A new book by a prominent progressive author contains a rather ironic revelation: CNN's Lou Dobbs -- the disgruntled television voice of anti-immigration sentiment -- says he would actually welcome millions of new immigrants into the United States.
"If we are to have a national debate and a national dialogue and a decision about national policy and we make a judgment that we are going to raise immigration levels - let's say that we double them, lets say that we triple them - sign me up," Dobbs is reported as saying in February 2007. "There is nothing in me that is a restrictionist whatsoever, and I realize that separates me from others who are against illegal immigration on the basis that there is too much immigration. I don't believe that. I do believe that we are not in control of our immigration policies or what is happening in this country. And that leaves me in despair."
The remark comes courtesy of David Sirota's just released book: "The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour Of The Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street And Washington," which documents the conflict between business interests, government policies and popular opinion on a variety of issues, from trade and the economy to immigration to Iraq.
And if the image of Dobbs welcoming immigrants arms-outstretched seems out of line with what the host, on his nightly show, seemingly represents, that's because it is.
While the CNN anchor was explicitly discussing a growth in "legal" immigration, he has rarely, if ever, expressed such a viewpoint on his show. Dobbs has built up his reputation and audience primarily on an ability to appeal to the fervent anti-immigration sentiment in some segments of the country. A recent Media Matters study showed that Lou Dobbs Tonight spent the most time of any cable news show "airing claims about immigrants draining government coffers and/or not paying taxes. Out of a total of approximately 260 broadcasts, Lou Dobbs Tonight featured these ideas on 71 programs, or more than one out of every four broadcasts -- and 39 percent of the programs on which he discussed immigration."
CINN did not return request for comment. But an earlier portion of Sirota's book does provide a window into what could be the anchor's defense: it's not about immigrants, it's about border security.
"'There is a group of people who would like to believe that somehow debating illegal immigration, the security of our borders or our ports, is somehow racially inspired,' [Dobbs] says, annoyed and tapping his hand on his desk. 'But there's never been an issue of race introduced into this discussion by me.'
Some of Dobbs's toughest critics grudgingly acknowledge that, at least rhetorically, the CNN anchor has not made bigoted remarks. 'Dobbs has steered clear of the racist comments,' acknowledged the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But these same critics say his one-sided focus on the wedge issue of illegal immigration - and his one-sided take on the issue - fuels anti-Hispanic xenophobia, because most illegal immigrants are Latino. He might respond to them with a 'my best friend is black' answer by citing his own marriage to a Mexican American. Or he might point to his move a few weeks ago to become a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. But he does none of that. Instead, he normally responds to them, as he is to me right now, that for him, the issue has nothing to do with race or even legal immigration levels - it is all about border security."
Even so, Dobbs's position has riled immigrant groups and even mainstream politicians. At a fundraiser in Florida this past Thursday night, Sen. Barack Obama accused of "ginning up" anti-immigration sentiment to such an extent that there has been a rise in hate crimes against Hispanics.
Added Cecilia Muñoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States: "I think he likes to see himself as somebody whose only problem is with illegal immigrants, but if you look at who is on his show and how his arguments are framed, it takes just seconds for him to get to his concerns about illegal immigrants. It may not be the way he intends it, but boy is that the impact... It is not about illegal immigration, it is about something much bigger and it is the Latino community that continually feels under attack by him."