Midterms 2018: Deception and fear

We should wonder what Americans learned from the divisive and depressing 2016 election.

Given the results of the recent midterm elections, the answer appears to be: Not much.

Two years ago, on this site, before votes were cast in that earlier election, I wrote: “Our new president, and his or her administration, also has to take on as its primary goal the theme of reconciliation. … The old saying goes: ‘To the victor goes the spoils.’ But this time, after this wacky and wild election is over with, the victor will also get something much more profound: The responsibility to unite what has been divided and mend what is broken.”

After the election, I observed: “The United States seems more divided now than it was before the election. Tempers are short. Feelings are hurt. Emotions are frayed. It’s no longer possible to agree to disagree. Everything is accompanied by a moral judgment. Motives are immediately questioned. There is little respect and no room for nuance. Overall our national discourse has gradually become more polarized, more personal, more presumptuous and more petty.”

Now, two years later, with the midterms behind us, the bad news is that our national discourse — that is, what we have to say to one another and how we talk to one another — is still too polarized, too personal, too presumptuous, and too petty.

In fact, all that seems to be getting worse. The theme of the midterm elections was not “Hope and Change” or “Make America Great Again.” It was “Deception and Fear.”

Democrats and Republicans are both claiming victory, and both parties have reason to celebrate. Democrats turned out their voters and reclaimed control of the House of Representatives. Republicans turned out their voters and strengthened their grip on the Senate. Democrats won some key races, and Republicans won other key races.

In fact, if you’re non-partisan and a fan of representative democracy, it was a glorious election.

But, at the same time, we should acknowledge that much of the results in individual races came about through deception. Anyone who follows politics knows that elected officials, and those running for elective office, are often quite comfortable spreading misinformation, misleading voters, and shading the truth.

But what is not often talked about is that most of the misleading goes on between the politicians and their supporters.

For instance, Democrats only wanted to talk about health care, and they had no interest in confronting immigration — or the migrant/refugee caravan that is now headed for the U.S.-Mexico border. If they had to discuss immigration, they would — sooner or later — have to navigate the messy divide between blue-collar workers who want less immigration and Latinos who wouldn’t mind more of it. They would have to mislead one group, or both.

Meanwhile, Republicans only wanted to talk about immigration and the caravan. If they had to discuss health care, they would — sooner or later — have to navigate the messy divide between those Republicans who voted to keep the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) because they thought repealing it would do more harm than good and the outraged conservative voters who put Republicans in office specifically to repeal that legislation.

In both cases, and for politicians in both parties, the only way to walk safely through those respective minefields is through deception. They can’t afford to tell the truth.

And then there was the fear factor. Democrats drove turnout and scared up votes by convincing their supporters that Republicans were going to take away their health care and let everyone get sick. Across the street, Republicans drove turnout and scared up votes of their own by convincing supporters that Democrats were going to open up the borders and let everyone in.

Guess what? In both cases, it worked.

No surprise there. Fear usually does work. That is a lesson that goes back centuries. History shows us that tyrants and dictators and madmen did more harm with fear than with armies, weapons, and warfare.

You can always try to counter fear with facts. That is to be expected. But don’t assume much will come of that. Fear doesn’t usually listen to facts. And, these days, it is stone-cold deaf to them.

So we didn’t learn much from the 2016 election, and that led us to the 2018 election. What can we hope for in 2020?

In the end, it’s all about being better. We should all aspire to something better. Americans have to do better. We have to communicate better, and show more respect to one another. We need to engage in the political system in better and more productive ways. Our elected officials need better ways of addressing us, and they should try to be better people. And, most of all, we should demand better of them, of ourselves, and of this great country.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

What the U.S. Constitution giveth, Trump wants to taketh away

SAN DIEGO — To take Americans’ minds off his problems, President Trump offers another shiny object: birthright citizenship.

The legal concept is jus soli, Latin for “the right of the soil.” In the United States — and more than 30 other countries, including Canada and most of Latin America — if you’re born there, you’re a citizen. This includes the children of illegal immigrants.

In about two dozen countries — mainly in Asia, Europe and the Middle East — at least one parent must have legal status for a child born on their soil to get citizenship. Only two nations — India and Malta — are so strict that they deny citizenship to children born on their soil unless at least one parent is a citizen.

Thanks to the 14th Amendment, the United States has it right. But what the U.S. Constitution giveth, Trump wants to taketh away.

