On Wednesday, November 9th, N.C. congresswoman Sue Myrick introduced legislation (HR 4280) that would deny $870 million in federal highway dollars to North Carolina. Why? Because of our state's easy access to driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Virginia Foxx and several other North Carolina congressmen signed on as co-sponsors.
Congresswoman Myrick, not coincidentally, wants to be governor. She thinks she's found the issue, and she's finding her crowd. A supporter crowed on SteinReport.com, "You go, Sue! It is about time someone in government starts doing something to control illegal immigration that is draining their states and us all. Punishment and legislation is the only way to start to get a handle on this -- 300,000 illegals in one state is way too many" (Posted by: Born American on November 10, 2005, 12:53 PM).
Myrick's "Punish North Carolina By Crippling the Roads Act" also attracted as co-sponsors, in addition to Foxx, Patrick McHenry of the 10th District, Charlie Taylor of the 11th, and Walter Jones of the 3rd. So far no legislator of any of the other states affected by Myrick's bill -- West Virginia, Illinois, Utah, New Mexico, and Kentucky -- have stepped onto this particular bandwagon to deprive their own states of highway maintenance and development money.
It's a drastic move. Especially considering that the N.C. Senate has already passed a bill reforming DMV procedures, a bill that the NC House will take up come May and which Gov. Easley has promised to sign. That's not fast enough for Myrick, Foxx, McHenry, Taylor, and Jones, and after all, there's a gubernatorial campaign starting in February 2006, and a conservative base to rile up quick. State polls suggest that illegal immigration is as hot a topic among voters as gay marriage ... and for precisely the same reasons.
Classic "populism," as practiced in the Old South and even by New South Republicans like Myrick and Foxx, is pro-nationalist and often racist. We conveniently happen to have a war on against "evil Islamic radicalism, militant Jihadism, or Islamo-fascism" -- let's get the language right, please. But when you get real jumpy like that about a brown-skinned enemy, you're already deep into profiling territory, profiling as government policy (overt or covert), and the actions that logically follow profiling ... along with all the other sweet blossoms on the tree of a greening racism. Remember the "white hands" TV spot Jesse Helms ran against Harvey Gantt in 1990? Not for nothing did Congresswoman Myrick sit at Jesse Helms's table, where she sumptuously supped. Stir up alarm and anger about those others coming in here. Stir it up, and ride to victory on a rural/suburban backlash. Classic wedge strategy.
But you've got to be awfully careful playing these politics, as Myrick and Foxx certainly know. So after introducing her bill, Myrick held a press conference in the Capitol with Virginia Foxx (of Banner Elk and The Bronx) and wet-behind-the-ears Patrick McHenry of Cherryville standing there with her, delivering the "Transportation Revenue Ultimatum Enforcement ID Act of 2005," demanding that North Carolina stem a brown tide, and covering the essential ugliness of that by claiming national security as the sole motive.
So Myrick said, "This is a critical issue today. I mean, they just arrested, down on the border -- what? a couple of weeks ago? -- three Al Qaida members who came across from Mexico into the United States. That's a given fact. They were holding them in the jail down there."
Congressman McHenry added, "In fact, some of the 9-11 terrorists had North Carolina driver's licenses."
Both Myrick and McHenry were making it up.
According to Tim Funk, of the Charlotte Observer Washington bureau, there were no Al Qaida members arrested down in Mexico a la Myrick. Not one. Myrick's "given fact" turns out to be an unproven fiction taken under torture from a captured Al Qaida operative. (He supposedly said that Al Qaida had considered getting agents into this country via Mexico.) Myrick turned that hint into three Al Qaida -- count 'em! -- arrested on the border and held in an American jail. "That's a given fact," she said, even if we have to invent it for the occasion. McHenry's claim of 9-11 terrorists carrying North Carolina driver's licenses also turns out to be bogus. McHenry embroidered that piece of whole cloth out of something he heard about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who earned an engineering degree in North Carolina in the 1980s and who may have possessed a state driver's license at that time but who was in any event attending college here on a student visa and was therefore not an illegal immigrant.
So what's the score so far on "national security" as the pretext for launching a crack-down on Mexicans in North Carolina?
There's only one reason under God's bright sun to stretch the truth like that, past its natural tensile strength. Despite how much Myrick and McHenry later claimed their prejudicial fictions were honest mistakes of memory, they fabricated those little horrors to stampede the voters past the normal threshold of skepticism about "stories" told by politicians. The menacing presence of "them," whoever they are, has always been sufficient in the South to jog us past the Christian admonition to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Morality gets mugged by racist fear.
But if you're going to make stuff up, it's better not to get caught at it.
