July 30, 2013— -- Decades ago, some restaurants and stores in the Southwest posted signs ontheir doors warning "No dogs or Mexicans allowed." It's hard to believe thatthis used to be acceptable.
While those signs were taken down long ago, anti-immigrant attitudes havepersisted, particularly against Mexican immigrants. In fact, as the debate aboutimmigration reform rages in the United States, the anti-immigrant rhetoric seemsto be getting fiercer.
Take the comments recently made by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, one ofthe most determined opponents of immigration reform. On July 18, during an interview with Newsmax, a news website, King deeply insulted the so-called "Dreamers," young undocumented residents (many of whom are students) who were brought to the U.S. as children and whose cause has deep support within theHispanic community. "They aren't all valedictorians," King said, explaining hisopposition to the Dream Act, which would grant Dreamers a path to citizenship.
"They weren't all brought in by their parents. For every one who's avaledictorian, there's another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds andthey've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds ofmarijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."
King's comments were ridiculous and tactless at best. This is the samecongressman who was denounced by many in the Hispanic community last year afterhe compared the immigration process to selecting dogs. In a speech delivered ata town hall meeting in Iowa in May 2012, King said: "If you get the pick of thelitter, you've got yourself a pretty good bird dog. Well, we've got the pick ofevery donor civilization on the planet."
I asked him about those remarks during a recent interview. King insisted thathe had not, in fact, compared immigrants to dogs. Rather, King said, he wascelebrating the importance of legal immigration. He said that his statementswere being mischaracterized - that a liberal campaign aimed at discrediting himand dividing the country is at work. (The interview can be seen here.)
However, given the fact that immigrants have been equated with dogs in thiscountry's past, it is understandable that many people considered his comments tobe offensive, and even racist. And it certainly doesn't help the RepublicanParty to win over Hispanic voters when one of its members is fending off suchaccusations. Republicans should be making headlines by expressing their supportfor immigration reform, but instead they are stuck on the defensive - especiallymany Republican members of the House of Representatives, who oppose acomprehensive plan like the one recently approved by the Senate.
House Republicans are either unable or unwilling to understand how importantthe immigration issue is to Hispanics. For us, it's personal, and the polls showthat in our community, support for immigration reform is almost universal. The16 million Hispanic voters who are expected to cast ballots in the 2016presidential election will not choose the party that opposed integrating theUnited States' 11 million undocumented residents.For a while, the lack ofimmigration legislation was blamed on President Barack Obama, who failed todeliver on a campaign promise he made in 2008 that he would bring a bill beforeCongress during his first term. But Obama and the Democratic Party have madegood on that promise, so the blame for stalled progress is now falling on theRepublicans and House Speaker John Boehner.
King's remarks are indicative of the discrimination that persists in thiscountry; a path to legalization would be a big step toward changing that. He ishardly his party's only problem, and this is not an isolated incident. Let's notforget Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's hunting for undocumented immigrants based onthe way they look (according to accusations from the Justice Department); Gov.Jan Brewer's refusal to issue Arizona driver's licenses to Dreamers; Republicanpresidential candidate Mitt Romney's idea that immigrants would self-deport; andmost recently, Boehner's refusal to put the Senate's immigration bill up for avote in the House. The Republican Party has a problem with Hispanics, and unlessit starts working on finding solutions to the immigration issue, the GOP willnot win another national election.
Maybe those signs barring dogs and immigrants are long gone, but too manyRepublican lawmakers insist on keeping the door closed.
(Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the senior news anchor forUnivision Network. Mexican-born Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books,most recently, "A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.")