Editor’s note: Read responses to this piece here.
On May 25, I wrote a column entitled “Latino Fear and Loathing” that has provoked considerable anger and recriminations among my fellow conservatives. In the column I asserted that, “Some people just don’t like Mexicans — or anyone else from south of the border,” and described some of the fears shaping these sentiments: “They think Latinos are freeloaders and welfare cheats who are too lazy to learn English. They think Latinos have too many babies, and that Latino kids will dumb down our schools. They think Latinos are dirty, diseased, indolent, and more prone to criminal behavior. They think Latinos are just too different from us ever to become real Americans.” I said that those holding these views constituted less than ten percent of the population — an extrapolation of attitudes on race from several studies done over the years.
But it was a subsequent assertion that caused the most furor: namely that among this ten percent were “a fair number of Republican members of Congress, almost all influential conservative talk radio hosts, some cable news anchors — most prominently, Lou Dobbs — and a handful of public policy ‘experts’ at organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, in addition to fringe groups like The Minutemen.”
On reflection, I went too far. I blew off some steam and in the process offended some erstwhile allies. I should have been more careful in my wording and not tarred with such a broad brush. I should have been clearer that not everyone who opposes the Senate bill does so for illegitimate reasons. What I should have said was that those in positions of influence, whether elected leaders or talk-show hosts, have a special responsibility not to inflame racial passions and animosities by appealing to the small minority of Americans who are motivated by bigotry. I should have emphasized that the exploitation of prejudice, even if it is not shared or intended, is a danger to conservatives and the Republican party — and we should explicitly disavow it. But I’m not altogether unhappy I wrote the column, or a subsequent one describing the reaction it provoked. There are only so many times that you can be told to “go back to Mexico” and far worse before your blood starts to boil (and I’m talking about thousands of such responses over the last year). The immigration debate has stirred up some pretty ugly sentiments and conservatives need to be especially careful in this regard. We are, after all, the ones who argue for colorblind policies.
Following WFB’s Lead
In 1991, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a seminal piece for National Review entitled “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” which grappled with defining when mere difference of opinion on a policy issue — in this instance, U.S. Middle East policy — veers off toward ugly bigotry. It was a stunning essay and had significant moral reverberation throughout the conservative movement, as Joseph Sobran and Patrick Buchanan were the chief specimens he put under the microscope to determine when words — and the uses to which they are put — cross the line into anti-Semitism. And that is the question I think conservatives must deal with now in the nexus between the inflamed passions on immigration and our attitudes towards Hispanics in general and Hispanic immigrants in particular. When do some critics of illegal immigration — or, in certain cases, those who want to restrict legal immigration as well — employ arguments whose predictable result, if not deliberate intent, is to promote anti-Hispanic bigotry? In his 40,000-word examination, Buckley concluded that he found it “impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it: most probably, an iconoclastic temperament.” Here I want to try to describe the danger of anti-Hispanic bias as I see it, at greater length than my original, syndicated column (which is limited to 600-700 words); and, I hope, with more sensitivity to the raw emotions on this issue.
As many readers of NRO know, I have been fighting racial, ethnic, and sex-based preferences in hiring, contracting, and college admissions as long as anyone in the conservative movement. My memoir, An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal, describes my epiphany on this issue in 1969, when I began teaching in affirmative-action programs at the University of Colorado and, later, UCLA. I have been one of the leaders of the movement to ban racial preferences, first writing my own and publishing others’ articles on the subject when I was the editor of American Educator magazine in the 1970s and early ’80s. In 1983, after President Reagan appointed me director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, my fight against racial and other preferences landed me on the front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every other major newspaper in the nation. My first book, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, argued not only against preferential treatment for Hispanics, but against bilingual education, bilingual ballots, ethnically drawn voting districts, and other programs based on ethnicity; it also dealt with the problem of welfare dependency and illegitimacy in the Puerto Rican community. I have been vilified for my views, disinvited from speaking on university campuses, and have endured protest marches and boycotts. I’ve even been physically assaulted, punched by a protester in full view of the police, who did nothing to stop the near riot that erupted when I showed up to speak at a community college in the Bronx. I have earned the right over 30 years to be heard in my own defense. So here goes.
