Let's assume Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) is not a racist, as he asserts he is not. But by pandering to those who are, he is stirring up hatred against Latino immigrants and others.
The brouhaha began when Rohrabacher, running in a primary race in a new 45th Congressional District in Orange County, spoke before a group that opposes illegal immigration. He cited stories he had heard about how newcomers had benefited from subsidized health care at the expense of legal residents. "If Pedro's not here legally," the congressman vowed, "he's not going to get $50,000 for that heart-bypass operation."
The key word was "Pedro." It's a common name in Spanish, but what did it have to do with the issue at hand? Is he suggesting all illegal immigrants are Spanish-speaking? If so, he is grossly ill-informed at best, and, at worst, playing to those who think only Latinos are illegal immigrants--who, according to U.S. immigration officials, also include Europeans, Asians and Africans.
Rohrabacher, of course, is no stranger to controversy. He is, after all, the congressman who led the unsavory attack on the National Endowment for the Arts. Facing a tough race in the newly redrawn 45th District, he's now picked immigration as a "hot button" issue.
Rohrabacher suggests it takes courage to risk being labeled racist in order to put on the table an issue that's legitimately on a lot of people's minds. He asserts that immigrants come to the United States illegally just to get social service "goodies." But, when pressed, he admits his source for this claim is "mainly anecdotal." In fact, eligibility requirements prevent just anyone from going on the public dole.
Had Rohrabacher read further on the subject, he might have found a 1990 report by President Bush's U.S. Council of Economic Advisers saying that "numerous studies suggest that the long-run benefits of immigration greatly exceed any short-run costs (to American society)."
But that's not Rohrabacher's style. He aims to get attention--not forward debate on an important issue.