Enough Emma Lazarus. For many of us, the definitive pro-immigration speech comes from Bill Murray in "Stripes": "We're all very different people. We're not Watusi, we're not Spartans, we're Americans. With a capital A.' And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts. ... But there's no animal that's more faithful, that's more loyal, more lovable than the mutt. Who saw Old Yeller'? ... I cried my eyes out."
Murray's speech may lack poetry and intellectual rigor, but most Americans have a similar visceral attachment to our national immigration story. To be perceived as anti-immigration is to be seen as un-American.
So how did Republicans, who normally embrace patriotism, American exceptionalism and rugged individualism, get on the wrong side of this story? How have people who oppose illegal immigration allowed themselves to be painted as both anti-immigration and, more absurdly, "anti-immigrant?"
Liberals and - dismayingly - many "pro-immigration" conservatives will tell you it's because the "anti-immigration" right is racist, nativist, hate-filled and the like. That's basically President Bush's view.
And to be honest, there are conservative voices on immigration I wish would shut up. But they are the minority. There's a reason so many people claim that conservatives speak in "code" about immigration. It's because so few prominent Republicans or conservatives are actually saying anything objectively racist.
But Latino groups, the Democratic Party and others who favor something like amnesty for illegal immigrants have an interest in promoting the racism charge. They lump illegal immigrants with blacks and women as civil rights victims. They argue that a wall with Mexico is racist because it keeps Mexicans out of the U.S., that opposition to bilingual education is anti-Latino because it's aimed at Spanish speakers, and that complaints about illegal immigration generally are anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican because it just so happens that the majority of illegal immigrants are from Mexico.
And the really infuriating part is that so many people buy this nonsense. The reason immigration restrictions are aimed at Mexicans and Latinos is quite simple: That's where the problem is. Whether you agree with them or not, most "anti-immigration" conservatives actually think that there is an important distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Want a hint as to why? One is legal and the other isn't.