Bob Franken

King Features Column

(Per normal, this column is delayed here a week because the syndicator requires that client newspapers get first crack at it)

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If there is any issue that puts on display the best and worst of our country, it is immigration. After all, a glory of the United States of America is our “Give me your tired, your poor” tradition. Unfortunately these days, too many of us add “as long as they are whites from Europe.” Much of the debate over who gets in legally or sneaks in is colored (and I use the word on purpose) by the kinds of stereotypes that are clearly racist.
Let us not get carried away about those Republicans who are now latching on to a less-malicious approach, an arduous path to citizenship for responsible undocumenteds who have built families and a hidden life in the U.S. Still, it’s a departure for a party whose candidates in the 2012 election competed to be the most hateful.
They got clobbered, and a big reason was that Hispanics turned out in droves to vote against them. So now the image-makers suddenly are trying to engineer a more inclusive facade.
In fairness, Sen. John McCain is something of an exception. He is a longtime voice for finding a sensible remedy and unshackling us from the intolerance that has so bogged down the search for a solution. Now he and other GOP senators have joined Democratic counterparts in proposing an outline that ultimately would give some of the estimated 11 million illegals and their loved ones living here a chance to come out of the shadows. McCain was blunt about the motivation: “The Republican party is losing support of our Hispanic citizens.”

The Senate group called for a vote this summer, but that won’t be easy. For starters, there is not only vehement resistance from hard-rock conservatives, but substantial differences over such details as timing and whether the process must wait until some sort of assurance the borders have been secured or even what that means.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, is pushing a more comprehensive plan; at the same time, he lauds the Senate effort. He seems to envision a process that is not explicitly tied to border security. In addition, he would permit citizens to seek a visa for same-sex partners.
That caused an immediate uproar, of course. It pushes the buttons on two kinds of bigotries, and brought stern warnings from Republican leaders. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner sniffed, “We hope the president is careful not to drag the debate to the left.” And Sen. Marco Rubio, who signed on to the bipartisan Senate proposal and who is a Cuban-American — as we’ve been told ad nauseum — warned that the collaborative effort could be sabotaged by a “bidding war.” Rubio made his comment, by the way, on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program. Limbaugh, always in character, described such reforms as “amnesty” for lawbreakers, but he was not quite as bombastic as usual during the Rubio interview. Maybe that represents progress.
President Obama has to weigh how public he wants to be in the difficult legislative process ahead. On the one hand, he made immigration reform a signature issue during the campaign, even though it was on the back burner during his first term. Now he has stepped into the fray by making a strong speech in Las Vegas, a suitable venue because of its sizable and activist Hispanic population. It also is appropriate because of the gamble he takes by being so out-front — he is such a hated symbol of everything Limbaugh and his Dittoheads despise.
In his speech, the president warned against perceiving this as an “us versus them” issue since “most of us used to be them.” Unfortunately, we often are so divided at home that we lose sight of our country as a haven for “the huddled masses yearning to be free”. This will be a test of whether America still can live up to her promise.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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