I recently interviewed Harry DeMell, an immigration lawyer since 1977 and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, about racism and immigration reform.
Schupak: Harry, many Democrats contend that what is really beneath the fight over immigration reform is a hint of racism. Do you agree?
DeMell: Yes. Racism plays a role in the immigration reform discussion and can't be ignored. There is a race card being played by some on both sides, and both sides are wrong. This is the great unspoken issue underlying immigration reform. Race is a two edged sword.
Schupak: What do you mean by "race is a two edged sword?"
DeMell: Well, there are some against continued immigration who feel that more immigration will somehow dilute the American white Anglo-Saxon establishment and culture. They are wrong. At the same time, there is an element in the pro immigrant community that believes that America has been a white Christian country and that the next wave of immigration will change that and somehow changes America. That's what they want. They want to punish America for what they perceive as neo-colonial wrongs. These people are just as bad and there seem to be any of them.
Schupak: I agree on the first part but I think you're wrong on the second part. I just don't see it. What do mean by "punish America?"
DeMell: There's a pro-immigrant group that thinks that America had oppressed minorities and that somehow if people they classify as the oppressed are in the majority, there will be some change in America that will bring them justice. They are wrong.
Schupak: I don't see it. Is this pro-immigrant racist group large?
DeMell: It is significant. The press isn't discussing it much, but every time there's a rally and people wave the Mexican flag, or any other flag except the American one, there's an anti-American element idea behind it. I feel it when I speak to many pro amnesty advocates and many immigration lawyers.
Schupak: Do you think that they are wrong?
DeMell: Of course! I would say that if people want to be part of the American dream, believe in our political values and play by our rules there should be avenues for immigration. If they want to come here and somehow subvert America they should go the f**k back where they came from. Racists from both camps just don't understand American history.
Schupak: So you think both sides are wrong.
DeMell: Yes. In each American generation there were those who felt that the next wave of immigrants would ruin or change America. Almost every group started out as outsiders and had to prove themselves before they were completely accepted. It started with someone who complained that those German-speaking immigrants with a strange religion would ruin America. That they would never fit in. That person was Benjamin Franklin and the people were the Amish. The same was said of the Irish in the early 19th century and the Jews, Italian and Polish in the later part of the 19th century. There was the Chinese exclusion Act. One argument of the Confederates was that the blacks would never be American. In every case, after a generation or two there was no question that they were American. Just look at who built this country and fought our wars. None of these groups are questioned today.
Schupak: But Harry, all of these groups changed America.
DeMell: For the better.
Schupak: What about those who want more immigration?
DeMell: What about them? Those who want to punish America don't understand that the vast majority of these people want to be American and that in fewer years than they realize, these people will be working for America, paying taxes, consider themselves part of the establishment and will just make America stronger. These pro-immigrant racists don't understand that what makes America great is our ideas of government and fair play. Most of the diversity they imagine has always melted away when someone became an American.
Schupak: So do you think diversity is good for America?
DeMell: Yes, but not the way the racists define "diversity." The diversity the pro immigration advocates talk about is wrong. It's not the diversity of race, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation that makes us great, although inclusion is what America is about. We've all become American and blend together as individuals. It's the diversity of ideas that makes America great. It always was the diversity of ideas that mattered. Great ideas raise us all up. Ideas that exploit our differences hold America back.
Follow Andy Schupak on Twitter: www.twitter.com/festivaloffilms