Dems Also to Blame for Playing Language Game | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Dems Also to Blame for Playing Language Game

When I blogged about Mississippi Republicans using coded anti-Latino rhetoric to their advantage, my editor offered up a challenge: are Democrats doing the same thing, just less explicitly?

At first I figured they weren't, mostly because Democratic platforms have focused on punishing employers, not workers, for hiring illegal immigrants--a more legally sound and non-exploitative method of addressing the issue. But recently, I read Democratic candidate for governor John Arthur Eaves' campaign "issue" page on illegal immigration and was shocked by how obviously Eaves had pandered to anti-Latino (not just anti-illegal immigrant) sentiment. He implies-- no, scratch that-- right out says that Mississippi would be in better shape without the labor of Spanish-speaking immigrants who re-built the Coast. How is that possible? Because, Eaves states, Missisippi citizens, not illegal immigrants, would have exposed themselves to toxic levels of waste and done the dirty work of gutting houses, clearing debris, and building casinos-- reducing Mississippi's unemployment rate (the highest in the South, Eaves notes) in the process:

At the Mississippi Press Association's convention at the Beau Rivage Casino on June 22, 2007, (Gov. Haley) Barbour said, "When I became governor, before Katrina, Mississippi had probably the smallest percentage of illegal or legal immigration by Spanish speakers in the country. We just had very few. Since Katrina there's been a gigantic influx and… I hate to think where the coast would be if they weren't here."

I know where we'd be. We could have record employment instead of the highest unemployment in the South. We could be leading the region in job creation and recovery. We could have built homes for the 70,000 people still living in toxic FEMA trailers.

By specifically quoting Barbour's nod to Latinos, Eaves ensures that his carefully articulated "issue" is one not just of employment and immigration, but of race, too. When he says "We," he means "non-illegal immigrant," but he also means "non-Spanish speaking" and (with the possible exception of Equatorial Guineans) "non-Latino."

Aside from the explicitly racial element of Eaves' argument, it contains several other problems: 1) Unemployment in Mississippi existed long before Latinos arrived. Blaming it on a particular ethnic group, aside from being misleading, prolongs the state's history of racism--something that is a more accurate reason for unemployment in the first place. 2) The Mississippi Coast could not have been rebuilt at the rate it was without illegal immigrant labor. Eaves' perplexing argument that eliminating all illegal immigrants from the re-building process would have served not only to replicate the monumental feat (without the monumental source of labor) but also to accomplish the rebuilding of another 70,000 homes is disingenuous at best. 3) Many illegal immigrants who worked to rebuild the Coast at breakneck speed are, ironically, out of work now that they've completed this task so well. Eaves' proposal to solve the problems of Hurricane recovery and unemployment with one (citizen-only) stone wouldn't change the fact that, once the work is done, so too are the jobs.

Eaves, who is waging an uphill battle to defeat Haley Barbour in Mississippi's gubenatorial race, should not resort to an illegal immigration talking point of half-truths to unseat the governor. By doing so, Eaves taints his otherwise honorable attack on Barbour's unequal treatment of Katrina victims, by pandering to feelings of fear, hatred and racial inequality.

Previous Comments

ID
114997
Comment

Matt thank you for this story. Pure reporting and dedication to the truth. It's much easier to slant a story to move forward ideas and perceptions we want people to hold, but this is just pure unadulterated reporting. My hat off to you and Donna. I am an Eaves supporter with reservation. Problem is the only option is Haley Barbour and there's no way he gets my vote. Perhaps the FP articles will help Jr get his act together.

