, un-named Republican members of Congress, un-named conservative talk radio hosts, other un-named cable news anchors, un-named public policy "experts", and un-named members of fringe groups. Ms. Chavez describes very politically incorrect views in her opening two paragraphs, and then accuses very prominent individuals of adhering to those views without any proof. The tactic is an attempt to smear well-known opponents to the immigration bill as nothing more than a powerful group of bigots.

The next two paragraphs, which are the ones which I excerpted above, attempt to make the argument that all immigration debates in this country have been about fear of foreigners, and that the current debate is no different. She then completely dismisses the rule of law, national security, and amnesty arguments made against the immigration bill as nothing more than a ploy to hide the underlying xenophobia of the opposition. The remaining four paragraphs continue the ad hominem attacks on those opposed to the very poorly crafted immigration bill, with a few praises heaped upon those who are here illegally.

In her follow-up piece on 01 June 2007, Ms. Chavez continues the ad hominem attacks. The new article cites many derogatory comments made by un-named individuals on Townhall.com, and seems to try to draw the conclusion that this proves that her initial accusations of bigotry on the part of those opposed to the immigration bill were correct. That conclusion is a logical fallacy, however, much as if one argued that since all poodles are dogs, then all dogs must be poodles. I will cede her point that there are some bigoted individuals who are against the immigration bill that was pulled from the Senate floor by Harry Reid, provided that she is willing to stipulate that bigots are a small minority of those opposed to the bill, and that there are people on her side of the debate who are just as negatively biased towards the majority of those opposed to the bill.

Unfortunately, both pieces are nothing more than an attempt by Ms. Chavez to discredit the arguments against the latest "immigration reform" by smearing those opposed to it. This does nothing to advance the merits of the plan that she appears to support, but rather it makes her position seem so weak that she must change the focus of the debate by launching unwarranted personal attacks against those who are making arguments against the bill; arguments that seem to have made an impact with a large portion of the American people.

No matter how Ms. Chavez tries to spin it, it isn't cautious obfuscation to speak against the recently withdrawn immigration bill by discussing the rule of law, national security, and amnesty. Instead, those are valid arguments based on the facts. The bill revolved around millions of individuals who are in our country illegally, a status that those individuals hold due to their violation of the rule of law. Some of those individuals are not from Mexico, Guatemala, or El Salvador; they are instead from nations of concern such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Iran, and that raises concerns towards our national security. Section 601(h) of the bill in question would provide legal status within 24 hours to those who apply, regardless of whether or not a background check had been completed on them. Besides the national security concerns that stem from such a quick bestowing of legal status on someone who has been in violation of the rule of law, it also is very close to the definition of amnesty (an act of forgiveness for past offenses, esp. to a class of persons as a whole).

If Ms. Chavez wants to have a debate on merits of her position, or on the text of any proposed legislation, I am all for that. She had one sentence in her follow-up piece that stated, "I want more secure borders and an end to illegal immigration — but the only way that will ever happen is to adopt a market-based legal immigration system that allows sufficient numbers of workers to come here to fill jobs Americans shun." That is a good start to an argument for her position, and she should expand upon that, further explaining and defending her beliefs in this matter.

Personal attacks against conservatives and others who oppose part (or all) of a proposed bill will do nothing more than create bitter division. Moreover, such attacks ignore the larger argument and come dangerously close to making the attacker into a person who is just as prejudiced as those who are being denounced; in essence, the attacker is becoming the beast in order to defeat the beast.

Millions of people being here in this country illegally is a problem that must be dealt with in order to provide for the security and prosperous future of our nation. Some of those millions are not from south of the border and actually do present a security risk. It would be interesting to hear Ms. Chavez' argument for providing, within 24 hours, legal status to individuals such as the three members of the Fort Dix Six who were in the U.S. illegally. The part of the recent immigration bill that would have allowed such an occurrence is one of the major sticking points for those opposed to the bill.

Will Ms. Chavez speak to that point in the future, or will she just complain that those of us who are concerned with such loopholes are only trying to disguise our all-too-evident distaste for Latinos with one of those annoying logical argument things?


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