First, Americans are the most tolerant people in the world; those same surveys I used to describe racial/ethnic attitudes bear this out. A 1991 Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press poll, for example, shows that Americans are the most tolerant of those measured, with 13 percent disliking blacks, while the British came in second, with 21 percent disliking the Irish. And among Americans, whites appear to be more tolerant than other groups as well. But Hispanics (in those few surveys that include specific data) are quite similar to whites in their attitudes toward other groups. In a study of racial attitudes of American youth, by the liberal People for the American Way, Hispanics were even more likely than whites (59 to 54 percent) to say that from their experience “people of different races and ethnic groups tend to feel pretty comfortable dealing with each other.” And they are more likely than whites (55 to 46 percent) to say that “most of the people who suffer from poverty haven’t really tried hard enough to improve their own situation,” a particularly interesting finding given overall poverty rates among Hispanics, which are high, 22 percent.
Second, opposing the Senate bill, which is now in limbo — or indeed opposing higher levels of immigration — does not equate with being a racist, a nativist, or a xenophobe as many have interpreted my remarks to imply. I, too, have some problems with the legislation — which I’ve voiced publicly and privately to the White House. Granted, most of my problems have to do with the fact that I don’t want to see us go the way of Europe by inviting “guest workers” who will never become Americans; I would rather increase the number of permanent residents we admit and then aggressively work to assimilate them. Promoting assimilation has been the foundation of my entire public career, going back some 30 years now, even before I became a Republican or started to think of myself as a conservative.
And one can certainly be concerned about illegal immigration — as I am — without being a racist, nativist, or xenophobe. It is worth noting, however, that illegal immigration peaked in 2000 and is down now by about one third. The greatest increase in illegal immigration was from 1995 to 2000, when only two percent of Americans listed immigration as important in the Harris poll each year, which asked: “What do you think are the two most important issues for the government to address?” Something happened since then to cause immigration to become the single biggest domestic issue out there. Some have suggested it was 9/11 that brought the turnaround. Terrorism may explain anxiety about border security — I certainly share the fear that porous borders make it easy for terrorists and drug dealers, as well as gardeners and construction workers, to sneak in. But fear of terrorism doesn’t entirely explain why illegal immigration has become such a hot-button issue, even in the face of declining numbers of illegal aliens entering the country. (Many of us on the side of comprehensive reform argue that the best and most effective way to reduce illegal immigration is to allow workers to come legally, temporarily, or as permanent residents, so that we might focus our limited resources on intercepting jihadists and criminals.) If the actual numbers aren’t driving the issue, what is? I believe that the constant drumbeat on immigration — driven by talk radio, cable news, the Internet, and direct mail — has played a major role in raising anxiety on the issue. And some of the rhetoric has been irresponsible, to say the least.
Third, words do matter — or why all the fuss about my accusing some people of disliking Mexicans? I didn’t, by the way, suggest that, even among the less than ten percent of the population who fit this category, most want to string up Mexicans — only that they wish Mexicans would go back where they came from, including, apparently, those like me whose families have been here for centuries. And while National Review Online contributors have been quite outspoken in their condemnation of my words — with Ramesh Ponnuru going so far as to suggest I must be publicly shunned — there have been no similar recriminations against others whose intemperate remarks make mine look mild by comparison. And I’m not just talking about the yahoos who, in response to my column, posted comments on Townhall.com calling Mexicans “pigs,” and Latino girls “baby factories” who “fornicate like animals with no regard for the welfare of the child,” or who “don’t want spanish speaking little retards befouling our great country.” Some of what is being said that most concerns me is written right here on NRO by its contributors.