Author
BuyJxn
Date
2007-09-30T19:20:25-06:00
ID
114998
Comment

I agree with Matt. We are shocked and dismayed to see Democrats playing the same coded games on immigrants as Republicans. Folks, why not give Mississippians a chance not to be bigots? I can say right now: Were I to run for office, I don't want a vote that comes from someone's worst instinct. Mississippi will not forward until we declare an end to wink-wink race politics. No matter who the hell does it. Eaves should clarify and apologize. Publicly.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-10-01T09:28:19-06:00
ID
114999
Comment

I'm confused! I do agree that these tactics should not be practiced by Barbour or Eaves. My problem is with the fact that Borbour said that there were no WOMEN qualified for any of his jobs after he was elected. He went on to say, "If there are SOME IT'S R A R R A (RARE). Where was the outrage then for the negative comments made by Gov. Barbour about ALL women, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and any other race or ethnic group of females? Let's not get twisted on Eaves comments, only. Barbour's comment was just down right discriminatory and he proved that his thoughts about women would be matched with his actions. Where is the OUTRAGE????????? '

Author
justjess
Date
2007-10-02T09:02:54-06:00
ID
115000
Comment

Folks, it is intriguging that there has been exactly one comment about the topic of Matt's post—race-baiting and immigrant bashing. Let's discuss that and not follow the lead of many Mississippians of old who never wanted to talk about bigotry in our midst. I personally am outraged that immigrants, and especially Latinos, have become the new targets of bigotry in our state and elsewhere. Have we learned nothing from our bloody, painful past!?! (I deleted the numerous comments about whether the JFP is endorsing Eaves—no decision has been made—being that they were based on a misstatement in the blog post that Matt corrected.) So, now to the topic on our plate.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-10-02T11:44:29-06:00
ID
115001
Comment

Well, Eaves and Barbour both wanna appeal to the "american" segment, whatever that is, and lets face it, there isn't much of a hispanic "voice" here in Mississippi so its a low risk, potential gain for both candidates. I'm a bit concerned that regulation of immigration is equated with racism, since it isn't, but then again it can be :) If you were Barbour or Eaves advisor, I wouldn't suggest to either that they deviate much from the stance they've already taken, since any weakness would immedietely be taken advantage of by the other. If anything, I'd suggest to Barbour that he take a slightly softer tone, since he is more likely to grab more of the voters most interested in these issues, and it would grab a few voters from Eaves who are of the more progressive bent.

Author
GLewis
Date
2007-10-02T12:15:04-06:00
ID
115002
Comment

blogger has mischacterized eaves position.the illegal immigration issue is a complex one and a candidate expressing concern about a flood of people crossing the border illegally does not make that candidate a bigot.perhaps we ought to look at katrina recovery in context. days after the storm the president suspended davis bacon and then proceeded to award debris removal contracts to gop cronies on a no bid basis. immediately a bunch of rich contractors stood to gain from using cheap labor that doesnt have the ability to talk back. i believe if more missippians had been offered a good wage and had the federal and state authorities not looked the other way as republican contractors blatantly violated the immigration laws, we would have achieved the same recovery but with the benefit of more men and women(particularly young blacks from say new orleans east or virden addition) entering the building and construction trades, learning to be skilled craftsmen and later establishing their own contracting firms.and , perhaps these same men and women could in turn stand up to their bosses to demand a fair wage with medical benefits and retirement , or better yet vote somebody like haley barbour out of office.instead rich contractors paid noncitizens sub wages with no health benefits. these same noncitizens cant use the NLRA to organize or the ballot box to make a change. meanwhile , we have the highest unemploymnet rate in the nation and the least skilled work force.

Author
chimneyville
Date
2007-10-02T15:32:04-06:00
ID
115003
Comment

these same contractors who made out like bandits using cheap labor to do work paid for by the taxpayers are now writing HUGE checks to the barbour campaign!!

Author
chimneyville
Date
2007-10-02T15:36:59-06:00
ID
115004
Comment

blogger has mischacterized eaves position.the illegal immigration issue is a complex one and a candidate expressing concern about a flood of people crossing the border illegally does not make that candidate a bigot. Blogger did not say it did. He is looking at Eaves' and Barbour's words.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-10-02T15:50:35-06:00
ID
115005
Comment

fair enough,donna. then we agree that the responsive sentence found on the eaves web page is not a bigotted statement. i believe his position is consistent with what i expressed, which is that a bunch of rich contractors,awarded federal no bid contracts, benefitted from paying sub standard(davis bacon exempt) wages to people who happen to be hispanic and happen to be in the country illegally over an avilable indigenous workforce(that included thousands of out of work shipyard workers) while state and federal law enforcement authorities looked the other way while these same contractors intentionally violated the federal immigration laws.

