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Sep. 9 2009 - 11:38 pm | 149 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

Rep. Joe Wilson– prophet of the coming immigration wars

Democratic leaders take in Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst

Democratic leaders take in Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst

It’s quite appropriate, in a way, that President Obama’s health care speech was interrupted by a heckler hung up on a single issue– illegal immigration. South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled out “You lie!” after Obama promised his health care plan didn’t cover illegal immigrants. Then, he was booed in turn.

It was more than just a rude interruption, and a breach of decorum. It  was an undigested piece within the national body politic coming to the surface. President Obama, absorbed in his health care campaign, has had to delay his promised immigration overhaul that would seek to offer some sort of path to legal status for the nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants, along with strong and clear enforcement policies– and more rational visa quotas and family reunification programs. Many moderate Republicans, meanwhile, would like to see a robust guest worker program.

Not that Rep. Wilson would agree with the goal of regularizing immigrants who entered the country illegally. But until the illegal immigration problem is reckoned with, Republicans, and not a few Democrats, will scapegoat illegal immigrants for many of the nation’s problems. If U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is to be believed, immigration, along with energy, tops the Democrats’ agenda, after health care reform.

After the speech, Rep. Wilson apologized for his “inappropriate and regrettable” comments and blamed them on an overabundance of emotion and on his “lack of civility.” But the truth is his intervention is a preview of what’s to come in the immigration debates, potentially even more rancorous than the bile-filled health care fight. One question is whether this administration will retain enough political capital, and momentum, to take on immigration (and the many Rep. Joe Wilsons out there) after this summer’s bruiser.


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    About Me

    Readers, thanks for your eyeball time, please send tips, corrections, complaints, rants, etc. My email is ballve [at] gmail.com. I was born in Buenos Aires and raised there and in Atlanta, Mexico City and Caracas. I've written and reported on Latin America for almost a dozen years. I started out as an Associated Press reporter and editor in the agency’s Brazil and Caribbean bureaus. In 2007 I co-founded El Sol de San Telmo, a community newspaper in Buenos Aires. I am now a contributing editor for the nonprofit New America Media, Americas correspondent for Amsterdam-based Research World magazine (publication of the international association of market and public opinion researchers), and a 2010-2011 Lemann Fellow at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

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    • For longer pieces, and a portfolio of published work please see my web page.


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      Since 2002 I have been a contributing editor at New America Media, where I write about Latin America and the politics of immigration in the United States.

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      Wax Poetics issue #36, with my essay on Brazilian singer-songwriter Jards Macalé.

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