10/08/2010 10:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lou Dobbs Lit the Flames of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in America

The revelation that Lou Dobbs had hired undocumented workers on his Florida estate will cheer immigration advocates such as me no end.

The hypocrisy of the man has been exposed and his crusade against immigrants badly damaged.

He has fallen back on the time tested "I never knew they were illegal "response when faced with the facts of The Nation magazine investigation into his hiring practices.

It doesn't work on this occasion. After browbeating every politician and lobby group with "illegals under the bed" paranoia they have now been discovered in his barn.

As the founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform I saw firsthand how we and other lobby groups ran afoul of Dobbs on a number of occasions when trying to bring about comprehensive reform in Washington.

He was the first to wave the red flag, to begin the demonization process of immigrants and to fuel the fire that has led to the outright nativism we see today, especially in border states.

There was a time just a few brief years ago, when Ted Kennedy and John McCain were ascendant in Congress that real immigration reform looked likely.

The debate was still reasoned, the Republican Party no way as polarized as it is today on this issue.

At our lobby days in Washington we got Republicans such as McCain, Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas and several Republican congressmen to attend.

I remember a meeting with Congressman Mike Pence, now a rising figure in the Republican House leadership, which was a reasoned and compassionate debate on the issue.

Then we'd roll back home satisfied, turn on Lou Dobbs and see the same brown baiting, illegal stomping Dobbs throwing gasoline on the flames of anti immigrant sentiment.

As the debate coarsened, thanks mainly to Dobbs, then the center ground disappeared,
On subsequent visits to Washington It became harder and harder to access Republicans on the issue. The Kennedy/McCain bill failed and the issue of immigration reform has been on a slippery slope to nowhere since.

Immigration reform has become harder and harder to have a rational debate about and Lou Dobbs was the prime mover in creating that.

Dobbs, like all conspiracy peddlers, talks a good game. He never appears to be racist, strongly denies he has a racist bone in his body, but his vitriol towards immigrants allowed others to pick up the cudgel

He has trademarked a fear of the 'brown peril" somewhat similar to the "yellow peril" about Asians in the 1850s.

We have seen what has happened with horrific regularity. Attacks on immigrants have sharply increased, deaths at border crossings have jumped.

We have also entered the era of urban myth where the Arizona governor can invent beheadings and spout make believe statistics and get a bump in the polls.

But at least now we know that while Dobbs slung insults at everyone asking for rational debate he never saw the mote in his own eye and broke the same law he was accusing many others of breaking.

It has usually been thus with rabble-rousers.