You ought to keep 10 things in mind:

— When conservatives parrot the talking point that the Supreme Court “has never ruled” on whether the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment applies to the children of undocumented immigrants, they’re missing the point. There are reams of issues that the court has never decided because they’re ridiculous. Note that the court has also never ruled on unicorns. This could be one of those issues.

— The underlying assumption of those who want to deny citizenship to the children of the undocumented seems to be that U.S. citizenship is extremely valuable. But if they want to be stingy about who becomes a citizen, then why do we give the privilege away automatically to the native-born who did nothing to earn it?

— Most illegal immigrants come from Mexico and Central America. So Trump’s attack on birthright citizenship should be seen as just another hate-filled strike against the nation’s 58 million Latinos, many of whom get up and go to work everyday to help keep America great.

— It’s simply false to say that “no other country” confers birthright citizenship. Besides, what the folks who say that likely mean is that few countries in Europe offer it. Who cares? The United States hasn’t followed Europe’s lead on much of anything since the Marshall Plan. When was the last time you heard of the French Dream?

— Trump warns that U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants have the “benefits” of citizenship. This implies that they are takers. But countless studies show that immigrants are just as likely as the U.S.-born to be productive members of society, if not more so.

— Opponents of birthright citizenship also claim that the privilege acts as a “magnet” that draws refugees and migrants to this country. That’s nonsense. I’ve spoken to dozens of immigrants over the years, and I can tell you this much: There is a jobs magnet, and a family reunification magnet. There is no citizenship magnet.

— It’s pointless to dwell on the “intent” of the 14th Amendment. With the Constitution, intent is debatable — and not worth much. The 14th Amendment also guarantees “equal protection of the laws.” The fact those words were written to protect freed slaves doesn’t mean that they don’t also protect other groups from unfair treatment.

— The 14th Amendment confers U.S. citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Some insist illegal immigrants don’t qualify. That’s absurd. We’re talking about the child, not the parents. And if the government can deport or imprison you, then you’re subject to its jurisdiction.

— Republicans like Trump don’t really care about citizenship. They care about what citizenship bestows: the right to vote. They know they’ve misbehaved by picking on Latinos, and they’re due a spanking at the ballot box that they’re desperately trying to avoid one way or another. That’s what this is all about.

— Once upon a time, some Republicans made a play for Latino voters. Those days are over. The only voters that Trump is trying to rile up so they turn out on Tuesday are those whose American Dream is an America without brown people in it.

Trump and other Republicans like to pick on Latinos. But this time, they picked the wrong spot to poke.

Those voters care about children and families. Defend them, and we will always remember. Attack them, and we will never forget.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

10 things to know about the migrant caravan

Here are a few things to keep in mind as we await the arrival of a much-publicized caravan of several thousand Central Americans at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  1. The group is a hodgepodge. There are refugees fleeing violence, economic migrants looking for jobs, deported immigrants trying to return, people aiming to reconnect with family and friends in the United States, and other categories yet to be defined. We can’t treat them all the same. Some deserve a shot at staying in the United States, while others will have to go home.
  2. This is not an “invasion” — in any way, shape, or form. It’s dishonest and inappropriate to say otherwise. An invasion is where people storm the gates because they want to do you harm. These people want to do your chores. An invasion is where people want to take things from you. These people are doers, optimists, and risk-takers who have a lot to contribute to whichever country takes them in.
  3. Calling it an invasion is also dangerous, because it encourages people to go to extreme lengths to ward off a non-existent threat. Witness the tragedy in Pittsburgh where 11 people were gunned down in a synagogue by an anti-Semite with an AR-15 assault weapon. Judging by the social media postings of the suspect, Robert Bowers apparently got it into his mind that a local Jewish group that helps resettle refugees were helping “bring invaders that kill our people.” Bowers wrote, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
  4. Speaking of dangerous. President Trump is about to make a bad situation much worse by sending as much as 15,000 U.S. military troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to hold off the intruders. Imagine thousands of armed soldiers facing off against women cradling babies. A million things could go wrong, and something likely will.
  5. Think about everything that went wrong recently when Mexican law enforcement officers in riot gear tried in vain to keep the caravan from crossing into Mexico from Guatemala. Tear gas enveloped the crowd. Police officers were hurt. And at least one member of the caravan died when a rubber bullet struck him in the head.
  6. It was wasted energy for Republicans to spend weeks speculating about who paid the freight for the caravan. Instead of figuring out why these people are coming, or how to stop future waves, conservatives obsessed over the logistics of moving thousands of all those people. They suggested the whole thing was a plot, organized by left-wing activists to embarrass Trump. That got them nowhere.
  7. Despite efforts by the Trump administration to get Mexico to do its dirty work, our southern neighbor was never going to be motivated to help a U.S. president who has treated their country and their people like pinatas since he first entered the arena. That being the case, the Mexicans were not about to force the issue when the vast majority of the people in the caravan refused an offer of asylum in Mexico and opted to press ahead to the United States.
  8. It is also not a smart idea for Trump to threaten to withhold U.S. economic aid from the three countries that are sending most of these people — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These countries have failing economies, and they’re facing enormous challenges as they confront plagues such as gang violence and institutional corruption. If we hurt these countries’ economies even more, or undermine their ability to fight off the forces that would further destabilize them, we could have failed states and rogue regimes at our backdoor. That would be a disaster.
  9. While conservatives like to talk about those mythical “magnets” that are supposedly drawing the caravan to the United States — from welfare to free education to health care to changes in the law that could allow them to stay — that is not what is going on here. Whether we’re talking about refugees from Central America, or economic migrants from Mexico, people come for one reason: they know the way. They’ve either been here before or their family or friends are already here. They’re just continuing the cycle.
  10. Trump thinks the caravan will be a winning issue for Republican candidates in next week’s midterm elections because he assumes that voters will be reluctant to elect Democrats who they perceive as soft on border security. But it looks more like a headache for whatever party is in charge of the executive branch which is entrusted with securing the border. That’s the GOP.