Let’s start with John Derbyshire — a man whose intelligence I much admire, but whose attitude towards Mexicans I find distasteful. I first discovered Derbyshire’s work when I read his novel Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream. I introduced John J. Miller to his work, and Miller later suggested he write for National Review. I remember Derbyshire using the term “Aztec” to describe someone in the novel, a janitor as I recall. It seemed a slightly odd description, but I chalked it up to poetic license — that is until I started reading his writing on NRO and elsewhere. Derbyshire seems to think it quite amusing to use “Aztec” to refer to Mexicans, or, for that matter, any dark-skinned worker he assumes hails from Mexico or destinations south of the U.S. border, as in “Long Island’s battalions of Aztec landscapers apparently don’t work on Sundays” or “a 20-year-old pickup truck speeding north along Interstate 5 from San Diego with fifteen Aztecs crammed in the back.”
I wonder, would NRO find it equally funny if someone writing on, say, U.S. policy in the Middle East called Jews “Hebrews,” or if one of its contributors writing about racial preferences in college admissions decided to refer to blacks as “Bantus”? Derbyshire says he’s a racist (I wouldn’t go that far; I think he’s less racist than he is sophomoric). In an interview on a website called “Collected Miscellany,” he described himself as “a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one.” Later, on NRO Derbyshire said he wasn’t sure what “‘racist’ means this week,” though he went on to say “I can’t for the life of me see anything wrong, or even unpleasant, in wishing the country to have a certain ethnic mix, and not some other ethnic mix.” He has also written columns bemoaning the passing of the white majority in the nation’s demography — though I’m not sure what he would make of the fact that a plurality of all Hispanics, 48 percent, identify themselves as white on the Census; and an even greater number of U.S.-born Hispanics (63 percent of Mexican Americans in Texas) so identify. Peter Brimelow, Pat Buchanan, and others farther outside the mainstream of conservative opinion share Derbyshire’s view that race and ethnicity should be a factor in deciding whom to admit to the U.S. But I would hope that most conservatives — at least those who claim to favor colorblind policies — would find this troubling. Do we believe in colorblindness only when it comes to affirmative action or voting redistricting?
It is true, as Derbyshire notes, that U.S. immigration policy in the past has been anything but colorblind. The various Asian exclusion acts, which prohibited most Chinese, Japanese, and later other Asian groups from immigrating or becoming citizens, are good examples, as is the Immigration Act of 1924, which was designed specifically to limit certain groups from immigrating — Jews, Italians, Poles, and other southern and eastern Europeans. And even the 1965 Immigration Act was sold on the premise that the ethnic mix of the country would not be changed. But lest Derbyshire and others forget, in 1924 Jim Crow reigned through much of the nation, and even in 1965, blacks could not vote virtually anywhere in the deep south. We were hardly a colorblind society then — but we aspire to be so now.
But Derbyshire isn’t the only immoderate voice on NRO. Heather Mac Donald, whose tirades against Hispanics have appeared on NRO and numerous other places, is one of conservatism’s most influential, young public intellectuals and one of the movement’s most prolific writers. There is much in her work to admire — but she has recently become careless, even vitriolic, when it comes to writing about Hispanics. For example, on the very day NRO contributors and editors were chiding me for my infelicitous phrasing, Mac Donald was engaging in a sustained rant on the topic of Hispanic assimilation in response to a quite reasonable column in the Washington Post by another conservative, former White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. “What planet is Gerson living on? Far from being ‘focused on education,’ Hispanics have the highest drop-out rate in the country — 47 percent nationally, and far worse in heavily Hispanic areas,” she wrote. “Behind Hispanic educational failure rate lies an apathy towards learning,” she claims, citing former Congressman Herman Badillo, a Puerto Rican, as her source. “Hostility towards academic achievement is higher among Hispanics than among blacks,” she fumes; “Gerson’s claim of a culture ‘focused on education’ is pure delusion. Gerson’s hackneyed invocation of Hispanic ‘family values’ is equally laughable.” This is hardly dispassionate analysis.
