Has Brian Bilbray Lost His Mind?

I’m embarrassed to be a San Diegan today.  It’s pretty well known that San Diego Congressman Brian Bilbray is infamously anti-immigration, flaunting his ties to FAIR (more on that later) as a former lobbyist for that organization and a current board member.   But yesterday, in an appearance on “Hardball” with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Bilbray showed his true colors.

In a discussion with Matthews and California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez about the Arizona anti-immigration law just passed in the legislature, the trio tackled the issue of how exactly Arizona law enforcement officials are to identify whether someone appears to be in the country illegally or not.  The pertinent question is “How do you know if someone is illegal or not just by their appearance?”

It’s pretty easy, according to Bilbray.  Basically, anybody who looks Mexican is subject to questioning:  “They will look at the kind of dress you wear.  There’s different types of attire, there’s different types of—right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes, but mostly by behavior.”

Here’s the segment:

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Got it.  So if you look or dress in a manner other than “American” then you should be detained.  What Bilbray is saying is perfectly acceptable, and what the Arizona law is promoting, is that racial profiling is now the preferred method to enforcing immigration laws.  It’s now OK to choose a person off the street who looks like a foreigner and ask him or her for their papers.  This means, of course, as Congresswoman Sanchez points out in the segment, that since she herself is Hispanic, then she will be required to carry around with her at all times her birth certificate and affidavits along with her driver’s license and other ID as proof that she is a U.S. citizen.

And how about this man?:

He sure looks like an illegal immigrant, no?  Doesn’t he look Mexican to you?  Just look at the way he’s dressed!  Look at that tie!  Would anybody from the U.S. wear that kind of tie?

That man, of course, is Congressman Raul Grijalva, the Democratic Representative from the Arizona 7th district.  According to Bilbray, since this man looks like an immigrant, he should be pulled aside and questioned.  Mind you, this is a colleague of Bilbray’s in the U.S. House of Representatives!

Here’s Congressman Grijalva earlier this week with Keith Olbermann:

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As Mr. Grijalva says so succinctly, what the Arizona law does and what Mr. Bilbray advocates is to “codify into law racial profiling.”  In a bold stance, the Congressman is advocating a boycott against his home state until this law is vetoed by the Republican governor of Arizona.

But Bilbray’s stance on immigration, and his essentially racist attitude towards immigrants in general and Mexian/Latino immigrants in particular (by the way, his mother is an Australian immigrant), should really come as no surprise.  His positions can be traced directly to his affiliation with FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), an organization that has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-immigration hate group.

Prior to his current stint in Congress, Bilbray was a lobbyist for FAIR.  He also currently sits on the group’s Board of Advisors.

FAIR is the brainchild of known racist John Tanton, the founder of eight other such anti-immigration groups.  Tanton and FAIR have received a great deal of  funding from the Pioneer Fund, described by the New York Times‘ Bob Herbert as “an organization that spent decades pushing the notion that whites are genetically superior to blacks.” FAIR is also an organization that has expressed it’s approval for China’s forced abortion policy as a means to control its population (I’m sure that’ll go over well with the Pro Life Republican base).

Among the main goals of FAIR is to shut down the borders, limiting all immigration, not just illegal immigration, to a mere trickle.  Which may sound fair and reasonable, but when you consider some of the statements made by the group’s leaders, a different picture emerges.

For example, John Tanton declared that unless America’s borders are sealed, the country will be overrun by people “defecating and creating garbage looking for jobs.” Or Tanton hero Garrett Hardin, a “committed eugenicist and for years a professor of human ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara” who wrote in his essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” that “Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all.”  Or former Colorado Governor and FAIR Advisory Board member Richard Lamm, who said that “new cultures” in the U.S. “are diluting what we are and who we are.”

Add Bilbray’s assertion that you can tell an illegal immigrant from the kind of clothes and shoes they wear and we get a better idea of what kind of organization this is, and what Bilbray’s values really are.

What they are really saying is that racial profiling is a legitimate tool to root out the “undesirables” from our society.  That anybody that looks “different” will now be a target for legalized harassment.  That bigotry and racism are alive and well.  Put these notions in the wrong heads and the results will be catastrophic.

We can all acknowledge that our immigration system is broken and is in desperate need of reform.  But what we don’t need is to unleash a bunch of zealots onto the streets looking for an excuse to club someone over the head because they might be an illegal immigrant.  We’re all aware of the problems that illegal immigration presents to our communities, but there’s a right way to deal with it and a wrong way.  Mr. Bilbray’s way is the wrong way.

In a region that sits on the border, what we need is for cooler heads to prevail.  Instead of encouraging racist stereotypes and the raising of tensions in an already volatile environment to a boiling point, we need a representative in Congress who will work to find real, reasonable, and EFFECTIVE long term solutions to America’s immigration problems.  Rounding people up at random and demanding to see their papers, corralling them under threat of deportation and possible bodily harm if they don’t carry their life’s history with them at all times doesn’t sound like the American way to me.  It sounds like a much more shameful time in human history not all that long ago halfway around the world.


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