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Weekly Immigration Wire: Race to the Bottom

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Note: This is a weekly feature by Nezua

The immigration debate seems to be rushing forward on its own timetable—and without a structured frame to guide it, the effort is damaged from the start. As Rev. Luis Cortés, Jr., of Esperanza USA said during a call with media members yesterday, Democrats and Republicans are “running toward the harshest positions to show they can be the hardest on those who are the weakest.”

Worse yet, silence from the White House has left the stage empty for “Right wing and anti-immigrant groups to shape this conversation,” according to Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Now, “politics are driving policy” conversations, thanks to radical pundits, teabaggers, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC).

On September 9, Wilson heckled President Obama during a joint session of congress. “It was the shout heard ’round the world (at least the country),” according to Versha Sharma of Talking Points Memo. What spurred this blatant display of hostility and disrespect? The President’s truthful statement that undocumented persons would not be covered as part of health care reform. Wilson has since apologized, albeit insincerely: He continues to appear before cameras to defend his outburst. Not only that, but Wilson has lied about his professional expertise: He was never an immigration lawyer, despite his claims to the contrary.

Oddly, the White House didn’t rebuke Wilson—it capitulated. The Washington Monthly reports that “The White House on Friday said it would bar illegal immigrants from purchasing health coverage through a proposed insurance marketplace,” a measure the author, Steve Benen, categorizes as “wildly unnecessary.” Obama won’t please the likes of Wilson even if he outlaws the Spanish language. Creating a roadblock to health care by “preventing people who are already here from buying their own insurance with their own money” will simply shift the debt to the public at large. The truth of the matter is that preventative and regular treatment is much less costly than emergency room visits, where all taxpayers will shoulder the cost. It’s a puzzling move that has already spurred strong reaction from groups like NCLR, America’s Voice and individuals like Cortés, who asserted in yesterday’s call that “Congress has lost its moral barometer.”

In a piece for New America Media, Marcelo Ballve calls Wilson’s outburst “quite appropriate,” in the sense that his words, intention and energy are harbingers of the coming debate about immigration reform. No matter the issue, no matter how civilly Democrats approach it, “Republicans, and not a few Democrats, will scapegoat illegal immigrants for many of the nation’s problems.” But is the White House prepared for a debate that is bound to be “even more rancorous than the bile-filled health care fight”? Given how rapidly the White House retreated in the face a red-faced liar, it’s an important question.

Continuing along their apparent strategy to meet political process with inanity, Republicans chose ex-Birther Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La) to respond to the President’s speech. Birthers are a fringe element of anti-Obama activists that claim the President was not born in the U.S. When questioned on his beliefs, Boustany initally replied that in terms of Obama’s citizenship, “I think there are questions, we’ll have to see,” but has since retracted his words. Once again, Republicans are feeding destructive and negative energies in a volatile political landscape, rather than working for change.