Immigrant-bashing should horrify Hawaii
By Neil Abercrombie
Friday, August 30, 1996
from the Honolulu Star-Bulliten
Few states are closer to their immigrant roots than
Hawaii. Our governor is the son of an immigrant from the Philippines.
Our lieutenant governor is a first generation immigrant from Japan.
Many, if not most, Hawaii residents have at least one parent or
grandparent from another country.
The pattern of immigration changed over the decades,
with successive waves of immigrant workers arriving to work on
Hawaii's plantations: Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino,
Puerto Ricans and others. After World War II, they were joined
by influxes from the U.S. mainland, Samoa and other Pacific islands.
Each group made its own unique contribution,
which in turn was subsumed by the unique spirit and the love of
aina of Native Hawaiians.
Immigration made this the most ethnically diverse
state in the nation. We honor and cherish that diversity as the
legacy of those who came before us. We have resolved to use that
diversity to define our unique society rather than allow it to
Sadly, this heritage is under attack. Republicans
in Congress have discovered that immigrant bashing is good politics
in many places on the mainland.
In some cases, Republican-sponsored legislation
singles out the children of undocumented immigrants for attack.
In other instances, legal immigrants - who have worked, paid taxes
and contributed to our communities for years - are targeted.
Immigrant bashers in the House of Representatives
These proposals fly in the face of America's history
as a nation of immigrants. They are not, however, unprecedented.
- Require teachers and social workers to inform
on undocumented immigrant kids so they can be expelled from
- Authorize the expulsion from school of undocumented
children (a provision vigorously opposed for obvious reasons
by police chiefs);
- Deny Medicaid and other social services not
only to undocumented immigrants, but to legal immigrants who
have been hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding members of their
communities for decades.
In the 19th century, the country experienced
violence against Irish immigrants. Later, immigrants from eastern
and southern Europe were stigmatized as a threat to "Old
Stock" Americans. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1898 was a
savage attempt to curtail the rights of U.S.-born children of
legal Asian immigrants.
Today we see a revival of that spirit in the
1996 Republican platform, which would break with law and tradition
by denying citizenship to the U.S.-born of undocumented immigrants.
Anti-immigrant politicians cloak their stance
by saying their concerns are not directed against specific racial
or ethnic groups. It's no coincidence, however, that the most
alarmist anti-immigrant rhetoric centers on the Asian and Hispanic
backgrounds of current immigrants. Increasingly, the call to halt
or drastically curtail immigration is coupled with thinly disguised
appeals to racism.
The driving political and public relations force
behind the anti-immigrant movement is an organization called the
Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
John Tanton, FAIR's executive director, warned
of a "Latin onslaught" in an internal memo. According
to the Los Angeles Times, Tanton "bemoaned Latin American
traditions of bribery and civic apathy and cited high Latin birth
FAIR is bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund, another
source of repugnant racist ideas. According to the San Francisco
Examiner, the Pioneer Fund also "bankrolls academic research
claiming blacks and Latinos are inherently inferior."
ABC reported that the Pioneer Fund's first president
"wanted the lowest 10 percent of Americans sterilized to
'eradicate inferior people.'"
In the 1930s, the fund's president "forged
links with researchers in Germany who were also increasingly enthusiastic
about eugenics, racial superiority and inferiority."
Not all opponents of immigration share these
beliefs, but the anti-immigration movement as a whole cannot escape
its place in this un-American constellation. It is fatally compromised
by its financial and political links with forces which have more
in common with burning crosses than the Stars and Stripes.
The United States - and Hawaii especially - was
built by immigrants. Those who came here from other countries
made enormous contributions. They made America the greatest nation
in the world. They fashioned a Hawaii premised on social justice
and equal opportunity.
The anti-immigrant movement rejects one of the
most inspiring lessons of American history. Immigrants and those
who embrace the diversity they bring affirm what is best about
Hawaii and our nation.
Island families of immigrant heritage need no
reminders that the battle against racism is far from over. The
message of aloha is more important than ever.
Neil Abercrombie is a Democratic member of the
U.S. House of Representatives.
Abercrombie, Neil. "Immigrant-bashing should horrify Hawaii." Honolulu Star-Bulletin. 30 Aug. 1996 http://starbulletin.com/96/08/30/editorial/index.html