As 2008 kicks off a wide-open presidential race in both major parties and with immigration promising to be a hot-button issue from now through the November election, it might be helpful to offer the candidates a cheat sheet of easy-to-use-clichés when addressing the issue.
Living in the shadows”: The gold standard of public utterances on illegal immigration that deftly defies reality while evoking Dickensian imagery to pull heart strings, use it liberally — but be ready in the unlikely event a reporter asks how public schools, hospitals and entire blue-collar industries like construction qualify as “shadows.”
“The system is broken”: This gem is suitable for high-rotation use as well; but again, caution is warranted. Obviously, steer clear of any effort to explain what you mean by “broken,” lest you have to answer how it was broken and by whom. Have staff investigate potential answers in case you’re asked if a system that successfully processes 1 million legal immigrants into the country every year is really broken just because 5 million more illegal immigrants that same year didn’t want to obey our laws?
“Humane immigration reform”: This is coded campaign-speak at its best and replaces “comprehensive immigration reform,” which landed about as smoothly on President Bush’s desk in 2007 as the Hindenburg did in New Jersey 70 years earlier. This less clinical-sounding phrase describes the same mass amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, but is sugared-up to make it easier for John Q. Public to swallow.
“Immigration is an emotional issue”: A favorite of men in the 1950s who wanted to simultaneously patronize and belittle women who expressed their opinions at a volume anywhere north of a whisper by calling them “emotional.” This retro putdown is perfect to backhand constituents who are furious over the government’s refusal to enforce the law and secure the borders. When using this line, try to strike Richard Benjamin’s smarmy tone in Diary of a Mad Housewife for its full effect.
“Divisive rhetoric”: Currently a standard on Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain’s play list, this cliché offers an echo of high-minded leadership yet limits exposure to blowback by being vague as to what actually is “divisive” about demanding the laws be enforced. Best applied to opponents of illegal immigration when they dare to suggest that millions of impoverished migrants illegally crossing the Rio Grande is hurting their communities and quality of life.
“Fear of the brown ‘other’”: Great for those moments that call for tossing a racially charged grenade into the American melting pot; it accuses the white majority of clinging to their inner-bigot out of fear of seeing “brown” people in their midst. Note: This line is best used in front of white, uptown audiences who rarely see “brown others” outside of their nannies and gardeners. Avoid using it in working-class neighborhoods where Americans of every ethnic shade have seen serious impacts from illegal immigration.
“Jobs Americans won’t do”: Bush administration wordsmiths tinkered with this slap in the face of American workers and came up with “jobs Americans aren’t doing,” which still offers cover when making the case for the mass importation of no-skilled and low-skilled workers at the behest of business interests. Feel free to use the previous “won’t do” version when addressing members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Manhattan Institute or the Wall Street Journal editorial board, as it’s always good for a laugh among friends.
“Background checks on illegal immigrants”: Smoke and mirrors at its finest, this line will allow you to sound diligent by assuring voters that your administration will make sure each and every one of the tens of millions of people who broke into the country and live here illegally by using a wide array of fraudulent documents are otherwise of the finest moral character. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to explain what federal agency will conduct these background checks, how much it will cost the American taxpayer or how accurate they are likely to be; that will only remind citizens that this is the same brain trust that issued the 9/11 hijackers visas, allowed them to obtain valid driver’s licenses and ignored warnings about their activities before the attack — and there were only 19 of them.
— Mark Cromer, a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.