Monday, November 02, 2009

Count On It

About a week ago, I commented on the nasty amendment that Sens. David Vitter, R-La, and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, wanted to tack onto an appropriations bill. That amendment would require the Census Bureau to include a question on citizenship status in the census questionnaire. Today, Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez took a look at some of the issues raised by such a move.

Vitter's last-minute proposal -- census questionnaires, which are scheduled to be sent out in the spring, have already been printed -- is the latest in the political right's increasingly absurdist "fight" against illegal immigration. I put "fight" in quotes because these tactics actually do nothing to solve the problem of illegal immigration. Indeed, other than deprive the country's three most populous states of more congressional seats, Vitter's amendment would simply continue the restrictionists' strategy of pretending illegal immigration can be solved by depriving people of basic rights or, in this case, refusing to even acknowledge their existence. ...

...the capaciousness of our Constitution grants basic protections to all people within our borders, even those who do not enjoy the privileges of citizenship. In other words, even if we deny noncitizens political and civil rights, the principles of our Constitution require that we grant them certain human rights -- some level of personal safety and dignity. When it comes to the census, what that suggests is that even though we may not count them as full members of our polity, we are still obliged to count them as individuals who occupy physical space within our national boundaries.

Discounting the existence of illegal immigrants not only has ethical significance, it has a number of practical consequences, not least of which is that a well-regulated nation needs to know how many people reside within its territory. Even rabid restrictionists would agree that, say, a police department might benefit from knowing how many individuals live in a given district. That means that some level of official recognition of illegal immigrants is required for the proper operation of government.
[Emphasis added]

I have no doubt that Vitter and Bennett are aware of the moral and practical significance of the issue they have raised. They just don't care. All they care about is raising the fears and frustrations of their base even further. Mr. Rodriguez used the term preferred by far right for this kind of stance: restrictionist. He also unpacks that euphemism for racism, because, at its root, that's exactly what is at work here.

If Senators Vitter and Bennett really cared about the illegal immigration problem, they would stop the grandstanding and get down to the business of finding a way to solve that problem in a rational and humane way. That's part of their job description, at least it's supposed to be.

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