The Roots of the Extreme Immigration Debate


Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, speaks about the immigration election.

It was a little depressing to hear recent U.S. history. As part of a presentation tonight entitled “The Immigration Election: How Has Immigration Become a Hot Topic & How Has It Been Discussed,” Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, recapped some past election cycles.

Presidents who promised immigration reform included Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Presidents who delivered immigration reform? Well, all of the previously mentioned resorted to changes in immigration policy via executive order because Congress failed to act.

And today, in 2016, we have two candidates who both promise changes to U.S. immigration policy. Don’t hold your breath.

For one thing, one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is running his campaign like a reality TV star. He makes broad, evocative statements that are good sound bites and, usually, both unsound policy and reflective of an odd alt-right “reality” that isn’t real at all.


Well, at least there were lemon bars.

Thus, Trump promises a wall (it won’t be built) that Mexico will pay for (no way, hombre). And if Trump did somehow get the magic southern wall with the best technology built, how well would it work? It wouldn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is to score TV ratings and inflame the passions of his base—and on both of those points, if not on any sound public policy, Mr. Trump is very good.

He calls Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He says all incoming Muslims should be banned. He wants “extreme vetting,” whatever that is.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, talks like she lives in the real world, and has an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, immigration plan. But can President Clinton II get it through Congress?

The first President Clinton couldn’t. Granted, the Nasty Woman running today has some advantages over The Bill—she was a Senator and has some resulting connections that Bill Clinton never had. I’m betting President Clinton II would have a better chance than President Trump of actually doing something on immigration, but I would also bet that the odds against her accomplishing anything on this issue are also pretty steep.

And that’s partly what I talked about tonight. I was the other half of the show. Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly ended her remarks by sharing a compelling anecdote from her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, in which she and her mother accidentally ended up harboring an illegal immigration girl that they found wandering the streets as they exited a store. They ended up taking the girl to their local Catholic parish, and aren’t sure how the story ended.


Me, photographed with my camera by Dr. Joy Ochs, English professor and chair of the MMU faculty.

Then, Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly talked movingly about her experience of voting this year. She didn’t need it, but she felt compelled to take her birth certificate with her. She was worried about the rhetoric this year, and how she would be treated.

She is Hispanic, and looks it. She is also a fourth generation American citizen, which, if that’s the standard you use to measure these things, makes her more American than I am (third generation—grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants).

The election this year has taken many twists and turns, but the odd and extreme rhetoric that has characterized the campaign mostly comes from one source—Donald Trump.

His followers think he is a refreshing breath of fresh air, willing to speak the truth. Most reputable fact check sites, on the other hand, find him to be consistently and wildly off base. The best way to understand what Trump says? You know he lies because his lips are moving.

But, while Trump has warped our political discourse, on the other hand it was President Nixon who began an organized attack on mainstream media and who also laid the groundwork for the “Southern man” strategy that has benefited the GOP for two generations. To some extent, the Trump candidacy is the illogical outcome of that trend going to its extreme. And possibly ending, if Trump goes down in flames—as seems likely, but we won’t know until after Nov. 8.

And Trump may be the most extreme example of egregious nonsense on the immigration issue, but it was Rep. Steve King, who it pains me to admit is a Republican from Iowa, who in 2013 said the U.S. is in danger from Mexican immigrants who have calves like “cantaloupes” from hauling heavy loads of Mary Jane through the arid Arizona badlands.

King was crazy and still is. But his remark showed the kind of rhetoric that the most deplorable of Republicans were getting into three years ago. And so today, we now have Trump.

God helps us. The American people will express their will in less than two weeks. It was painful for me tonight to read Trumps convoluted, inarticulate and borderline racist words when talking about his rhetoric.

America, I have a favor to ask. Please don’t make me do that for four more years.



Filed under Freedom, History, Mount Mercy

5 responses to “The Roots of the Extreme Immigration Debate

  1. Ayman amer

    I think the problem is bigger than candidate trump. There is a large group of voters who hold these beliefs. Trump just leveraged that popular sentiment into a candidacy. I hear it all the time and it is a myth that immigration hurts our economy.
    It is really important that everybody contribute to this national discussion
    I was in class this evening. I wish I was there listening to Norma Linda.

    • CRGardenJoe

      I agree, the problem is bigger than Trump. What I meant was Trump, more than any other figure, has mainstreamed what was marginal rhetoric, and thus reshaped political discourse in a very negative way. But you are right, he did so to tap into a base that was there to be tapped into.

  2. It was a powerful presentation precisely because it was so depressing. I could barely listen to the debate clip, but I’m glad you showed it. Like the student who asked why MMU isn’t more politically active, I hope the audience felt moved to do something about the problem of immigration reform.

  3. Well put. Couldn’t agree more. Wish I was still around to have seen the presentation!

  4. Norma L

    In the Wednesday, Oct 26th Iowa City Press Citizen there’s a front page story of a woman in Iowa City who was harassed by her coworkers for being a Latina following Trump’s early comments about Mexicans. Coworkers changed her computer screensaver to show a picture of Trump. She became the target of her coworkers’ jokes when she voiced her opposition to Trump. For her, it created a hostile working environment. She lost her job and was told she would never get a job again because she was illegal when, in fact, she was born in the U.S! So Trump has made it okay to say what’s really on your mind about other people. He’s made it okay to judge someone by the color of their skin. He’s made it okay to judge someone by their physical appearance. He’s made it okay to say and act on your dislike of others different from you. The damage has been done. What’s so tragic is that you’d think that in the 21st century we could be more accepting of others. After all, we are a much more informed society than previous generations. There is so much research and information that indicates we have more in common than not. Trump has done us no favor. We have gone backwards instead of forwards. No matter who wins, at least right now the polls are indicating that 40-45% of Americans really don’t embrace diversity. As Joe said in his speech on Tuesday night, it’s not as if Trump’s wall is likely to stop people from coming. It will be interesting to see what’s really in the hearts and minds of Americans on November 8th.

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