What a mess. We need a rational, fair, and humane solution. Finding it will be tough as long as we’re blinded by emotion, fear, and racism. First, let’s get those things under control. Then we can go from there.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Identity issues and the Texas Senate race

SAN DIEGO – Once again, the eyes of the nation are upon Texas. This time, our gaze is fixed on a bizarre Senate race where neither of the candidates appears comfortable enough in his own skin to go by his given name.

Republican incumbent Rafael Cruz prefers to go by “Ted,” while the Democratic challenger Robert Francis O’Rourke wants you to call him “Beto.”

In some states, politicians are defined by where they stand on issues. In Texas, the Senate candidates appear to be struggling with identity issues.

People in the Lone Star State like to say, “Don’t mess with Texas.” But, as someone who lived in Dallas for five years, I have to wonder: Why are these two Texans so messed up?

Cruz explained in his 2015 autobiography that he went with “Ted” because “Rafael” often became “Felito” and the kids he grew up with teased him over the nickname. His mom suggested other variations, and he settled on Ted – which is a long way from Rafael.

The road from “Robert” to “Beto” is shorter, but still – in the case of O’Rourke – not exactly a direct route.

The legend – which I’ve heard often from Latino Democrats – is that the evolution was organic. A bunch of Latino friends who grew up with O’Rourke in El Paso must have taken a liking to him and made him an honorary Mexican. They dubbed him “Beto.” It had nothing to do with politics, or a cynical attempt to trick Latinos into thinking he was one of them.

Still, I have to admit, I like the fairy tale that O’Rourke’s Latino supporters are spreading about how he supposedly “became Latino” by growing up around Latinos. Let’s call that “LBO” – Latino by Osmosis.

I want in. I love the Armenian people. I was raised near one of the Armenian capitals of the United States: Fresno, California. Under Beto’s law, I could be “ABO” – Armenian by Osmosis. But wait. I also respect the Armenian people. And saying that growing up around them made me one of them would be presumptuous – and disrespectful.

Meanwhile, Democrats have long accused Cruz of “trying to be white.” Mexicans-Americans like to poke him for leaving “Rafael” behind and opting for an Anglicized alternative like “Ted.”

That’s how we roll. Mexican-Americans are always waiting for one of our own to disappoint us, betray us, or sell us out. And those of us who are plagued with insecurities tend to suspect that some in our tribe would like to be white.

I myself have often quipped that I’d like to be reincarnated as a white male because I’m tired of working so hard. Besides, I’m eager to see what’s beyond the golden door and find out what privilege tastes like.

Sadly, there aren’t enough couches in the entire Southwest to let all those Mexican-Americans who are confused about identity sort through our issues. They affect how we see ourselves – and everyone else.

And speaking of privilege, O’Rourke – who is being treated like a rock star by liberals in Hollywood and the left-leaning East Coast media – has a free pass on the issue of cultural appropriation.