Mac Donald’s figures on Hispanic dropouts are simply wrong. She uses a figure — 47 percent — from a study by the Manhattan Institute’s Jay Greene, which employs incredibly poor methodology. She could have used Current Population Survey data, which shows an overall dropout rate of 42 percent for Hispanics, but even that would be misleading, for it includes immigrants who have never attended American schools, having arrived in their late teens or twenties. Both my book on Hispanic assimilation, Out of the Barrio, and my recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, explain the fallacy in this kind of analysis. The school completion rate for second-generation Hispanics (using CPS data) is 86 percent, for third-generation Hispanics, it is 89 percent; and for non-Hispanic whites it is 92 percent.
For the moment, however, I want to focus not on her numbers but on her tone, here and elsewhere. “Hispanic immigrants bring near–Third World levels of fertility to America, coupled with what were once thought to be First World levels of illegitimacy,” she wrote in a piece for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Mac Donald’s article is a litany of dysfunction and pathology among Hispanics — mothers pimping their own daughters, incest, drugs, ubiquitous illegitimacy, and welfare dependence, all summed up as “Hispanic family values.” The article is based largely on anecdotes gathered in a visit to Los Angeles, frequently supplied by Spanish surnamed social-service providers to lend authenticity, with a smattering of highly selective statistics. But she is extraordinarily careless with her facts.
Take her assertion that “conservatives who support open borders are fond of invoking ‘Hispanic family values’ as a benefit of unlimited Hispanic immigration. Marriage is clearly no longer one of those family values.” Really? In fact, Hispanic marriage rates are nearly identical to those of non-Hispanic whites; 77 percent of Hispanic women will marry by age 30, compared to 81 percent of non-Hispanic whites, and they are no more likely to divorce. As I point out in my Wall Street Journal piece, the increase in out-of-wedlock births among Hispanics is indeed troubling; it now stands at 46 percent of all births to Hispanics (up from 24 percent in 1980). But it is also a bit misleading, since these mothers do eventually marry. The number of female-headed households (these are U.S. Census data) stood at 14 percent for non-Hispanic whites and about 20 percent for Mexican-origin families. And most Hispanic children are being raised by two parents — 67 percent, compared to 77 percent for non-Hispanic whites but only 37 percent of blacks. Even her alarm over fertility data is off base. Yes, Hispanics have more babies than non-Hispanic whites or blacks; the lifetime fertility for Hispanics results in the average Hispanic woman having one more baby over her lifetime than the average non-Hispanic white woman. Not exactly third-world fertility.
This is not the first time Mac Donald has played fast and loose with her facts. In an article she wrote in 2004 for City Journal, “The Illegal Alien Crime Wave,” Mac Donald asserted, “In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens.” The problem is, the statistic is entirely bogus — and worse it has become one of the most ubiquitous factoids used in the debate on immigration, cited in congressional testimony, repeated ad nauseum on cable news and talk radio, and has even been picked up by some otherwise sensible voices in the immigration debate. The Los Angeles Police Department does not gather information on the legal status of those arrested, much less on people — those who have outstanding warrants — that by definition they can’t find, which I confirmed in repeated conversations with the LAPD public-information office. Moreover, in 2004, the year Mac Donald wrote the piece, there were a total of 518 homicides in L.A. Now unless every murder was committed by at least three illegal aliens, none of whom was ever apprehended, Mac Donald’s 1,200-1,500 figure should have leaped out at her as obviously problematic — the 95-percent claim alone should have set off warning bells. I contacted her after Snopes.com, the Los Angeles Times, and others had debunked her assertion. She told me “The LAPD fugitive warrants section gave me that figure.” When I asked her how she explained the 1,200-1,500 figure when there were only 518 homicides in 2004, she said, “As you know, warrants are cumulative; they do not derive only from the current year. Outstanding warrants are not the same as the murder rate.” But she did not add that qualifier to her original statement — and, besides, it wouldn’t much matter if she had since the information on illegal aliens who are the subject of warrants simply isn’t available no matter what her source in the LAPD told her.