Author
chimneyville
Date
2007-10-02T16:15:57-06:00
ID
115006
Comment

Where do either Barbour or Eaves say this? "2) The Mississippi Coast could not have been rebuilt at the rate it was without illegal immigrant labor." I don't see anyone saying this other than Matt. Haley Barbour thanked Spanish-speaking workers but did not say that the work could not have been done by American citizens just as well or as fast. If he implied it, it's a clear slur. What's undeniable is that the illegal immigrant workforce cost the contractors less money than a legal American citizen workforce would have. As far as 'half truths' - how can the truth of this be determined if, in fact, the work was done by illegal immigrant labor and not by out-of-work Mississippi citizens being paid a decent wage? For this to be a valid statement, there'd have to be two control groups to observe. Assuming that it could not have been done as well by Mississippi citizens is a slur on Mississippi's workforce. These are jobs which could, in fact, have been filled by Mississippi citizens and, I'd say, just as well and just as fast. The jobs might not have lasted forever but they would have lasted for several years and that income would have gone to Mississippi citizens and perhaps have provided the basic capital for these men and women to start their own businesses after the 'boom' of the initial reconstruction. That illegal immigrants received this income and not legal American workers is an indisputable fact, a truth as opposed to a half-truth. Yes, the work needed to be done quickly but a Mississippi workforce would not have had far to travel and would have rolled up its sleeves to rebuild its own state and, in many cases, its own towns and cities and neighborhoods. I still maintain that the issue here is not a non-Latino bias nor is it an issue of racism. yes, it is a 'bias' against illegal immigrants, the majority of whom, here in Mississippi, come from Spanish-speaking countries. It's a bias equivalent to any other 'bias' against people who break the law. I'm biased against people who run stop signs, no matter where they're from or of what ethnicity. The same problem would exist if these workers had come from Latvia or Norway or Tibet.

Author
lucdix
Date
2007-10-02T17:21:34-06:00
ID
115007
Comment

Lucdix, it would be helpful if you could show me examples of Mississippi citizens who were denied debris-clearing and constructions jobs in favor illegal immigrants. Overwhelmingly, it's a myth that illegal immigrants "steal" jobs. It's not enough to say that there are unemployed Mississippi citizens, and there are employed illegal immigrants in Mississippi. You seem to have a solid grasp of statistics, so you should recognize the lack of causality. As for my statement that the Coast could not have been built without illegal immigration labor-- you're right, it's not a fact; it's an opinion. (My blogs contain several.) If we could change history and isolate the estimated 100,000 Latino laborers who arrived for work in the Katrina flood zone, maybe we'd find that the work would've happened anyways. I seriously doubt it. Eaves' statment to the contrary, and then some, (also an opinion) abandons logic in favor a popular talking point.

Author
msaldana
Date
2007-10-02T20:01:46-06:00
ID
115008
Comment

I have no insight into the hiring practices of companies, Matt. Why would I have examples? I don't work for the state. I do know that after our last discussion on this topic a number of people here in Jackson came up to me to tell me they or friends or family had lost their jobs to illegal immigrants - and appreciated the fact that I'd spoken up in this forum. I also know that when I photographed on the Coast post-Katrina multiple times I saw Hispanic laborers everywhere (debris clearers, etc.. - not the electrical contractors and other specialists who were predominantly Anglo and from out-of-state). I seriously doubt that if there were 10,000 jobs actually open and advertised paying decent wages workers from all over - not just from Mississippi - would not have taken them. I suspect instead that the positions were not even advertised because the contractors didn't want legal applicants knowing that they'd have to pay them decent wages, follow OSHA regulations, and so on. I know that when I was down there reading the local newspapers there were no jobs advertised. Why would a contractor advertise when he could get all the cheap labor he needed without wasting time hiring American workers? As far as illegal immigrants not 'stealing' jobs.....of course they do. Why in Belhaven this afternoon was there a yard crew working composed of men who spoke Spanish among themselves whereas there are plenty of other yard crews in Jackson made up of English speakers? Because the contractor underbid contractors who used the labor of legal workers - I'd say - jobs Mississippi citizens could have been filling. How do I know they spoke Spanish among themselves? Because they were yelling to each other on the street. I have no way to know for sure that they were illegal - I didn't ask for green cards - but I'd say it was a good bet. Were they here legally? They might have been, but I'd be more inclined to think they came here after work on the Coast dried up. Nevertheless, although you continue to want to give an 'anti-Latino' slant to all of this, I'm only addressing that because you brought it up. Illegal workers would be taking jobs from American citizens no matter where they came from. But now I'm curious. You say that 'if we could change history and isolate the 100,000 Latino laborers who arrived for work in the Katrina flood zone, maybe we'd find that the work would have happened anyway, but I seriously doubt it'. Why exactly do you doubt it? To me that sounds as if you're saying you couldn't find a workforce of legal citizens that would work that hard. And your basis for that is what? As I see it, that's a slur on a state which has many hard-working people of all colors who are definitely willing to do that sort of work. I see it all the time when houses are being demolished or built right here in Jackson. If you'd like photographs of legal workers working hard right here in Jackson, I have them from numerous projects. (more coming in next post)