While all this is going on, liberal media elites felt the urge to register their outrage about “blackface” after Megyn Kelly said that she didn’t see a problem with the racist concept growing up. Kelly may soon see her way to the unemployment line, as her high-paying job at NBC News appears to be in jeopardy.

Liberals baffle me. They’re dumbfounded that someone could miss the offensiveness of posing as an African-American. But, in Texas, they’re trying to help elect someone who is posing as a Latino.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Team effort in education

Lately, I’ve been asked more than once to share my insights about how to reach and teach Latino students and ensure that America’s largest minority fulfils its academic potential.

The question is urgent because of math. Latinos account for 25 percent of the average kindergarten class, just as they are likely to account for a quarter of the U.S. population by 2030. If that cohort isn’t sufficiently educated, it’ll be stuck in low-wage jobs and contributing less in taxes than they would if they had better-paying jobs. Shortchanging these students could eventually short-circuit the country’s entire economic system.

For the answer, I tapped into three things: my own experience as a high-achieving, self-starting Mexican-American student who made it from a small, mostly Latino farming town in Central California to Harvard; what I’ve studied, been told, and learned over the years about K-12 education, including what I’ve seen on the front lines as a substitute teacher in my old school district; and what I’ve gleaned from interviews with teachers, principals, and superintendents about what they’re doing to help educate a student population that has often been difficult to inspire.

From my experience, the formula for turning out hard-charging Latino academic superstars starts with the education triangle. At one corner, you have the student — who has to be in class every day, and ready to work hard and follow the teacher’s commands. At the second corner, you have the teacher — who knows the material but also how to communicate it, and who knows that students learn in different ways and adjusts accordingly. And at the third corner, you have the parent who supports both student and teacher, and makes sure that both get what they need to make the magic happen. Everyone works together, or none of it works.

Given what I saw on the front lines, we need high goals, strict accountability, regular testing, flexibility in the curriculum, rigorous academics, high standards, and an end to making excuses about which groups kids can learn and which groups can’t.

The excuses game can easily descend into racism and classism, where we write off whole categories of students as not being educatable and thus not worth the effort. We used to blame the bloodline, then the culture, then the parents. Now we blame the environment, or socio-economic status. But the goal is always the same — to let the public schools and those who work in them off the hook for failing some students due to what former President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Finally, judging from what educators tell me, there’s a lot more that Americans could be providing our public schools to make them more effective. And I’m not talking about more funding.

One teacher told me that there needs to be more of an emphasis on early childhood reading at the K-3 level, those all-important years that set the tone for the rest of the student’s education. He also said there needs to be more counseling, and not just the academic kind. Students can face a variety of traumas that get in the way of learning. We have to deal with those.

A district administrator pleaded for more flexibility in how schools can spend their budget allotment and more power to hire teachers on an individual basis instead of through a collective bargaining process that sometimes gets in the way of efficiency. Schools exist for the convenience of the adults who work in them, and not to serve the students who attend them. Can’t we do both?

And lastly, a retired principal insisted on strict accountability across the board so that teachers and administrators alike are held responsible for how well students perform in every class they take. He also suggested that — in return — we pay teachers more and work with banks to provide them with low-interest home loans.

They were all trying to send the same message: Educating our students is too important to be left only to the educators. The academic health of our children is everyone’s business, and so it needs to be everyone’s responsibility.

As you can see, there are plenty of ideas about how to do a better job of educating Latino students. We don’t need more studies, commissions, and policy directives. We just need the courage to confront our prejudices and the will to do what we know needs to be done. We need to hold people accountable, and expect more from students, teachers, and parents.

We could also need to recognize that much of what we’ve been doing over the last few decades has not worked and that it is time to try something new. It’s time to put the focus where it belongs: the schools. If we improve what goes on there, Latinos students can go anywhere.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

What the public wants

As you may have noticed, President Trump and the media are at war. And, as a result, Americans have been getting an up-close look at the dysfunctional but co-dependent relationship between journalists and politicians. And it’s scary.

These two tribes need each other. We feed each other. We tend to like each other as individuals. We understand each other. But that doesn’t mean we trust each other. We don’t.

We’re not talking about different kinds of dogs and different varieties of cats. These are dogs and cats.

Almost 20 years ago, when I was a baby journalist, I returned to my alma mater and became a mid-career student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Most of my classmates were former or aspiring elected officials, government workers, or political appointees. But some — who made up my tribe — were current or former journalists.

