A few years back, when I was working on a series about the growing Latino labor force in North Carolina and a post-9/11 crackdown on undocumented workers, one of my sources noted that if Pat Buchanan and others who want to stem the tide of immigration got to build their wall around the United States, they would have to rely on Latino labor to get it done.
Look around at the crews putting up those new buildings at UNC, State and other campuses. Look in the commercial kitchens all over the Triangle and the meat-packing plants from Morganton to Smithfield and you'll see the faces of what some call a threat to our way of life. Yes, many did not get here by legal means, but they got here and found jobs and are making a living--boosting the state's labor pool and shoring up our economy by spending $10 billion a year.
So it's a little disappointing to see anti-immigration hawks in the legislature and on the airwaves trotting out the same, tired clichés and trumped up threats to "our" way of life. The mix of hot air and demagogy that's flowing over an effort to allow the children of immigrants to receive in-state tuition at state universities is a reminder that trading on a fear of "the other" is alive and well in these parts.
It would be great if there could be a real, reasoned debate on the subject, because immigration is one of those areas where federal policy is probably the furthest removed from economic and cultural realities. Back when I was working on the labor series, one salt-of-the-earth painting crew foreman called to tell me that the feds were going to have to "come and pry my guys away."
Yet you have folks like WPTF's Bill LuMaye railing against "those people" and standing shoulder to shoulder with vigilantes like The Minutemen, who are guarding the Arizona border and (Mr. LuMaye would have you believe) protecting our very way of life from a wave of invading masons, painters and sheet rockers.
Many of us would prefer to ignore people who lend their microphones to the cause of ignorance, but there is a growing rise of vigilante thought and action that cannot and should not be ignored. The people saying amen to gun-toting self-appointed posses, judge-threatening politicians and demagogs in priestly garb calling for holy wars should consider that this nation is still full of Timothy McVeighs and Eric Rudolphs looking for vindication of their ideas and the inspiration to take matters from thought and word to deed.