By John Aguirre ,Executive Director
Oregon Association of Nurseries
Digger, October 2007
Many of us learned that the word propaganda describes the kind of political rhetoric Adolph Hitler and his henchman Joseph Goebbels used to stir popular support for the Nazi party and to justify the mass incarceration and deportation of Jews. American history has its own propagandists, such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose skillful theatrics and word choice convinced many Americans the “Red Menace” meant communists were working at all levels of government, the media and in the film industry to undermine American values.
With the benefit of time and the analysis of historians, we’ve come to understand how effective and dangerous were the most famous propagandists. Today, we face a propaganda machine as daunting and as chilling as that of Hitler and McCarthy. Anti-immigrant groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) rely on radio personalities Lars Larson and Michael Savage and television news host Lou Dobbs to spew hate-filled rhetoric aimed at immigrants.
On April 14, 2005, Lou Dobbs reported, “The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans.” To buttress his point, Dobbs introduced a CNN correspondent, Christine Romans, who reported there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy (aka Hansen’s Disease) in the United States in the last three years, compared with 900 cases in the previous 40 years. This is a lie.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2005 there were 166 new cases of leprosy, and 70 percent of 120 cases interviewed identified themselves as non-Hispanic white. Clearly, leprosy is not an epidemic born of our immigration problems. However, this is one example of the systematic mischaracterization and dehumanization of people who have immigrated to our country to work for a better life.
The attempt to dehumanize and demonize communities of other people is a standard ploy of propagandists. Lars Larson and his ilk like to refer to immigrants who work on our nation’s farms, construction sites and restaurants as “illegals” and “reconquistas.” By doing so, Larson wants us to think of these people as agents of harm, like guns trained at the heart of our nation, rather than as people who live in our communities and contribute to our economy and quality
Dobbs and Larson like to chant, “What don’t you understand about illegal? Illegal is illegal.” This calculated rhetoric is meant to shift the reference point of their listeners — from viewing immigrants not as people, but as dangerous criminals. This type of speech supports other tools of the propagandists: appeals to fear and to prejudice. Larson and Dobbs argue that immigrants generate a disproportionate amount of mayhem and violent crime. Dobbs said on his show that
illegal immigrants represent one-third of inmates in the federal prison system. But, according to the U.S. Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens, compared with the 7 percent they represent of our total population.
A highly authoritative 2005 study by Kristin Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Rutgers University, respectively, shows that immigrants are institutionalized (in jail, prisons and mental hospitals) at much lower rates than native-born
Americans. This is an astounding revelation, when considering most immigrant workers have less education and lower incomes than native-born Americans. The native-born population of lowincome, non-Hispanic whites who lack high school educations commit more crimes and are incarcerated at higher rates than Mexican immigrants. This makes sense; people don’t make the arduous immigration journey to the United States to commit crimes. They come to work.
Ultimately, the arguments of the most virulent anti-immigrant propagandists converge on a single point: the appeal to racist sentiment and the fear of change. FAIR’s Web site reveals many examples of appeals to racism. In a June 26 news release, FAIR President Dan Stein said of a compromise immigration reform bill, which later died in the Senate, “It will alter irrevocably what it means for our children and grandchildren to live in America.” Why is that? Will Mexican-Americans really destroy us?
FAIR attributes all manner of social and economic ills to immigrants: overpopulated towns and cities, violent crime, rising welfare costs, traffic congestion and environmental degradation. And according to FAIR, these horrors seem to be the exclusive province of Mexican and Latino immigration.
In 2006, activist Irish immigrants here illegally began protesting for legal status. It’s estimated the U.S. is home to about 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants. Despite highly public efforts by this group — including demonstrations on Capitol Hill and in New York City — I’ve seen no outpouring of venom their way from anti-immigrant propagandists. Even when Irish immigrants in the United States were known to provide financial support to the Irish Republican Army (a terrorist group), no significant opposition to illegal Irish immigrants ever materialized.
Why the difference in attitudes?
The answer is skin-deep.
Monday, October 22, 2007
By John Aguirre ,Executive Director