Anti-Immigration Groups Are On The Wrong Side Of History

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Anti-immigration protesters line a bridge over I-81 in Verona, VA on July 19th, 2014. Image courtesy of www.newsleader.com

In Augusta County, Virginia, a couple dozen anti-immigration protesters stood on an interstate overpass the other day to hold signs voicing their displeasure with immigration and of course, President Obama. What was really grinding their gears was the fact some Central American refugee children were being held at a local juvenile detention center while the government decided whether or not to send them back or grant them asylum.

Augusta County and the surrounding area in the Shenandoah Valley is where I grew up. It’s a truly beautiful part of Virginia with rolling hills, farm land with herds of dairy cows and spectacular fall foliage as the days grow shorter. 150 years ago, it was the location of some of the most famous battles of the Civil War. Soldiers on both sides marched up and down both forks of the Shenandoah River which slowly curve through quiet farms and sleepy towns, and eventually meets the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, the site of John Brown’s 1859 raid that helped start the whole bloody affair.

Like the rest of the Shenandoah Valley, the demographics of Augusta County are overwhelmingly white, and it’s also extremely conservative with 70% of the votes in the 2012 election going to Mitt Romney. Augusta County’s over 65 population is about 50% higher than the rest of Virginia. Combine these factors and you have the perfect location for racism and xenophobia. Don’t believe me? Just consider the fact that the Staunton area has one of the only four active chapters of the KKK in the entire state.

Obviously, I’m not necessarily lumping the misguided people who showed up to protest the federal government holding a couple dozen foreign refugees at the local juvenile detention center in with the KKK. I am holding them up as a prime example of the current right-wing conservative hatred and xenophobia held by anti-immigration groups that are prevalent in the Republican Party right now.

Needless to say, I was both shocked and happily surprised when the News Leader, the main local paper, published this editorial titled “The real threat to America.” Here’s a snippet, and you can read the rest at the enclosed link:

The bigger threat to our country comes not from these kids but from people who demonize them, whether out of ignorance, bigotry or paranoia.

Our immigration system is broken and has been for years. We are long overdue for an intelligent, civil conversation that leads to real reform.

But none of that is possible, so long as we allow our political dialogue to be dominated by people who insist that this tragic influx of unaccompanied minors is part of President Obama’s “grand plan to destroy the country.”

These days, the shrill voices often drown out more thoughtful ones. At The News Leader, we get the phone calls and emails insisting that this country must throw these children — some of them younger than 10 — back across the border immediately. (Read the rest here)

The members of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party as well as other anti-immigration groups across the nation protesting the due process given to these children under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 have lost sight of what has made America great. Their paranoia of some secret plot by President Obama to flood their lily-white communities with brown people from south of the border is not only ridiculous, but it’s also eerily similar to the days of the Know Nothings who believed the influx of Irish immigrants was a plot by the Pope to take over the United States.

Two hundred, three hundred, or four hundred years ago, these people had ancestors who came to America in search of a better life. Whether it was to escape famine, in search of financial opportunity or to practice their religious beliefs without persecution – the common thread is they were all immigrants as well. Anti-immigration groups have chosen to ignore that America was built over the centuries by wave after wave of individuals from all over the world, with or without papers.

Another common complaint from these anti-immigration groups is “why are we taking care of these people, we need to take care of Americans.” Yet, over and over again, they have voted for politicians who refuse to take care of veterans. Over and over again, they’ve said that taking care of our own poor is not their problem, that the poor have it easy, and that it’s not the government’s job to help. These are people who booed a gay soldier and shouted “let him die” when asked during the 2012 Republican primary debates what should happen to someone who didn’t buy health insurance.

This isn’t about patriotism or a concern for the process of law, it’s about selfishness. Those who are angrily screaming about the border are part of the ever-shrinking demographic of those who opposed desegregation and saw MLK as a threat to their way of life.

Time will eventually swallow up and silence these shrill voices of hatred and hypocrisy – and America will go on without them. Like the ghosts of the gray-clad ranks that once marched up and down this great valley under the battle flag of the Confederacy, they will be forever remembered as being on the wrong side of American history.


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