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Better way to be heard on migrant issues than to raise fists on street

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It used to be that protesters took to the streets to build public support for their cause. Now they do it to show their strength. Instead of moving you to join them, now they want you to know that they won’t be moved.

That’s especially true when the issue is illegal immigration. Around the country, immigrant-rights activists, illegal-immigration apologists and open-border advocates are protesting immigration reform efforts in Congress.

In Chicago, nearly 100,000 people clogged the streets recently in support of immigrants and looser immigration laws. Clearly offended by efforts to criminalize the undocumented, many protesters carried signs with slogans such as: “No somos criminales.” (We’re not criminals.)

Not to be overly technical, but if the person holding the sign came into the United States illegally, then he or she most certainly is a lawbreaker. This part isn’t complicated. There are federal immigration laws on the books governing the proper way for one to enter the United States, and, every year, more than a million people break those laws by entering the wrong way. Ergo, these people should be considered criminals.

Those who believe otherwise have one leg to stand on. For the time being, the fact that one is in the United States without the proper documents is only a civil violation. That’s a technicality that deserves to be changed. The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act – and passed by the House in December – would do that.

The bill is deeply flawed. It ducks the tough question of what to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here, and it makes clergy, charities and social workers into criminals by expanding the definition of “smuggling” to include anyone who “assists” an illegal immigrant.

But the part about making unlawful presence a crime seems like a reasonable concession. It’s also the part that many in the immigrant-rights movement are angry about.

Many illegal immigrants and their advocates really seem to believe that if you enter the country illegally but keep your nose clean and never break another law, it’s like you never entered illegally in the first place.

There’s the problem. Everyone has an opinion on illegal immigration. But on both sides, whether you’re talking about immigration restrictionists or open-border advocates, no one wants to be honest and admit the obvious.

On the right, they’ll never admit that younger Americans in particular have lost their work ethic, or that much of the angst over illegal immigration comes from the clash of cultures. On the left, they’ll never admit that the illegal did anything wrong in coming here, or that the United States has the right to protect the sovereignty of its borders.

Meanwhile, I’m getting fed up with flamboyant, self-satisfying street protests such as the one in Chicago. Here you had thousands of people waving Mexican flags – granted, along with a good number of American flags – who seemed completely unaware that they were killing their own cause. A lot of Americans are already freaked out by what they’re convinced is a Mexican invasion, so naturally what do the protesters do? Wave the Mexican flag. A lot of Americans are already afraid of becoming less relevant because of rapidly changing demographics. So what do the protesters do? Declare the concerns of many over illegal immigration to be irrelevant.

Besides, protests like the one in Chicago or in front of the U.S. Capitol around the same time only reinforce the stereotype that all Latinos favor amnesty and want some special accommodation to sneak in our relatives to the south. Latinos’ views are more complicated than that.

I understand that the protesters want their voices heard. With Congress working itself into a frenzy, a lot of people are scared, frustrated and angry. But there are more productive ways to be heard than with chants and banners and raised fists. They could educate themselves about the issues and decide what immigration reforms they could live with. And those who are U.S. citizens could vote in large numbers and begin pushing back on those politicians who are pushing them around.

Best of all, it’s an example of being proactive, while the protesters are stuck being reactive and letting others set the agenda.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union Tribune. E-mail: ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com

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