I like Mac Donald — I’ve had her on my now-defunct radio show numerous times. She’s smart and feisty, but in this instance she has acted irresponsibly. There is a substantial body of information on immigrants and crime, most of which Mac Donald seems unaware exists or chooses to ignore. A comprehensive study of incarceration rates by nativity (using Census data for the institutionalized population in the U.S., which are practically the only national or statewide data available for such purposes), shows that Mexican-born men have an incarceration rate of 0.7 percent, compared with 1.71 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 11.6 percent for blacks, and 5.9 percent for Mexican Americans. Similarly, a study by Harvard University’s Robert Sampson suggests that if you’re poor and want to avoid crime, your best bet is to move into a heavily Hispanic immigrant neighborhood. In a longitudinal study of some 3000 Chicago youth and a separate survey of nearly 9000 Chicago residents, Sampson and his colleagues found, “The odds of perpetrating violence were 85 percent higher for blacks compared with whites, whereas Latino-perpetrated violence was 10 percent lower,” which he attributed to a “combination of married parents, living in a neighborhood with a high concentration of immigrants, and individual immigrant status.” But you’ll never hear any of this when Mac Donald or others on the Right make their claims of an illegal-alien crime wave sweeping the nation.
Now everyone who works with statistics occasionally makes mistakes or misinterprets data. If Mac Donald would simply admit her error on the outstanding warrant issue — and publicly set the record straight (she’s quite willing to engage in “Seeing Today’s Immigrants Straight,” another City Journal piece) — I might just chalk this up to a heavy workload. But given the animus that drips from the page whenever she writes about Hispanics — refusing to cite statistics that conflict with her effort to portray them in the most frightening light (again see my piece in the Wall Street Journal for some encouraging numbers) — I can’t help but wonder, what’s going on here? I am curious, what part of “Latinos are freeloaders and welfare cheats who . . . have too many babies. . . .Latino kids will dumb down our schools. . . . Latinos are dirty, diseased, indolent, and more prone to criminal behavior” does Mac Donald disagree with? To paraphrase Buckley, it is hard for me to defend Heather Mac Donald against the charge that what she has written amounts to anti-Hispanic cant, whatever it is that drives her to write it.
I would like nothing more than to see Mac Donald disavow antipathy towards Hispanics and begin to bring some balance to her writing. I’d also like to see NRO and other conservative publications and websites start looking more carefully at what they publish and post. When Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a frequent contributor to NRO, posted the following on The Corner, I complained, to no avail: “Watching a show with that Honda robot walking up and down stairs and the rest, all I could think of is that the Japanese are developing humanoid robots and we’re importing illiterates from south of the border — who’s going to end up with the better deal?” Would NRO be as careless if blacks were the object of such derision? I doubt it. I’m not asking for politically correct censorship of ideas; I am asking for civility and a commitment to true colorblindness in all public policies.
I think there is an obligation for those who do not share such views to speak out, and it is particularly incumbent on conservatives to tread carefully in this arena. As a leader in the fight against racial preferences, I’ve always been choosy in the company I keep. I will not appear with or allow myself or my organizations to be in any way associated with David Duke, Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, or others in the fringe “white identity” movement, as they sometimes call themselves. I’ve never hesitated to call such people racists; they are. It doesn’t matter that they share my opposition to racial preferences; we do so for very different reasons. But racists are not the only problematic allies conservatives encounter when it comes to the immigration issue.
I doubt that most conservatives know the roots of the modern immigration-restriction movement. The Federation for Immigration Reform and its offshoots, including the Center for Immigration Studies, oppose most legal as well as illegal immigration largely because they have radical views on population issues. John Tanton, the founder of FAIR (as well as a number of other groups on this and related issues), was previously the national president of Zero Population Group, past president of Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood, and former head of the Sierra Club’s Population Committee, not exactly groups with which most conservatives identify. I know Tanton reasonably well, having worked with him when I was president of U.S. English (another group Tanton founded, which promotes making English the official language — a policy I still support and have testified on each time the bill comes up for hearings in Congress).