Author
lucdix
Date
2007-10-02T20:53:06-06:00
ID
115009
Comment

(continued from post above) One of your statements above I take exception to based on my own experiences photographing on the Coast post-Katrina, namely this one: "Because, Eaves states, Missisippi citizens, not illegal immigrants, would have exposed themselves to toxic levels of waste and done the dirty work of gutting houses, clearing debris, and building casinos-- reducing Mississippi's unemployment rate (the highest in the South, Eaves notes) in the process:" First off, yes, they most definitely would have done all of this work - gutting houses and clearing debris - as they do here every day - and building casinos is standard construction work and plenty of people in Mississippi work in construction, know what they're doing and would have been happy for the work. It also would have been an excellent opportunity to train workers. Instead the work went to illegal immigrants. Regarding 'toxic levels of waste' - where, precisely, on the Coast are you talking about? The surge (of seawater) on the Coast was violent but brief. I'm not saying there was no toxic waste at all but if there was I certainly don't remember any. The water was there and gone. The Coast was not underwater for days as parts of New Orleans were. As a precaution, any house I entered as I photographed I did with a gas mask, just in case, but the air in fact always seemed fine. I certainly needed it in New Orleans, but we're talking about the Mississippi Coast here. If, in fact, illegal Latino immigrant workers were exposed to toxic waste - on the Mississippi Gulf Coast - without gas masks or at least face masks, it was because they were working without OSHA protection. And why were they? Well, take a guess..... Destruction - yes, everywhere. Toxicity? Nothing like New Orleans. The houses were flooded only briefly if at all, they were mostly destroyed by wind - there were no 'toxic breeding grounds' left. The FEMA trailers turned out to be toxic but that's a very different matter than 'toxic waste' and I happen to agree with John Arthur Eaves that a legal Mississippi workforce could have built 70,000 homes. Why not? I'm very curious as to your reasoning for putting down legal Mississippi workers. In my experience they're very hard-working indeed - and comprised of all races and ethnicities. Incidentally, my reason for hiring legal Mississippi workers is the same as my supporting local businesses. We need to help each other build this state - and supporting illegal workers, as much as they might need the work and the income - is shortsighted thinking as far as building this state's economy - a quick fix only, particularly considering this state's high unemployment rate.

