"Where's your Green Card! Where's your Green Card! Where's your Green Card!..."
That was the despicable taunt that met Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez during the first-round NCAA tournament game between Kansas State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. Never mind that Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, is a U.S. citizen. His surname and brown skin were enough to lead Southern Mississippi band members to put on an ugly display of prejudice, humiliating themselves and their university.
It goes without saying that the incident should be investigated and the perpetrators disciplined. Southern Mississippi has since publicly apologized to Rodriguez. Such bigotry has no place anywhere in America, least of all on a university campus.
But can we really be surprised by the horrid display of anti-Latino prejudice? Is it not the foreseeable result of the coded hate-speech of the anti-immigrant restrictionists who day after day use the Internet, print media, and airwaves to disseminate their message of hate aimed at Latinos? The nativist restrictionists are a coalition of hate groups which rely on myths, half-truths, and bald-faced lies to frame the immigration debate in foul racist terms. They've concocted the grand myth of a "Latino invasion" -- hordes of brown people streaming over America's southern border to spread disease, crime, poverty, and every other social ill imaginable.
The modern day nativist movement began as a relatively obscure "population control" effort. In the 40 years since it has grown into a network of associations, groups, and so-called "think tanks" and "legal institutes" many of which are linked to a small cadre of people, including nativist John Tanton, whose disturbing ties to white supremacists and white ethno separatists have been documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their common purpose is to stop further diversification of America by ending immigration; particularly Latino immigration. To achieve this ugly goal, they've carefully masked their policy proposals with nuanced terms like "immigration time-out" (end all immigration, legal and unauthorized) or "reinterpretation of the Constitutional Citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment" (eviscerate core principles of American democracy). To vilify and dehumanize Latinos, the nativist restrictionists have succeeded in incorporating racially charged terms like "illegal alien" and "anchor baby" into the mainstream of American discourse. Today such obnoxious words are commonly found in the mainstream print and electronic media and have become largely accepted as part of the American vocabulary.
This year the nativists have played an increasingly prominent role in the presidential primaries, running slick ads and endorsing candidates. Nativist lawyer Kris Kobach, one of the main authors of Arizona's infamous "papers please" anti-immigration law, publicly joined Mitt Romney's campaign team advising him on immigration issues. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who, according to a recent Department of Justice report, has used his office to engage in a pattern and practice of civil rights abuses in Latino neighborhoods in Maricopa County, has also endorsed presidential candidates and was spotted prominently seated at the Arizona Republican presidential debate earlier this month.
Is it surprising then that the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric with its thinly veiled anti-Latino messaging has metastasized like a cancer into the minds of some of America's youth? Yet as ugly as the display at Southern Mississippi was, it also presents an opportunity -- a national teaching moment -- especially since it happened as the Mississippi state legislature was passing its version of the Arizona and Alabama anti-immigrant laws.
As Americans we should welcome and encourage a robust and frank discussion about immigration policy and how to make it work so that it protects and expands job opportunities for American workers, keeps our economy globally competitive into the 21st century, and restores due process. But we must remove hate from the discussion and replace it with tolerance, open-mindedness, and respect. If we do that then perhaps a promising American athlete like Angel Rodriguez will no longer be forced to endure racist jeers aimed at the color of his skin and the name the back of his basketball jersey.