The Immigration Non-Debate
By Mark Cromer, Senior Writing Fellow
The night before allegedly frightened officials at UCLA cancelled a planned campus address by a member of the Minutemen earlier this month, I found myself at Claremont Graduate University, facing a room jammed with students from both disciplines of environmental and Chicano studies.
Sitting next to me was Dr. Jose Calderon, a sociology and Chicano Studies professor from Pitzer College, and Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minutemen and perpetual piñata for militant Latino and immigration activists.
For the better part of three hours we held forth on the issue of illegal immigration and its correlation to population issues, environmental concerns and culture clash.
And the most amazing thing happened: we had a reasoned—if at times heated—debate about the issues. The students, as well as a few workers from the Pomona Day Labor Center who also came to the debate, listened intently, respectfully and offered mostly tough, thoughtful questions for hours.
The UCLA “students” who successfully muzzled a viewpoint on illegal immigration they find objectionable and the university officials who ultimately caved might be stunned to learn that; at CGU anyway, expressing radically divergent ideas is still valued and confronted with counter ideas—not threats of violence or chaos.
Gilchrist, who remains a blue-eyed Diablo incarnate for Latino activists, must have been particularly impressed, considering the anarchistic thugs who prevented him from speaking at Colombia University just a few months ago; an act that apparently inspired the UCLA students who were intent on keeping Minuteman Carl Braun off campus.
Despite the high-minded discourse at CGU, the censorship enforced by the intellectual cowards posing as student radicals is likely to get much worse before it gets better, in large part because it has accomplices within the academy; from professors who are happy to see opposing viewpoints stamped out to administrators who simply go with the flow while fishing for money.
This stands in stark contrast with the vast majority of students who are truly hungry for honest debate on illegal immigration and overpopulation issues.
Over the past few months I have debated the issue of illegal immigration in front of several thousand students at a variety of colleges and universities across Southern California. I have been encouraged by the students; and yet equally concerned by the continued smear tactics from a significant number of activists and their supporters that are hurled to silence opponents.
During the debate at CGU, Chicano Studies Professor Calderon deftly displayed the insidious and intellectually dishonest attacks that are now routinely employed against virtually all opponents of illegal immigration.
In a calm, reassuring voice, Calderon staked out his main points favoring an amnesty that embraces all illegal immigrants and called for greater American acceptance of immigrant cultures. While I might find that somewhat misguided, his views are certainly not offensive and deserve to be aired and discussed.
But then in the next breath, Calderon also told students that groups raising the alarm over an increasingly crowded California were actually little more than a cadre of sinister bigots cloaking a creepy agenda in the disguise of honest concern for the environment.
In case anyone missed the point, he declared that discussing illegal immigration within the context of overpopulation and its associated ills was reminiscent of anti-Jewish rhetoric in early1930s Germany.
In Calderon’s world, the debate over illegal immigration is between good souls trying to help desperate people living in the shadows; and third-generation Nazis ready to load them into cattle cars. One can express concern over California’s eroding environmental health and our quality of life, but one dare not mention mass illegal immigration as a contributing factor—lest one reveal themselves as an anti-Mexican xenophobe.
The cherry topping off Calderon’s serving of rich irony was his subsequent decrying of “divisive” tactics used by the “anti-immigrant” forces.
Perhaps most alarming is that Calderon knows better.
The good doctor is simply seeking to smear the people posing arguments counter to his own policy suggestions, perhaps afraid he can’t win by arguing factual points and facing overwhelming anecdotal evidence of a looming crisis.
So on one hand, professors like Calderon encourage students to participate in free and fair debate—at least when they are on stage. Yet the subtext of their perpetually dismissing opposing viewpoints as “racist” or worse is to give moral cover to those who chant such mindless Orwellian slogans’ as “Hate speech is not free speech” and the militants who threaten violence in order to prevent speech they don’t like.
Calderon and his ilk don’t mind if students remain quiet enough to hear opponents speak, but they are scared to death that students might listen.
br> I suspect that students throughout California aren’t going to be duped into dismissing the corrosive effects of increasing population densities as merely the rhetorical parlor tricks of an anti-immigrant cabal. The students who have shared their views with me sound far more nuanced and balanced between admirable humanitarianism and pragmatic realism.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that hysterical zealots on many campuses are still wielding influence far greater than their actual numbers, as the debacle at UCLA demonstrates. And the growing danger is that professors like Calderon are tacitly encouraging such censorship for pure political advantage.