FAIR and its policy arm, the Center for Immigration Studies, oppose immigration because they want to reduce the size of the current U.S. population to about 150 million people — in other words, by more than half, roughly to what it was in 1950. How would they accomplish this feat? First, of course, by not admitting many immigrants, especially Hispanics, who have higher fertility rates than whites or blacks. But others intimately associated with FAIR would go further. The late Garrett Hardin, a biologist who was on the FAIR board for many years and whose publications are available now largely through one of Tanton’s other organizations, the Social Contract Press, suggested “that family size cannot be left to individual decisions,” and once bemoaned China’s decision to limit its one-child policy to urban areas: “They have failed, however, by not making this directive universal throughout the country.” One of Hardin’s books, available only from Tanton’s private publishing house, is Mandatory Motherhood: The True Meaning of Right to Life, and a chapter entitled “We Need Abortion for the Children’s Sake.” He even defended infanticide, noting in an interview, “Looking at history with an open mind you’ll see that infanticide has been used as an effective population control.” Hardin and his wife committed suicide when both became ill in their eighties — an option former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm, a former board member and current co-chair of FAIR’s national board of advisers, hinted more of us should consider, urging in a 1984 speech that the elderly have a “duty to die.” Lamm also suggested in his book Megatraumas that health care be rationed, arguing that money should not be spent on life-extending procedures, including transplants or artificial organs, for anyone over 65.
Now I know that political coalitions bring together individuals and organizations that may share widely divergent views on a variety of issues but share common ground on a single issue around which they coalesce. But in the case of FAIR and most of Tanton’s organizations, population control is their raison d’etre and is the heart of their position on immigration, even though they have recently downplayed population concerns on their websites. What’s more, FAIR is the most influential organization in the country on immigration; it has literally driven this issue to the forefront of policy concerns over the last two decades. Not everyone in FAIR may share the same views on population issues as Tanton, Hardin, Lamm, et al. — it would be interesting to find out by asking Krikorian and others their views. Nonetheless, I am surprised that so many conservatives who are allied with FAIR, CIS, and other Tanton groups, are either unaware of the groups’ history, leadership, and positions or choose to ignore them. FAIR, as an organization, has never tried to disassociate itself from these views, nor has the group, to my knowledge, criticized any of its board members or others for making outrageous statements. Nor has FAIR had any compunction about taking money — well over a million dollars over the years — from the Pioneer Fund, started in 1937 by wealthy, prominent eugenicists. The foundation says, “The research we support looks at our evolutionary past (human origins), our present (individual and group differences), and our future (the impact of technology and globalization on human ecology and demography).” Its thrust in recent years has been to support research primarily on racial differences in I.Q., the hereditability of criminal and other anti-social behavior, and, even, phrenology — the supposed link between head size (length, width, and circumference of the skull) and intelligence. It is not necessary to imply guilt-by-association to suggest that conservatives should be troubled by this history.
In summary, let me reiterate: There are good and decent people who oppose the current immigration bill for reasons that have nothing to do with disliking Mexicans. The legislation was put together in a short time frame and marks a dramatic change in U.S. immigration policy, some of which I’m not entirely comfortable with. And there are plenty of reasons to worry about illegal immigration and the burdens it imposes on communities. If people break the law, they should pay a price — the debate is over what that price should be. And there is no question that border security must be tightened — again the debate is, or should be, over how best to do that. Nor is there anything wrong with wanting to preserve American culture. I’ve been engaged in the fight against multiculturalism since it first reared its ugly head. But there is something wrong with assuming, based on selective use of statistics and faulty data, that Hispanics are incapable of fully embracing American culture. And there is nothing honorable or decent about winning a debate over a piece of legislation if it requires slandering Hispanics or other immigrants or demonizing them by playing fast and loose with social science.
It is also dangerous to win the immigration debate by stirring up racial or ethnic animosities by playing to the prejudices of that small group of Americans who are motivated by racism and nativism. Opinion leaders, whatever their political affiliations, must be particularly careful in this last instance. I don’t for a minute believe that the Left isn’t guilty of similar sins; I’ve made a career of attacking the Left when it veered into anti-Americanism or promoting racial divisions. But I expect more from my fellow conservatives. We can do better than to marginalize some 42 million Hispanics by careless rhetoric — we ought to reach out to those who already share our values and encourage others to embrace them, for their sake and ours.
– Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity.