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Sins of the grandparents

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Esther Cepeda
September 15, 2011
— The pro-amnesty lobby is having a field day with the revelation that New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican tough on illegal immigration, had grandparents who came to the United States illegally.

Commentators have been quick to jab that, aside from 1930 Census records confirming the illegal status of the governor’s paternal grandparents, it is unknown whether they had driver’s licenses. That is a thinly veiled dig at Martinez’s crusade to change her state’s long-standing leniency in granting licenses to illegal immigrants as long as they pass a written test and demonstrate they can turn, stop and park a car.


One prominent illegal-immigrant advocacy group cracked, “It’s a good thing she wasn’t governor during her grandfather’s day,” and used the occasion to selectively quote experts in related news stories to promote the party line that every Latino must be pro-amnesty. The logic is that Latinos are likely to have family members living here illegally now or at some time in their family’s past.


Hey, if you really want to take that thought to its very extreme, nearly everyone today who isn’t a direct descendant of Native Americans can claim that at some point in their long-winding family tree, they had relatives they never knew of who came to this country without the right papers or permissions.


At a rally last week, Martinez’s detractors called her a hypocrite and an “anchor baby,” which is usually considered a slur when a non-Latino says it, and held signs asking: “Dear Susana. Do you know your history? Did you forget your roots?”


Others simply can’t understand how the 59-year-old lawyer could possibly still hold on to her long-held restrictive immigration philosophy because her grandfather—who, according to Martinez’s representatives, abandoned his family when her father was young—came to the U.S. illegally.


These are the same people who were tripping all over themselves to fend off a Republican-led attack on birthright citizenship last January. They were reminding everyone that the 14th Amendment, which promises unconditional U.S. citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of their parent’s residency status, creates full legitimate citizens totally uncompromised by ancestral ties, no matter how recent.


But some just can’t cope with the idea of a Hispanic woman with conservative views about immigration and would rather believe that Martinez must be “ashamed of her heritage.” Give me a break. Who in this country carries the burden of their grandparents’ actions? Are there support groups for grandchildren of others who committed civil violations back in 1930? Please contact me, I’d like to put you in touch with some forlorn activists.


I don’t blame those with a pro-amnesty agenda for seizing on this tiny bit of Martinez’s family history to promote their own agenda—seemingly all is fair in politics these days. And Martinez can take the heat.


What riles me is that this is just another instance of individuals and groups who bill themselves as “Latino advocates” tsk-tsk-ing another Latino for not “standing in solidarity” with the expected party line that all Latinos should want open borders and mass legalization.


In their view, Latino voters should be respected for the power of their vote. But only if that vote is reserved for a candidate who shares their views on immigration, the issue they continue to insist is more important to Hispanics than anything else.


Let’s see, Hispanic unemployment is 11.3 percent compared to 8 percent for whites and 9.1 percent on average. It takes a lot of nerve to suggest that jobs and the economy aren’t Hispanics’ main concern right now.


Never mind the facts, though. Immigrant advocacy groups continually perpetuate the monolithic-Latino-mentality myth because it serves their political purposes. That it helps convince people that Latinos are uniquely connected to the illegal immigrant experience—even though they’re not any more so than the Irish, Germans, or English pilgrims before them—doesn’t seem to weigh on their consciences much.


It’s a free country, and it’s anyone’s right to hit Martinez hard on her stances toward illegal immigration. But it would be nice if her most ardent detractors could base their dissent on fact-based arguments that would sway persons of any heritage, rather than attacking a successful third-generation U.S.-born Latina by throwing her estranged grandfather’s actions in her face.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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