View Point

Immigrant-bashing should horrify Hawaii

Neil Abercrombie

By Neil Abercrombie

Friday, August 30, 1996
from the Honolulu Star-Bulliten

Few states are closer to their immigrant roots than Hawaii. Our governor is the son of an immigrant from the Philippines. Our lieutenant governor is a first generation immigrant from Japan. Many, if not most, Hawaii residents have at least one parent or grandparent from another country.

The pattern of immigration changed over the decades, with successive waves of immigrant workers arriving to work on Hawaii's plantations: Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, Puerto Ricans and others. After World War II, they were joined by influxes from the U.S. mainland, Samoa and other Pacific islands.

Each group made its own unique contribution, which in turn was subsumed by the unique spirit and the love of aina of Native Hawaiians.

Immigration made this the most ethnically diverse state in the nation. We honor and cherish that diversity as the legacy of those who came before us. We have resolved to use that diversity to define our unique society rather than allow it to divide us.

Sadly, this heritage is under attack. Republicans in Congress have discovered that immigrant bashing is good politics in many places on the mainland.

In some cases, Republican-sponsored legislation singles out the children of undocumented immigrants for attack. In other instances, legal immigrants - who have worked, paid taxes and contributed to our communities for years - are targeted.

Immigrant bashers in the House of Representatives would:

  • Require teachers and social workers to inform on undocumented immigrant kids so they can be expelled from the country;

  • Authorize the expulsion from school of undocumented children (a provision vigorously opposed for obvious reasons by police chiefs);

  • Deny Medicaid and other social services not only to undocumented immigrants, but to legal immigrants who have been hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding members of their communities for decades.

These proposals fly in the face of America's history as a nation of immigrants. They are not, however, unprecedented.

In the 19th century, the country experienced violence against Irish immigrants. Later, immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were stigmatized as a threat to "Old Stock" Americans. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1898 was a savage attempt to curtail the rights of U.S.-born children of legal Asian immigrants.

Today we see a revival of that spirit in the 1996 Republican platform, which would break with law and tradition by denying citizenship to the U.S.-born of undocumented immigrants.

Anti-immigrant politicians cloak their stance by saying their concerns are not directed against specific racial or ethnic groups. It's no coincidence, however, that the most alarmist anti-immigrant rhetoric centers on the Asian and Hispanic backgrounds of current immigrants. Increasingly, the call to halt or drastically curtail immigration is coupled with thinly disguised appeals to racism.

The driving political and public relations force behind the anti-immigrant movement is an organization called the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

John Tanton, FAIR's executive director, warned of a "Latin onslaught" in an internal memo. According to the Los Angeles Times, Tanton "bemoaned Latin American traditions of bribery and civic apathy and cited high Latin birth rates."

FAIR is bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund, another source of repugnant racist ideas. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the Pioneer Fund also "bankrolls academic research claiming blacks and Latinos are inherently inferior."

ABC reported that the Pioneer Fund's first president "wanted the lowest 10 percent of Americans sterilized to 'eradicate inferior people.'"

In the 1930s, the fund's president "forged links with researchers in Germany who were also increasingly enthusiastic about eugenics, racial superiority and inferiority."

Not all opponents of immigration share these beliefs, but the anti-immigration movement as a whole cannot escape its place in this un-American constellation. It is fatally compromised by its financial and political links with forces which have more in common with burning crosses than the Stars and Stripes.

The United States - and Hawaii especially - was built by immigrants. Those who came here from other countries made enormous contributions. They made America the greatest nation in the world. They fashioned a Hawaii premised on social justice and equal opportunity.

The anti-immigrant movement rejects one of the most inspiring lessons of American history. Immigrants and those who embrace the diversity they bring affirm what is best about Hawaii and our nation.

Island families of immigrant heritage need no reminders that the battle against racism is far from over. The message of aloha is more important than ever.

Neil Abercrombie is a Democratic member of the
U.S. House of Representatives.

Abercrombie, Neil. "Immigrant-bashing should horrify Hawaii." Honolulu Star-Bulletin. 30 Aug. 1996