Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now! (36101)

Blame the Republican right-wingers and their ugly rhetoric on immigrants and immigration.

That’s who insulted Kansas State player Angel Rodriguez should be slamming. Instead, the gracious, polite Puerto Rico-born U.S. citizen, who was racially taunted as his team played the University of Southern Mississippi during an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game, is turning the other cheek.

For those who missed this latest ugly verbal assault, here’s the 411. On March 8, Rodriguez was part of the Kansas State team that won over Mississippi. Rodriguez had 13 points and four assists in the game.

As the teams clashed and it became obvious that Kansas would win because of the young player’s skills, some in the Southern Mississippi band began shouting at Rodriguez, “Where’s your green card?”

Why? Simply because Rodriguez is Latino. Listening to the rhetoric flying around the country, I guess they assumed every Latino is an “illegal alien.”

It is the same open-ended assumption that immigration laws enacted in right wing-controlled states like Alabama, Arizona and Georgia trigger. Allowing local police to check the immigration status of people stopped for other crimes leads to racial profiling and the presumption that every person who looks Latino or foreign and speaks with a foreign accent is illegal.

There are now more than 50 million Latinos in the United States, around 16 percent of the U.S. population. And of those Latinos, more than 30 million were born here, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Many more are green card holders, since only 11.5 million immigrants are said to be undocumented. Of that number, around 6.5 million are from Mexico.

But kudos to University of Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders for her apology and revocation of the scholarships of five members of its pep band, who took part in the heckling.

Rodriguez, a freshman from Miami, is also showing maturity despite the hate. He said last week that he accepted the apology because “there are ignorant people, and I know that’s not how they want to represent their university.”

He added that he doesn’t pay attention to that “nonsense, especially because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, so we don’t need no type of papers.”

Bill Chandler, of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, has welcomed the Southern Miss president’s action “to stop this overt expression of racism against a Latino.”

“This demonstrates the ignorance of many people when it comes to immigrants, whether they are students in college or legislators or the governor of Mississippi,” Chandler said. “As in the past, public officials create the atmosphere for hateful acts in their pronouncements against people of color and others. It leads to latent racism and they need to stop it.”

I would go a step further, Mr. Chandler. Lawmakers on the right nationally, including the current crop of presidential wannabes, need to pay serious attention to their rhetoric and quit stirring up hate and racism in the immigration debate.

The March 8 incident clearly shows this bitter bile is taking root in young minds–we need to stamp it out once and for all, much as Kansas State stomped their way to a win over Ole Miss, despite the attempt to get into the head of their star player.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.