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Commentary: Marches won't bring immigration reform

  • Story Highlights
  • Immigration activists again take to streets demanding to be heard
  • Marchers want comprehensive reform plan from next president, Navarrette says
  • Some blame Mexico for allowing inequities to occur, columnist says
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- They're baaaack.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr.: To achieve real change, illegal immigrants must become legal voting citizens.

Today, in a scene reminiscent of what happened on May 1, 2006, thousands of immigration activists in dozens of U.S. cities have once again taken to the streets to make their voices heard, to make demands on behalf of illegal immigrants, and to make a stand against what many see as a surge of anti-Mexican hostility in this country.

And yet, those who abhor such demonstrations and who insist that illegal immigrants are in no position to demand anything, except maybe a window seat on the deportation bus, will claim that it is precisely these kinds of public displays that have created much of this hostility that the activists are complaining about.

So which came first -- the chicken or the huevos rancheros?

I don't buy this argument that there was no racism or acrimony in the immigration debate until the protests started. Get real. Those things have been present in every immigration debate for more than 200 years. Of course, they were going to be part of this one.

That isn't to say that a lot of people don't see red when they see protesters do things like waving the Mexican flag. They do. As tactics go, that's a foolish one: demanding rights of one country while showing allegiance to another. It's bad manners -- and bad civics.

Two years ago, protesters wanted to defeat punitive legislation in Congress and secure a path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants. This year, according to organizers, the goals are an end to workplace raids and a comprehensive reform plan in the first 100 days of the new administration, no matter who is elected president.

Those demands probably sound reasonable to many of those who listen to Spanish-language radio. Consider what I picked up recently from eavesdropping on a talk show from Los Angeles.

One of the guests was immigrant rights activist Juan Jose Gutierrez who equated the immigration marches with those of the Civil Rights Movement and credited them with helping to kill an enforcement bill sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin.

That part is interesting. You see, for all the huffing and puffing over immigration in the last few years, Congress didn't pass any kind of immigration bill.

Those on the Right see that as a victory because they were able to forestall what they see as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. But those on the Left also claim victory for helping to derail what they saw as the overly punitive Sensenbrenner bill, which would have made illegal presence in the United States a felony and outlawed virtually any form of assistance to illegal immigrant.

Yet not everyone feels like celebrating. Take Cesar, a young man who called the show to insist that the marches didn't work, in part, because they occurred in the wrong country. He said he had family in Mexico who earn in a week what he earns in two or three hours in the United States.

Cesar instead blasted the Mexican government for allowing this kind of inequity to occur. That is who the immigrants should be picketing with their marches, he said, instead of wasting their time demanding rights and privileges from the United States. It was time to go home, he said, and fight the battle for fairness, dignity, and economic justice where it might do some good -- on Mexican soil.

Bravo. Cesar makes a good point. Of course, that kind of advice is most helpful to those who can envision going home to Mexico. Those who intend to make a life here in the United States have another decision to sort through -- how to make that possible. Marches get the attention, but they're usually more sizzle than steak.

Real and lasting change comes from running through the process -- illegal immigrants becoming legal residents, and legal residents becoming U.S. citizens who can vote and run for office.

And that, you see, is good civics.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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