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Maybe cute kids will fix immigration


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Updated: July 19, 2012 6:16AM

Kids! God bless ’em. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for kids?

They’re so cute. They say cute stuff. They’re so good. Generally. OK, while children are sometimes bad, they never do truly bad things. The radio never reports, “Police are searching for the gunman, age 4 . . .”

Thus kids are often used to sugarcoat political positions that otherwise might be immediately rejected if applied to adults. Take health care — an American public that can easily shrug off allowing millions of fellow citizens to suffer uninsured will sometimes pause at the prospect of millions of children being allowed to suffer uninsured.

They end up shrugging it off all the same, but they do pause first, sometimes.

Babies work even better than children. If fundamentalists in this country did what fundamentalists do in other countries — try to impose their religious beliefs by, oh, hectoring women who don’t cover their hair in public, hitting them with sticks and calling them “whores” — that would not go over well in a vibrant modern democracy such as ours.

Thus our religious zealots seize on the cuteness of children in general and babies in particular when imposing their dogma, channeling their fervor into fighting abortion by dubbing jellybean-sized fetuses “babies.”

And people buy it. Rather, some do.

Because, as I said, people have a soft spot for kids.

Take Barack Obama’s dramatic action Friday, his attempt to squirt some much-needed WD-40 oil into the seized-up immigration issue by focusing on the children of illegal immigrants.

He didn’t suggest the 12 million illegal immigrants living and working here as serfs in rightless limbo will have the chance to earn their citizenship. He didn’t urge the broken INS be repaired. That’s what must be done, and will, by somebody, someday.

But not now, not by him. Rather, Obama announced that the children of people who come here illegally will no longer be deported if they fit a series of criteria — live in this country for five years, graduate high school, don’t get convicted of crimes, etc.

At one point Obama asked his audience to “put themselves in the shoes” of these young people, many of whom only know this country, have grown up here, might not even be aware of their lack of citizenship.

I almost laughed at that, because he’s appealing to a sense of compassion that doesn’t exist when it comes to immigration. Here the cute kid dynamic breaks down. Illegal immigrants don’t even have infants, they have “anchor babies” — one of the many buzzwords, starting with “illegal,” used to keep empathy or sound policy or anything beyond “Send ’em back!” out of their calculations.

Those who believe America is being invaded, that those entering should be stopped at the border by 30-foot walls topped with poisoned spikes and the 12 million already here rounded up, packed into cattle cars and shipped south, are not eager to take in new data and recalibrate their beliefs. To them, these people are “illegal,” period, don’t-you-get-it?, illegal-illegal-ILLEGAL! — and always will be because any attempt to make them legal is “amnesty,” and any answer except deportation is the wrong answer.

That this closed system is directly contrary to the best interests of not only the immigrants, but also the nation, is not open for consideration. The truth: Immigration is good; we need it to avoid the demographic death spiral of places like Japan; immigrants are already here and are never going back — is not something the right wing is going to hear. It might as well be spoken in Spanish.

Thus rather than empathize with anyone, young or old, Republicans immediately called for Obama’s impeachment — which is nothing new— but particularly crazy five months before an election.

A representative posting went like this: “The deliberate failure to enforce valid immigration law and allow hordes of foreigners to live and work in U.S. is, arguably, ‘treason.’”

Notice how the same group of people — young adults living in the United States for five years without legal status — is described in two very different ways: “Talented young people,” to use Obama’s phrase versus “hordes of foreigners,” to use the blogger’s.

I can’t say I was overly impressed with Obama’s action — too little, too late. Though given the blowback he’s going to get, it’s a reminder of how little is possible now. We’ll have to wait until the nation is 30 percent Hispanic, in 2050. Until then, the loons have the microphone. I wish Obama had done more of this kind of thing. Maybe he will in his second term. Because while kids might work as symbolism, they aren’t cute enough to inspire real change. For all those fat-cheeked Gerber babies on posters waved by extremists, abortion has been legal for 40 years. Real change requires real empathy, real thought, real debate, real leadership, real courage. And that is in short supply.

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