By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
However you feel about the immigration issue, the sight of angry protesters in Murrieta, California screaming “go back to where you come from” and shouting other invectives to a busload of children and their moms has to make you queasy. It sickened me. But what also made me angry was that the protestors, to justify taunting a group of defenseless kids, grotesquely cloaked their hatred in “patriotism” by chanting “USA!, USA! USA!” over and over again. I remember one of the first times I proudly joined with my fellow Americans in that chant when the U.S. Hockey Team pulled off its improbable win over the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics. So on this Fourth of July, I want to reclaim “USA! USA! USA!” on behalf of the vast majority of Americans and the values we hold dear back from that mob of hate in Murrieta.
There is nothing more un-American than showing not even one shred of sympathy, compassion, or even decency towards a group of desperate young children who showed up on our doorstep after having spent weeks on a treacherous journey. There is nothing more un-American than deliberately frightening an already traumatized group of kids, some still in diapers. There is nothing more un-American than a mob taking the law into their own hands and preventing authorities from doing the work of processing these refugees. What we saw was not patriotism –— it was ugly, divisive, and yet another low for a debate that I thought could not get much lower.
But I reserved my greatest scorn for the Mayor of Murrieta, Alan Long. It was he who incited his constituents to protest and let law enforcement look the other way. It was he who recklessly demagogued the issue to spare himself a political problem and is now crying crocodile tears about the “black eye” media coverage has given his town. He took an epic, immensely complicated humanitarian situation that involves broken policymaking both in Central America and in the U.S. and pointed the finger of blame at a bus full of little kids and babies.
What is so craven about Long’s “blame the victim” strategy is that he and the anti-immigrant extremists he unleashed not only blocked a couple of buses, they continue to block every single attempt at a humane and effective solution by reasonable policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Egged on by shameless demagogues like Long at the local level and lawmakers like Rep. Steve King (R-–IA) at the national level, the small but loud anti-immigrant movement like the one on display in Murrieta is the single biggest reason we do not yet have comprehensive immigration reform.
This week we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that helped America finally live up to its values when it came to all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or creed. That legislation was also unconscionably delayed by another small but powerful group of people who were on the wrong side of history. The leaders of the civil rights movement had to fight hard and but also long to overcome them, but they did. And they were joined in that struggle by a dedicated and tireless group of bipartisan Senators and Congressmen and a courageous President. Fifty years later, there is no doubt in my mind that in the America I know and love we can do it again.