Subtle immigration rhetoric can be offensive

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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Friday. Cruz finished first in the party's biennial presidential straw poll. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Friday. Cruz finished first in the party's biennial presidential straw poll. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)

This weekend, at the Texas Tribune Festival, the subject of immigration was unavoidable. Panelists and speakers addressed the issue directly, sideways and backward, and of the multitude of immigration subtopics, the question of rhetoric often took center stage. Interestingly, a matter that has no bearing on policy worked its way into most immigration discussions. Viewers saw state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, criticize her gubernatorial opponent for his denigration of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, was also quick to point out her opponent’s use of the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants. But when it comes to rhetoric, the worst offenders at the festival were Latino members of the GOP.

George Rodriguez, San Antonio Tea Party president, is the most obvious example, as the incendiary political figure is enamored with the word “illegal.” But less evident forms of what could be considered dangerous rhetoric were also prevalent. During the panel entitled “Latinos and the GOP,” Latino Republicans examined many reasons as to why the values important to the Latino community align with conservative values, and when the issue of immigration arose, many members of the panel expressed support for “The Texas Solution” — a GOP-supported measure that would create a guest worker program for citizens of other nations to come to Texas and work without being a United States citizen.

The problem with “The Texas Solution” is the rhetoric, which reduces human beings to a problem that needs solving. Also, unlike the in-state tuition bill, which would facilitate undocumented students’ receiving a college degree, the Texas Solution relegates undocumented immigrants to low-wage jobs often stereotypically associated with the Latino community. This facet, which  admittedly has no effect on policy, should be included in the discussion on rhetoric.

Latino members of the GOP, just as black members, are often perceived as Uncle Tom characters exploited by the Republican Party to attract minority votes. Though often erroneous, this preconceived notion places Latino Republicans in a precarious situation when it comes to rhetoric. If the problem is significant, Latino Republicans should take the initiative and pay attention to their rhetoric not only when it’s outright defamatory but also when the effects of rhetoric are subtle.

Davis is an associate editor.