At Myrick's press conference, Foxx didn't say much of anything. At least she isn't reported making up any additional "facts" about the threat of terrorism coming out of Mexico. But it's not as though Foxx doesn't already have a deep history of anti-immigration initiatives, first in the North Carolina Senate, and just since last January when she first took her seat in Washington, she's listed as a co-sponsor or supporter of a long list of new anti-immigration legislation ... like H.R. 3938, which would eliminate provisions for a random drawing of 55,000 visas annually (the "visa lottery") and end the alloting of 65,000 other visas to the siblings of adult U.S. citizens; H.R. 698, the Citizenship Reform Act of 2005, legislation that would end the process of granting automatic citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens; H.J. Res 41, a proposal that would amend the Constitution of the United States so that no person born in the United States would be a United States citizen unless a parent is a United States citizen, is lawfully in the United States, or has a lawful immigration status at the time of the birth. Etc.
Foxx wants a Constitutional Amendment, no less, to keep certain people from achieving citizenship in this country.
Not so many years ago, Virginia Foxx was known as something of a Republican moderate. She subtly sent the message to mountain "progressives" that she welcomed the candidacy of Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms in 1990, and she complained privately about the overt racism of her fellow Watauga legislator Gene Wilson. Foxx was president of a small mountain community college at the time and had supported "liberal" causes like the Equal Rights Amendment and adoption by gay couples. That's why a pro-choice group, 100 Women of Watauga County, endorsed Foxx for State Senate in 1994 and gave her money, because she told the Endorsement Committee that she was pro-choice and anti-racist.
What a difference a few years make, not to mention a few Republican primaries involving higher office. Vernon Robinson beat up on Foxx unmercifully last year as some sort of closet flamer for lesbian sex. Ironically, considering Foxx's own similar stands, illegal immigration furnished one of Robinson's cudgels. Robinson ran a radio spot in 2004 which opened with the theme music from "The Twilight Zone." An announcer said, darkly, "The aliens are here, but they didn't come in a spaceship. They've filled our criminal courtrooms and clogged our schools .... They sponge off the American taxpayer ... they've even taken over the DMV. These aliens commit heinous crimes ... You walk into a McDonald's restaurant to order a Big Mac, and find to your horror that the employees don't speak English." Robinson even put a nasty spin on the required "paid for by" tagline. It was said in Spanish: "Yo, gringo. Robinson por congreso."
Foxx would never have associated herself with that language -- she was the Un-Robinson of 2004 -- but now she's very pleased to associate herself with resentment against sponging aliens. The net outcome remains the same: "These people all have homes. We need to help them go home." It didn't ultimately matter whether we got Robinson or Foxx. It's the same old racism, a sell-out of Christian values, and it's done with a sterling-silver cynicism that has become Congresswoman Foxx's hallmark.
Rob Christensen recently wrote with historical perspective in the Raleigh News & Observer, "it seems clear as I travel around the state that some North Carolinians find the new wave of immigrants -- with their different language and culture -- a bit unsettling. And some politicians are trying to tap into that unease. Unlike many other states, North Carolina is not used to large-scale immigration. When it industrialized, it filled its factories with white sharecroppers from the mountains and countryside, not Polish, Italian or Irish immigrants. For much of its history, North Carolina exported people -- whites in the 19th century westward and blacks in the 20th century to the Northern cities. Even so, nativist politics occasionally surfaced in criticism of Catholics, Jews and immigrants."
And so it goes now, for Mexicans specifically and Hispanics generally.
It's an ugly populism that grows more obtuse and prouder of itself every day. Recently, a student columnist at the Daily Tar Heel in Chapel Hill felt free to publish the following opening sentence to an editorial in the student newspaper: "I want all Arabs to be stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport." The uproar that followed caused her firing off the paper, and she became a one-day sensation on talk radio as the victim -- mind you -- of liberal intolerance. She thought she was being funny, she said, even cute, and it was other people who caused the problem. (The Weld County, Colorado, commission recently introduced a resolution calling for the forced removal of all illegal immigrants from the county. BYO pitchforks and torches. Examples multiply like mushrooms in horse manure.)
These are the pilot fish who swim with the big sharks in North Carolina, just waiting to thrash the water over the chunks of easy prey. Virginia Foxx has obviously carefully considered who she's swimming with.
But she's also trying to serve another master not so hot to end illegal immigration. While Foxx is bluffing North Carolina about losing one-quarter of its highway budget, she's also taking money from the same big business interests who actually depend on illegal immigrants to swell their laboring ranks at the lowest pay. They're the ones who've convinced President Bush, too, to go slow on closing the borders. Very powerful business interests need "guest workers" in the worst way: the construction industry, the hospitality industry (lodging and restaurants), big agriculture including Christmas trees.
It's the essence of her hypocrisy on the illegal immigrant issue. She stirs up incipient racism against illegals and simultaneously gives aid and comfort to big business that depends on those workers on a daily basis.