Linda Chavez

Harry Reid has stuck his foot in his mouth once again, this time suggesting he doesn't know "how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican." Really? You can't be both Hispanic and Republican? I guess Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, John Sanchez, and Brian Sandoval -- to name just the top tier of Republican Hispanics who have won their party's nomination for statewide office this year -- had either better quit the GOP or change their names. This kind of racial stereotyping is offensive. Liberals have engaged in it for years, but conservatives aren't immune either.

This week, I wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the case for birthright citizenship. I won't rehash the arguments -- based on the history of the 14th Amendment and legal precedent -- but what was germane here was the response it engendered from those who disagree with me on the issue. It's something I run into every time I discuss immigration. My critics nearly universally assume I take a position favoring more generous legal immigration and a temporary worker program -- which I think would drastically reduce illegal immigration -- because I am supposedly Mexican.

Anyone who knows me, or my political history, knows that I've been fighting identity politics since I was in my early 20s, 40 years and counting. I favor assimilation and English as the official language. And I oppose bilingual education, bilingual ballots, race-based affirmative action, and racial gerrymandering -- and have incurred considerable wrath from liberals and Hispanic interest groups for my conservative positions on these issues.

I don't favor immigration reform because of my ethnic heritage but because I think it's good for the American economy and will benefit all of us. I'd be just as enthusiastic if most of the immigrants were from Europe, Asia, or Africa. In fact, I think one of the most important reforms we could enact would be making immigration skills-based, which would actually shift the demographic flow of immigrants away from Latin America.

I hate to disappoint those critics who've suggested I go back to Mexico -- or am on the Mexican payroll -- but I have no great love for Mexico. I've been there only a couple of times in my life and don't speak Spanish. Half of my ancestors came from the British Isles -- the family Bible has entries dating back to 1801, by which time some were already here. Other ancestors arrived in the 19th century when the potato famine drove them out of Ireland. The Chavez side of my family came from Spain in 1601 and settled in New Mexico (a few years before Jamestown). They were Mexican citizens for exactly 27 years. From 1601 to 1821, they were subjects of the Spanish crown. And from 1848 onward, they became Americans when my ancestor, New Mexico Gov. Manuel Armijo, ceded the territory to the United States without much of a fight in the Mexican War.

My love, loyalty, and service have always been dedicated to the United States. I am an American, period. But I am also a conservative. I believe in strong national defense, free enterprise, smaller government, colorblind equal opportunity, and American Exceptionalism. The Republican Party best represents those values, in my view, which is why I switched parties in 1985. Part of what led me to leave the Democratic Party was its obsession with racial, ethnic and gender politics.

Harry Reid should be ashamed of himself for suggesting that skin color or ancestry should determine how a person votes. But Republicans must likewise be careful not to play to racial stereotypes and fear.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, suggested that "people come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child. It's called 'drop and leave.'"

Humans don't "drop" babies; it's a disgusting way to describe human birth that should embarrass Graham; and I doubt he would have used this word in other contexts.

What's more, there is no evidence that large numbers of pregnant Mexican women are sneaking across the border to have their babies. A new Pew study shows that half of the illegal immigrant mothers who give birth here have been here five or more years and more than 80 percent have been here more than a year.

Racial and ethnic stereotyping is ugly, no matter who engages in it. And it behooves politicians of both parties to stop racial pandering, elevate their tone, and stick to the facts.


Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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