Reading this op-ed in the NYTimes evoked this long-buried memory from my childhood. Let's concede an indisputable point: people should not be in th
October 21, 2007

Reading this op-ed in the NYTimes evoked this long-buried memory from my childhood.

Let's concede an indisputable point: people should not be in the country illegally. But forget about the border for a moment - let's talk about the 12 million who are already here. What should be done about them?

A. Deport them all.

B. Find out who they are. Distinguish between criminals and people who just want to work. Get them on the books. Make them pay what they owe - not just the income, Social Security, sales and property taxes they already pay, but all their taxes, and a fine. Get a smooth legal flow of immigrants going, and then concentrate on catching and deporting bad people.

C. Catch the few you can, and harass and frighten the rest. Treat the entire group as a de facto class of criminals, and disrupt or shout down anyone or any plan seen as abetting their evildoing.

Forget A. Congress tried a version of B, but it was flattened by outrage.

And so here we are at C. It's a policy that can't work; it's too small-bore, too petty, too narrow. And all the while it's not working, it can only lead to the festering of hate. Americans are a practical and generous people, with a tolerant streak a mile wide. But there is a combustible strain of nativism in this country, and it takes only a handful of match tossers to ignite it.

The new demagogues are united in their zeal to uproot the illegal population. They do not discriminate between criminals and the much larger group of ambitious strivers. They champion misguided policies, like a mythically airtight border fence and a reckless campaign of home invasions. And they summon the worst of America's past by treating a hidden group of vulnerable people as an enemy to be hated and vanquished, not as part of a problem to be managed.

I don't know that we can ever go back to the rosy-glasses of that Schoolhouse Rock song, but I do think that it is incumbent upon us to not fall prey to the bigotry and hatred of Others when discussing immigration.

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