NPR features glib, hateful commentator on Arizona law

Dear Talk of the Nation staff,

I was pretty offended at yesterday’s show on the new law in Arizona. You chose to feature a virulently anti-immigrant guest, presenting him as a learned expert. You had no other guest on the show to present a cogent opposing opinion. The host lobbed softball questions, staying within the smooth-talking guest’s framing of the issue. Overall, the effect of the whole segment was of a clever and misleading opinion piece that came down on the side of racism and fascism.

What’s so insidious about a guest like Professor Kobach is the way he deploys his legal expertise to make his extremism sound reasonable. In a calm, scholarly voice he called Arizona “ground zero” in an “illegal immigration shockwave.” [1] This is inflammatory stuff, and patently untrue. The percentage of people in the U.S. who are foreign-born is lower today than it was in 1900. The country’s percentage of immigrants is about average for an industrialized country [2]. An abundance of data shows that immigrants have net positive impacts on their local and national economies. [3] And so on.

A responsible journalist should challenge the guest on the counterfactual implications of a phrase like “illegal immigration shockwave.” Mr. Conan let it pass, instead keeping his questions mostly in the abstract realm of constitutionality and federal authority. Allowing Prof. Kobach to frame the issue as an esoteric legal dispute — “really, this law doesn’t change that much” — misses the forest for the trees. The story here is that the new law is the latest attack in an escalating war on immigrants, specifically Latino immigrants.
When Prof. Kobach went so far as to present the law as serving the interests of working people from the U.S. — “a nation’s first responsibility is to its own citizens, especially in an economic recession like this, when people are trying to put food on the table;” “And one way to get more U.S. citizens to work is to ensure that in the marketplace for jobs they are not competing with illegal labor” — I was particularly dismayed that Mr. Conan did not challenge this fundamentally erroneous idea.

Once and for all, let’s make it crystal clear: It is not migration itself, but the criminalization of migration, that hurts working people. The more civil vulnerability immigrants experience, the greater their exposure to workplace exploitation. And once the boss can get away with paying someone less, he or she can pit groups against each other to pay everyone less. That’s why solidarity has always been such a vital principle in the labor movement. Any law that makes the lives of immigrants more precarious is a law that weakens the working class as a whole. By the same token, a law that completely opened the borders, according all working people the same rights and protections on the job, would tremendously strengthen working folks everywhere, including here.

I was sorry to hear that Prof. Kobach found it “amusing” that infrastructure in the Mexican state of Sonora is so decimated that it struggles to support returning emigrants. It is, of course, largely the impacts of NAFTA and the actions of U.S.-based multinationals that have plunged Mexico into such desperate poverty that people are forced to head north in the first place. That’s not some cute irony; it is the heart of the problem.

Alexandra Bradbury

[1] Transcript, “Controversial Ariz. Immigration Law Defended,” Talk of the Nation, 4/30/10,
[2] Immigration Policy Center, “U.S. Immigration Policy in Global Perspective: International Migration in OECD Countries,”
[3] U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Immigration Myths and the Facts: Behind the Fallacies,”


About Al Bradbury

Labor journalist by day, singer-songwriter by night, Odonian at all hours.

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