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Commentary: Can you make it past my last name?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN

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Navarrette: It's like there are two signs on the border, "Help Wanted" and "Keep Out."

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Some longtime readers insist they have detected a leftward drift whenever I write about illegal immigration. They're wrong.

But I can see how they might get that impression in a political climate that is increasingly all or nothing, with little room for nuance.

In a nation divided into red and blue states, there's no room for those of us who crave more colors. In the immigration debate, I've tried to do three things:

One is to deplore the degree to which the debate is driven by the dark impulse of racism. What concerns many Americans about illegal immigration is the sense that it speeds up the Latinization of the United States -- where Anglo-Saxon culture is replaced by Latin culture, where English gives way to Spanish, and where we Americans become strangers in our own land.

Two, I highlight the hypocrisy of Americans complaining about illegal immigrants while enjoying the cheap labor. It's as if there are two contradictory signs on the U.S.-Mexico border, "Keep Out" and "Help Wanted." President Bush was right that there are jobs that Americans won't do, and Americans gladly offer those jobs to the same illegal immigrants they supposedly want to expel.

The third is to point out flaws with so-called solutions to curb illegal immigration. From denying U.S. citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants; to making local police officers enforce federal immigration law; to approving Hazelton, Pennsylvania-type bans on renting to illegal immigrants -- many of these ideas are examples of the cure being worse than the disease.

I'm just trying to keep folks honest. But I also have to be honest with myself. It wasn't so long ago that another batch of readers insisted I was too conservative.

I've lectured groups of Hispanic immigrants about the importance of coming to the United States legally, learning English, assimilating into American culture, becoming U.S. citizens, and engaging in political and civic life.

Like many U.S.-born Hispanics, I support stronger border enforcement in the form of more border patrol agents and harsher penalties for employers of illegal immigrants.

According to the 2006 National Survey of Latinos, conducted recently by the Pew Hispanic Center, 53 percent of native-born Hispanics support increasing the number of border patrol agents. Just 41 percent oppose it.

I also oppose a blanket, unearned amnesty where illegal immigrants are given legal status without lifting a finger. Government shouldn't do for individuals, en masse, what they should do for themselves -- in this case, take steps to become legal.

Judging from the more than 500 e-mails I receive each week in response to my columns, some readers will be shocked to hear me say this. In fact, judging from their comments, it's clear that many never make it past my Spanish surname.

Once they realize that I'm Hispanic, they unfairly leap to the conclusion that I support open borders and condone illegal immigration so that -- as one reader put it -- I can bring in "more of (my) relatives." Another reader said it was obvious that "you support the Mexican invasion because you're Mexican."

Speaking of racism ...

Ruben Navarrette is an editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read more of his columns at http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/op-ed/navarrette/external link.

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