California Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon has stepped into the swirling waters of creative geography.
That’s a fairly well-established scientific method by which you make vague generalizations about other people in the hope that you are able to scare your audience toward your way of thinking. Sometimes it’s the point, to monger fear as they say about fear mongers, and sometimes it’s just that the microphone is such a compelling toy that you forget that everyone is recording your every word and you just keep talking. In fairness to Representative McKeon, I would like to believe his recent statement about ethnicity and immigration was just due to his not rehearsing what his staffers had prepared for him.
Buzzfeed published a short video of a speech given recently by Rep. McKeon to a group assembled in a VFW hall in Simi Valley. They all seemed interested in what he had to say about immigration reform. McKeon, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke about how to address the needs of the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. and how to control border entry better in the future. All was well and fairly standard political fare until McKeon spoke about some people he knows. These people know ways “Arab persons” might enter the United States. They could pass as Hispanic, and once they’re here, “they can mingle in, and they can get in here, and then they can do damage.”
Does he really mean we need to stop Spanish-speaking travelers at the border just in case they are really “Arab persons” in disguise who can both mingle and do damage?
There are way more problems with this notion of the Congressman’s than one of misidentifying Muslim extremists as Arab or Arabs as Muslim extremists, let alone imagining that potential terrorists are dressing up to slip in to mingle. Every one of the 9/11 terrorists entered this country as themselves without any pretense and the last significant terror attack in this country was not carried out by anyone in or from the Middle East, but rather by two brothers, living with their family in Massachusetts, who were born in the former Soviet Union.
The danger in casting the wide net without understanding the specific target is that right now, we all want the quick fix. Certainly Rep. McKeon was confused, but to be fair, we keep waiting for someone like him to stand up at a similar microphone to tell us that this is how we fix immigration, this is how we keep our country safe, this is how we prevent future attacks by terrorists, and this is how you and your families will be able to sleep well at night again. We keep waiting for someone to say, “It’s simple.”
Imagine it were that simple. All we have to do is to stop all “Hispanic” immigration so that terrorists don’t “slip in” and we can go back to the false security of a pre-9/11 world. But, Rep. McKeon, sir, anyone who has a house can tell you that you can lock the windows and bolt the door, but if a thief wants in, he or she is coming in. The lock and the bolt might deter them and send them past your house tonight to a less well-prepared neighbor, but there’s no guarantee. I’ve been told that the bigger the lock, the more intriguing the house becomes to the thief.
So, for argument’s sake, let’s say our border is the door to the house and we lock it up nice and tight so nobody gets in without the key. That’s not a sustainable plan either. America is a country of immigrants. It’s meant to be the home of the free. People don’t come here because they think they can have a better life. People come here because the ideals on which this country was founded produce a better life.
I worry about the simple or quick fix mongers. I worry that the message goes out so quickly now that random words spoken off-script, as I believe these were by Rep. McKeon, can be taken as fact simply because the speech appears on YouTube or in snippets on Twitter. In fact, the majority of the three million or so Arabs in this country right now are Christian, not allied with Muslim extremism either in this country or in the Middle East. I would hope his staff could bring that to the Congressman’s attention.
In fact, I’m not worried at all about Arabs dressing up to slip over the Arizona border. I am more worried that the Tsarnaevs were already here.
Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood. While her children were enrolled in New York City public schools in the late 1990s, she edited and published The Backpack Press, and the CSDIII News, a monthly newsletter covering all public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She blogs on Open Salon and Red Room and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one. She is also a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain. Most of her writing is done on the bus. www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Twitter at @nilesite.