A State of Hysteria over Immigration By Ruben Navarrette, Jr. San Diego Union-Tribune September 14, 2005 So now Americans know what a "state of emergency" really looks like. That's the phrase that the television networks have plastered across their coverage of Hurricane Katrina, and--looking at those ghastly images from the Gulf Coast--boy, does it fit. With much of the city of New Orleans still underwater after more than two weeks, with the death toll still unknown and hundreds of thousands homeless and spread across the country, I'd say that qualifies as a state of emergency. Anyway, it's a much better definition than the one offered just a few weeks ago by cynical and opportunistic Democrats. They set out to be heroic, but wound up sounding hysterical. Before Hurricane Katrina, a pair of Democratic governors--Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Janet Napolitano of Arizona-- seized on the phrase to try to tweak President Bush for what they insisted was the failure of the federal government to secure the U.S.-Mexican border. The governors insisted that their states were enduring a "state of emergency" because of illegal immigrants, and that they were thus entitled to more than $1 million each in state and federal funding to help combat the problem. It was all about politics: Within hours of sounding the alarm, Napolitano hit the television airwaves to bash the Bush administration for not doing enough to control illegal immigration and then sticking Arizonans with the bill. What Napolitano didn't mention was that, for more than a decade, Arizona has profited from a boom in population, new construction and small business start-ups--all things that might never have been possible without the cheap labor provided by illegal immigration. In California, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez was playing a different kind of politics when he used the phrase to tweak Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Núñez, a Democrat, insisted that Schwarzenegger follow the example set by Richardson and Napolitano and declare a "state of emergency" in the Golden State due to illegal immigration. Núñez was obviously trying to put the Republican governor in a tough spot--either bash the administration or come across as soft on illegal immigration. Political observers called Núñez's move "brilliant," but then he did something dumb. He followed up his remarks with a quick trip to Mexico City to meet Mexican President Vicente Fox. The Mexican officials pounced on Núñez, demanding to know what he meant by a state of emergency. Were things really so bad in California? And if they were, then why weren't California officials willing to assume part of the blame? And to think that Núñez--according to his aides--gets hate mail from racist cranks who accuse him, as a Mexican-American, of conspiring with the Mexican government to reclaim the American Southwest for the Motherland. Looks like the conspiracy is coming unraveled. In fact, just for the record, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mexico is doing more giving than taking. Fox dispatched about 200 soldiers of the Mexican army to cross into the United States with food, water, and medicine for the survivors of Katrina. For his part, Schwarzenegger didn't take the bait. In fact, in a letter to Núñez--dated before Katrina struck--the governor said that what California is experiencing at the moment doesn't bear even a faint resemblance to a real state of emergency. "A declaration of emergency is not authorized in the absence of conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons or property beyond the means of local government to address," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Despite the dangers which exist to those who seek to cross the border illegally ... the current situation in California doesn't rise to that level." Bravo, Arnold. You got it exactly right. Despite all the heated and hyperbolic rhetoric being tossed around by politicians trying to woo voters, California and for that matter, Arizona, New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest isn't experiencing a state of emergency over illegal immigration. Now it's true that we shouldn't get in the habit of tolerating any sort of unlawful behavior, and that includes the millions of people who cross into this country without proper documents. But it's also true that these people wouldn't be here and more wouldn't be coming every day if American employers weren't lining up to hire them. To ignore that fact, and paint the residents of the Southwest as innocent victims of some unpredictable calamity over which they had no control, is to live in something that is even more dangerous than a state of emergency a state of denial. http://signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050914/news_lzle14navarr.html If url does not work, go to http://signonsandiego.com, and do a search by author or title of article.