I confess, I sometimes watch The O‘«÷Reilly Factor. While I know O‘«÷Reilly is obnoxious, watching him is like watching a car chase on television: entertaining at times, but with the distinct possibility of bloody consequences.
A week or so ago, O‘«÷Reilly interviewed conservative commentator Linda Chavez about a proposed law that would force landlords to check the immigration status of renters. Chavez didn‘«÷t agree with the legislation, citing inconvenience to landlords. O‘«÷Reilly asked Chavez if she agreed that the attacks on New York and Washington could have been prevented if Americans had observed their neighbors before 9/11. Chavez disagreed and reminded O‘«÷Reilly that the terrorists had visas and thus had arrived legally. The most interesting aspect of the exchange was O‘«÷Reilly‘«÷s vehement connection between the undocumented and terrorism. It reminded me of President Bush continually citing terrorism as justification for the war in Iraq.
Listening to their conversation brought flashbacks of the early 1990s. Most of us in our thirties and older remember those dark ages, the ugliest being in 1994 when Proposition 187 was approved by California voters, eliminating access for the undocumented to schools, hospitals, and most other government services. If not for the courts, Prop 187 would be California law, with devastating effects for children and other vulnerable populations. The worst part of the initiative, however, was the word suspect. Provisions of Prop 187 would have mandated teachers, nurses, and other public servants to turn in suspected undocumented immigrants or face consequences.
Fast forward to 2007. O‘«÷Reilly‘«÷s exchange with Chavez reminded me of small towns such as Escondido, Calif., and Hazleton, Pa., which have proposed or enacted laws forcing landlords to check the immigration status of tenants or be subject to fines. O‘«÷Reilly‘«÷s comments also called to mind conservative students in universities throughout the country who organized ‘«£Catch an Immigrant‘«ō days.
While many thought Proposition 187 was a dead-and-buried footnote in history, it‘«÷s not. Some Escondido residents even claim the undocumented are bringing leprosy to their town. (You remember leprosy from the Bible.) Next they‘«÷ll be blaming the undocumented for global warming.
I could argue that students are simply immature and that conservative talk show hosts hate immigrants, but that‘«÷s too easy. The move to make immigration into an appalling game of hide-and-go-seek, either by students or local city councils, can only lead to tragedy. Someone will be suspected of being undocumented and will get hurt. At that point, the O‘«÷Reilly car chase will end up at some tragic intersection of misguided policy and hatred. I‘«÷m not willing to take that chance.
The irony of O‘«÷Reilly and his supporters is that there is one place where I support citizens being vigilant when it comes to the undocumented. Last week I attended a meeting to end human trafficking hosted by a joint taskforce composed of the Los Angeles Police Department and various community organizations. For two hours I was educated on the horrors of human trafficking and its 17,000 victims nationwide. The reality that thousands are literally enslaved in the United States should be an issue for O‘«÷Reilly and friends. These are the victims we should focus on saving right now.
The past week marked the anniversary of the infamous 1964 Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers on the Selma to Montgomery March were attacked by police for promoting civil rights. Today, we see some small cities attempting to retrench civil rights by scapegoating the undocumented to protect their ‘«£way of life.‘«ō Such terms should ring familiar to those acquainted with the civil rights fight.
What O‘«÷Reilly and his allies cannot answer is who will be asked for their papers. Will skin color be a determining factor? Will language, sombrero size‘«Ųwhat? Or perhaps I can‘«÷t eat beans or carne asada anymore! Will landlords be afraid of renting to Latinos and Asians for fear of accepting fake immigration papers? Are these proposed policies the modern equivalent of the poll tax and literacy exams of the Jim Crow era?
The intent of Bill O‘«÷Reilly and his supporters is to force all Americans to be their Peeping Toms. The difference is that we have the opportunity and an obligation to speak out and stop their voyeurism.
Gabriel Buelna is Executive Director, Plaza Community Center, faculty member - Chicana/o Studies Department at CSUN, and appears on KMEX 34 and Telemundo 52. Receive articles via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. .