Decades ago, some restaurants and stores in the Southwest posted signs on their doors warning "No dogs or Mexicans allowed." It's hard to believe that this used to be acceptable.
While those signs were taken down long ago, anti-immigrant attitudes have persisted, particularly against Mexican immigrants. In fact, as the debate about immigration reform rages in the United States, the anti-immigrant rhetoric seems to be getting fiercer.
Take the comments recently made by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, one of the most determined opponents of immigration reform. On July 18, during an interview with Newsmax, a news website, King deeply insulted the so-called "Dreamers," young undocumented residents (many of whom are students) who were brought to the U.S. as children and whose cause has deep support within theHispanic community. "They aren't all valedictorians," King said, explaining his opposition to the Dream Act, which would grant Dreamers a path to citizenship.
"They weren't all brought in by their parents. For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."
King's comments were ridiculous and tactless at best. This is the same congressman who was denounced by many in the Hispanic community last year after he compared the immigration process to selecting dogs. In a speech delivered at a town hall meeting in Iowa in May 2012, King said: "If you get the pick of the litter, you've got yourself a pretty good bird dog. Well, we've got the pick of every donor civilization on the planet."
I asked him about those remarks during a recent interview. King insisted that he had not, in fact, compared immigrants to dogs. Rather, King said, he was celebrating the importance of legal immigration. He said that his statements were being mischaracterized - that a liberal campaign aimed at discrediting him and dividing the country is at work. (The interview can be seen here.)
However, given the fact that immigrants have been equated with dogs in this country's past, it is understandable that many people considered his comments to be offensive, and even racist. And it certainly doesn't help the Republican Party to win over Hispanic voters when one of its members is fending off such accusations. Republicans should be making headlines by expressing their support for immigration reform, but instead they are stuck on the defensive - especially many Republican members of the House of Representatives, who oppose a comprehensive plan like the one recently approved by the Senate.
House Republicans are either unable or unwilling to understand how important the immigration issue is to Hispanics. For us, it's personal, and the polls show that in our community, support for immigration reform is almost universal. The 16 million Hispanic voters who are expected to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election will not choose the party that opposed integrating the United States' 11 million undocumented residents.For a while, the lack of immigration legislation was blamed on President Barack Obama, who failed to deliver on a campaign promise he made in 2008 that he would bring a bill before Congress during his first term. But Obama and the Democratic Party have made good on that promise, so the blame for stalled progress is now falling on the Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner.
King's remarks are indicative of the discrimination that persists in this country; a path to legalization would be a big step toward changing that. He is hardly his party's only problem, and this is not an isolated incident. Let's not forget Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's hunting for undocumented immigrants based on the way they look (according to accusations from the Justice Department); Gov. Jan Brewer's refusal to issue Arizona driver's licenses to Dreamers; Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's idea that immigrants would self-deport; and most recently, Boehner's refusal to put the Senate's immigration bill up for a vote in the House. The Republican Party has a problem with Hispanics, and unless it starts working on finding solutions to the immigration issue, the GOP will not win another national election.
Maybe those signs barring dogs and immigrants are long gone, but too many Republican lawmakers insist on keeping the door closed.
(Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the senior news anchor for Univision Network. Mexican-born Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, "A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.")