Author
lucdix
Date
2007-10-02T20:55:51-06:00
ID
115010
Comment

As far as illegal immigrants not 'stealing' jobs.....of course they do. Why in Belhaven this afternoon was there a yard crew working composed of men who spoke Spanish among themselves whereas there are plenty of other yard crews in Jackson made up of English speakers? Because the contractor underbid contractors who used the labor of legal workers - I'd say - jobs Mississippi citizens could have been filling. How do I know they spoke Spanish among themselves? Because they were yelling to each other on the street. I have no way to know for sure that they were illegal - I didn't ask for green cards - but I'd say it was a good bet. Were they here legally? They might have been, but I'd be more inclined to think they came here after work on the Coast dried up. Nevertheless, although you continue to want to give an 'anti-Latino' slant to all of this, I'm only addressing that because you brought it up. Illegal workers would be taking jobs from American citizens no matter where they came from. Lucdix, the arguments you make in defending the American Worker--though heroic--have a long and ugly history. I haven't given this history an 'anti-Latino' slant. It's already present, in your everyman-detective comment about the Spanish-speaking lawn crew, and in Eaves' (and many other politicians') policy statement on immigration. 'Latino immigrant' (though it's usually worded differently) is the issue people react most strongly to, mostly because they can-- as you expertly did in Belhaven--pick out the culprits by sight (or, in your case, sound). It provides a focus for frustrations, and a scapegoat for preexisting problems like unenmployment. And it does so in racial terms-- the way it's framed in campaign statements like Eaves'. This is a dangerous road to go down again. As for my 'slur on a state,' you've tried to engage me in this way before, Luc, and I ain't biting. (Who could forget your infamous Border Patrol role-playing question, left unanswered for so long?) A group of 100,000 extra laborers, who have arrived spcifically for work, adds significantly to that group's ability to help rebuild a Hurricane-destroyed Coast-- to borrow a darling argument of yours, even if that group is from Latvia.

Author
msaldana
Date
2007-10-02T22:43:53-06:00
ID
115011
Comment

I notice that I wrote '10,000' above, Matt, when the number is much higher - 100,000 according to you, so that's ten times worse. The only reason 'anti-Latino' or 'Spanish-speaking' has come into this discussion is because you've brought it in. I would be, in fact, just as disturbed by 100,000 illegal Latvian workers taking jobs from Mississippians as I am about 100,000 predominantly Spanish-speaking illegal workers. I'm truly astonished that you can automatically defend all of these people just because they're Spanish-speaking. I certainly don't automatically defend people just because they're English-speaking and I would not defend 100,000 English speakers who'd crossed into Mexico or another Spanish-speaking country illegally to take jobs from its citizens just because they happen to speak my native language. I'm truly puzzled at your motivation, Matt, but perhaps it's because, as you've said (unless I'm mistaken), you were not born in this country. I'm not saying that's the case, am just speculating since I truly do not understand how you can defend illegal activity and didn't the last time we had this discussion. Please correct me if I'm wrong about where you were born. My family's been in Mississippi since before the Revolutionary War and I truly care about the economic, cultural, and physical health of the citizens of this state - Mississippi. Their economic health depends on their being able to work when jobs arise if they're not already taken by illegal immigrants. I have no idea what 'frustrations' you're speaking of as it concerns me, however. I have plenty of work. As far as preexisting unemployment problems in this state, however, Katrina would have been a chance to employ many people (I don't know if your 100,000 figure also includes New Orleans, though I suspect it does) who are, yes, native Americans. Yes, your comment about doubting that the work would have been done without illegal laborers is most definitely a slur on Mississippi's workforce. What is it otherwise? Why specifically would a legal Mississippi workforce not have been able to do the work necessary on the Gulf Coast and build 70,000 homes besides? You have not answered that question yet either. We did not need illegal workers from Latvia or anywhere else to rebuild the Coast and we still don't. We don't need illegal workers anywhere in this state or country while we still have citizens who are unemployed. Or is your argument that it's good for our economy that it's so easy to exploit people - that cheap is good and the OSHA regulations are too limiting anyway? That was the argument of the economist at Stanford in our last discussion. Can you explain to me why we would need a lawn crew composed of illegal immigrants at any time? There are plenty of people in the city of Jackson willing to work as gardeners or as part of a lawn crew. It's real simple: if a job goes to an illegal immigrant it does not go to a citizen of Mississippi and that Mississippi citizen remains unemployed. If the lawn crew I heard this afternoon had been speaking Russian it would have had just the same effect (jobs lost to Mississippi citizens) as one speaking Spanish. I also notice that, once again, you leave out the word 'illegal' when you write 'Latino immigrant'. Yet the illegality is the essence of the problem. We are still not talking about legal Latino immigrants but illegal Latino immigrants. I have nothing whatsoever against Spanish as a language or against Latin culture, truly cannot understand why you insist on mixing the two very different concepts.

Author
lucdix
Date
2007-10-02T23:19:03-06:00

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