Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

5-5 Day Without Immigrants

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- May 5 seemed like a much better date for illegal alien demonstrations than May 1, which has overtones of communism and workers' demonstrations.
Cinco de Mayo has a festive flavor that would have lent itself to a message that America should celebrate its Mexican workers, whether illegal or not.
Aggressive demonstrations by people who are in the country illegally don't seem like a very good idea. Not that the police were going to arrest them for being here illegally. There is safety in numbers.
The concern of public safety officials during a demonstration is to preserve the peace. Arrests of anyone, except the violent, don't accomplish that purpose. Politicians weren't going to give them any trouble either. This is a hot potato, with opposing feelings running high.
The worry for organizers of the "Day Without Immigrants" needed to be the reaction of the public, most of whom likely have some mixed feelings about the illegal immigrant problem.
Few will doubt that the process of becoming legal is a nightmare of government red tape. But demanding rights, even when illegals are providing a valuable service, doesn't sell well to most Americans. Neither do nationalistic or anti-American sentiments.
Event organizers got that message. Demonstrations in the big cities were a symphony of red, white and blue. Inflammatory statements were held to a minimum.
I didn't detect any of the rhetoric that Mexican immigrants should take over the United States and turn the American Southwest back to Mexico.
But organizers did exult over big turnouts and claim it was proof of Mexican immigrant economic power, which can be turned into political muscle. That is somewhat true, but it won't be easy.
There is a big difference between illegal Mexican aliens and all Hispanics. In the first place, not all illegal aliens coming across the Mexican border are from Mexico. Quite a few are from Central American and even South American countries.
They aren't interested in helping Mexico take back the American Southwest because they were treated infinitely worse on their journey through Mexico.
Secondly, all Hispanics do not think alike. And they're not going to vote alike. Legal Mexican immigrants have a much different slant on the problem than their illegal countrymen.
Hispanics who can trace their roots back to before Americans arrived in 1846 to take the Southwest from Mexico are almost sure to have other ideas. Most saw Gen. Kearny and his troops as illegal aliens at the time.
And then we all know about the differences among New Mexico Hispanics, Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans, California Chicanos, Texas Latinos and the urban Hispanics spread throughout the nation.
They will gain political clout, but fearful Americans don't need to worry about Mexico taking us over or the United States becoming a Spanish-speaking nation.
Some states may eventually have a majority of minorities. New Mexico and Hawaii already do. And they're my two favorite states -- nice and mellow and not likely to cause anyone much trouble.
New Mexico's Day Without Immigrants demonstrations were small and uneventful, except for a counter-demonstrator in Roswell. Santa Fe called its event a picnic, and that was the atmosphere.
Even if Hispanics become a majority in the United States, we won't become a Spanish-speaking nation. My experience is that most first-generation immigrants have a difficult time with English, just as I do with Spanish, but their children pick it up quickly.
If the demonstrations create a greater urgency to solve the illegal-immigrant problem, they will have served a helpful purpose. Republicans are catching the blame for congressional inaction on the matter, but Democrats are holding it up too, for political advantage.
Mexico also deserves a great amount of blame for its treatment of immigrants from any country -- legal or illegal. It can't advocate for rights of its emigrants until it drastically cleans up its act.
FRI, 5-05-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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