Yet, when it comes to two controversial initiatives currently tied up in the U.S. Congress – the DREAM Act and repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays – it’s difficult to understand how the main opposition is fueled by anything other than malice and bigotry.
In the case of the DREAM Act, the apparent prejudice is against Hispanics, who make up the vast majority of undocumented U.S. residents. With “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the irrational prejudice is against gays. Believe me, I’ve tried to find other explanations, but nothing else explains the doggedly fierce opposition to two such humane and sensible measures.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act would allow certain illegal alien students with law-abiding backgrounds the chance to obtain temporary residency for six years. During that time, if the student completes at least two years in college or the military, in good standing, he or she can win permanent residency. The process is not easy, however, and the bill is designed to weed out unsuitable prospects for permanent residency.
While the U.S. House passed the bill last Wednesday, it’s currently bottled up in the Senate, held up by Republican insistence that tax cuts get acted upon before anything else. As of Friday, the prospects weren’t good for passage of the bill before the end of the year, and in 2011, with the Republicans consolidating their congressional power, the outlook will get considerably dimmer.
On Wednesday, shortly after the House passed the bill 216-198, Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC), a group fanatically opposed to any “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, expressed its outrage in an over-the-top news release:
“Join us tomorrow in what may become America’s last chance. If we lose in the Senate tomorrow, most future battles will be fought as we retreat step by step, while millions of illegal aliens become legal workers, students and voters who are used to replace Americans and put in positions of authority over us… We must hold the line in the Senate! We still have a chance to stop this nation-killing legislation but we need all of your help…”
This sort of hate-filled, irrational fear-mongering – fueled by terror at the idea of America becoming even browner than it already is – has become intricately woven into the foundations of the increasingly right-wing Republican Party.
What are they so afraid of?
They’re afraid and incensed at the prospect of undocumented Hispanic teens and young adults who have lived in this country from early childhood, having an opportunity to parlay their hard work, good citizenship and public service into permanent residency. Without this potential avenue, many of these young people have no country to call their own, since they were brought to the States at a very young age. In many cases, these kids are Americans in every way but legally.
And notably, the likely alternative to a pathway to permanent residency isn’t that these young people will go back to whatever country their parents came from (where in many cases they wouldn’t be welcome anyway). Rather, they’ll continue as part of a vast underground culture in the United States, with little incentive to play by the rules.
Polls indicate that most Americans favor the DREAM Act, though, as with so many other inarguably worthwhile measures, the Republican Party is following the lead of its most extreme, loud – and in this case, transparently bigoted – members. If the immigration-reform opposing tea parties and hysterical hate groups such as ALIPAC yell loud enough, there’s no indication the great mass of Republicans in Congress will do anything but listen to them. The populist backlash of the 2010 midterm elections is still very fresh in their minds.
The same applies to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the anti-gay policy that’s held sway in the U.S. military since the Clinton administrated created it as a poor substitute for the long-running zero-tolerance policy against gays in the military.
Opponents to repealing the policy like to claim a religious foundation for taking a position that discriminates against a law-abiding group of people, and is based on the happenstance of their sexual orientation rather than any documented threats or provable concerns.
The religious justification for discriminating against gays is about the only thing left to disguise the base-level bigotry that fuels opposition to their achieving legal equality.
Even the military seemingly has turned a corner on its previous opposition. A recent Pentagon report concluded that repealing the policy – and treating gays like everybody else – wouldn’t significantly disrupt a military that in all other matters prides itself on its toughness and maturity.
Yet, many Republican politicians continue to take their instruction on gay issues from the hypocrites in their family-values wing. This includes the increasingly shrill Cal Thomas, who in the same breath can preach morality on the one hand and hate on the other. “Why are we witnessing so many challenges to what used to be considered a shared sense of right and wrong?” Thomas asked in a column last week.
To Cal, who whines that we’re “drifting in a sea of personal morality,” I’d respond that for many Americans, the Golden Rule provides the bedrock to their morality and religion. It’s not an anything-goes rule, and arguably has been a core principle that’s preserved and protected cultures throughout the history of civilization.
Gays can serve our country militarily as well as anyone else, and have been doing so covertly for as long as we’ve been fighting wars. Predictions that this will “disrupt” the armed services insult the intelligence and maturity of our military men and women.
The children of undocumented Hispanic immigrants, if they work hard and abide by the law, should have an opportunity to become contributing and legal members of our society.
That’s the way I would like to be treated if I were in their place. They deserve no less.