Rachel Maddow was the first American journalist to draw attention to a story the mainstream media has studiously ignored: a Republican plan to score presidential elections using gerrymandered state district maps. It is thanks to these electoral maps that Republicans were able to hold on to House in the last election while losing the popular vote. If six Republican states (including Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio) had calculated their electoral college tallies using the same maps employed in state elections, Mitt Romney would now be president even though he lost the popular vote.
In Virginia, for instance, Barack Obama would have won only for of the state’s thirteen electoral votes under this plan even though he won the popular vote. The trick is to make rural and suburban votes worth more than urban (that is minority) votes. When you do the math, as several bloggers have done, this means that your average urban vote is worth precisely three-fifths as much as your average white vote.
Fortunately, most of these purple states have backed away from this scheme, largely because it was getting too much attention from the liberal press. But why was it only unapologetic liberals like Rachel Maddow who broke this story? If white votes were being reduced to three-fifths their former value, NBC and CBS would have led with the story.
In a similar vein, House Republicans are signaling a willingness to grant undocumented immigrants a legal status that does not include a pathway to eventual citizenship. At first glance this looks like a sensible compromise. For undocumented residents and mixed status families (families with at least one undocumented member) the big fear is waking up to learn your mother has been deported. Legal residents would have legal rights thus reducing the risk of workplace exploitation, and allowing them to obtain drivers’ licences.
But there is a dark side to this proposal which, like the three-fifths of a vote contemplated in Virginia, evokes painful historical memory. If we have eleven million legal residents who cannot vote, we are recreating Mississippi circa 1959. Believe me, you don’t want to live there. Or, if you do want to live there, it’s probably because you see America as a nation bequeathed to conservative white Christians. One experiment with Jim Crow America was more than enough.
Politicians keep reminding us that we are a nation of immigrants AND a nation of laws. While this is certainly true, politicians get to decide what the laws will be, so they can’t hide behind the law.
Here’s something else the media are generally ignoring: for the majority of folks entering the United States illegally, there is no legal pathway to a green card and eventual citizenship. There is no line to get in. Undocumented immigrants are not “the baddies”, they are normal human beings like the rest of us. In their shoes, we too would cross the border without documentation and live with the ungodly consequences.
White Americans should remember our own immigration stories. I became an American citizen five years ago, largely because I am married to an American citizen. The green card-to-citizenship process took four years because the nature of my work, in post 9-11 America, made me look like a potential security risk. Still, the process was relatively quick and painless.
My ancestors hail from all over Europe: Sweden, Bohemia, England and Scotland. Most of these people settled in America and were allowed to enter the country so long as they were in good health. Shortly thereafter they were allowed to vote. When they decided to cross the border into Canada, the process was similarly straightforward. Canada was comparatively underpopulated and eager for settlers.
The people wishing to enter the United States today are overwhelmingly people of color. Republicans find themselves in a painful dilemma. If they grant citizenship to the undocumented, they will vote. Issues like skin color and language wouldn’t loom so large if the undocumented could be trusted to vote for the red team, but they can’t.
If a big chunk of your constituency believes America is a nation God created for white Christian conservatives, the path to citizenship option gets sticky. You could get knocked off in the next primary election by an anti-immigration activist.
On the other hand, Republicans don’t want to further alienate Latino voters, so they are willing to grant legal status to undocumented residents who pay back taxes and learn English, but aren’t ready to consider full citizenship.
I don’t want to live in a country in which African Americans are restricted to three-fifths of a vote and millions of “legal” residents cannot vote. More importantly, I don’t think the Jesus shining in the eyes of the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned and the resident alien wants to live in that kind of country either.