Oh, the glorious arguments we had, these two opposing cohorts — in class and over pints of beers in Harvard Square. We saw the world in fundamentally different ways. We had different interests. We pursued different agendas.

Ideally, politicians have, as their highest calling, serving the public good. Journalists worship at the altar of seeking the truth — especially if it’s inconvenient or unpopular.

Sometimes those two goals collide.

There even seemed to be a difference in what we wanted out of life. The pols wanted power and influence. The journos wanted a voice and the chance to shape the debate.

But the two groups did one thing in common, unfortunately: Neither of us spent much time thinking about what the public wants from us. That’s right, the lowly, oft-forgotten public for which we’re both supposed to be working.

I know what the public wants, because I listen good when they scream it at me. When I write columns, I get emails from readers. When I host radio shows, folks call in. When I give speeches, people in the audience ask questions or make comments.

The American people are saying loud and clear what they want from elected officials and the media, and I hear them. In advance of the November midterm elections, and with an eye toward 2020 — which will be dominated by President Trump’s re-election bid, and the efforts of Democrats to thwart it  — this is what they’re saying.

As for elected officials, the public wants to see them work together for the common good. We got a taste of that recently when Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Christopher Coons of Connecticut stepped out of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and struck a compromise that resulted in an 11th-hour FBI investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. That investigation moved the process forward.

The public also wants to see more elected officials who are honest and authentic and willing to break from party loyalty and do the right thing or the thing that will serve the greatest number of people.

Witness the outpouring of love and appreciation for the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican maverick who went his own way regardless of party. Too many of today’s elected officials — at the local, state, and federal level — mistakenly think they work for the party, when they really work for the people. McCain never made that mistake.

Then there’s the media, from whom the public wants fairness, transparency, and restraint. Reporters have to hold back on their personal opinions, and columnists who are paid for their opinions need to stop playing political consultant, where they try to elect some politicians and defeat others.

The public wants journalists to cover the fray, but also have the good sense not to enter it. It understands that media figures are human beings who are going to have their own views, but they expect them to stay out of the arena and keep their biases in check. They want us to inform the country, not try to steer it in one direction or another.

And they want us to be honest, and admit when we get things wrong — which can be often.

The public also wants journalists and the media to treat both parties with the same level of fairness and scrutiny. It doesn’t expect the Fourth Estate to go easy on any one party, but it does expect the hall monitors to be evenhanded and equally tough on both of them.

As it stands, many Americans have concluded that the mainstream media is merely a surrogate for the Democratic Party. That perception helps no one — least of all the media.

More journalists should listen to the public, and so should more elected officials. We just might learn something about this great country, and the people who keep it that way.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Latinos are waking up to the duplicity of the Democrats

With a little more than a week left until the midterm elections, Democrats appear to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The matchups were theirs to lose, and they seem poised to underperform in a bunch of them.

A reader recently asked me: “I don’t understand why Latinos are not motivated to vote against a bigoted POTUS and willing enablers.”

I can help with that. The answer has to do with how Latinos feel about Donald Trump, and how they feel about Democrats as an alternative.

As for Mr. Trump and the Latinos, that’s a complicated relationship. Trump began his campaign for president by kicking Mexicans in the teeth, calling them rapists and drug traffickers. He also showed his ignorance about immigration when he said that Mexico doesn’t send their best people to the United States when that is exactly who they send — dreamers, doers and risk-takers.

Mexicans — along with Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Dominicans — turned Trump into a piñata. Literally. Pick one up the next time you’re south of the border.

Then a strange thing happened. Once Trump emerged as the Republican nominee and squared off against Hillary Clinton — who often tries to out-Republican the Republicans as an immigration hardliner — polls began to show Trump’s support among Latinos climbing.

As a Never Trumper, I didn’t get it. So, I interviewed some Latinos for Trump and I got an earful. Many of them saw themselves not as Latinos but as Americans, and so they weren’t hung up on Trump’s anti-Latino screeds. They didn’t like or trust Clinton, appreciated Trump’s frankness, wanted a strong leader, and thought he was right about a lot of issues, including trade and immigration.

Yes, immigration. What most non-Latinos don’t grasp is that Latinos are ambivalent about illegal immigration. They have a front-row seat not just to the pain of deportations, but also to how many immigrants commit crimes or abuse social services.

In 2016, an astounding 29 percent of Latinos voted for Trump.

And now, two years into his presidency, polls show that his support among Latinos is somewhere between 33 and 41 percent. That’s insanely good for a president who is so bad on issues that Latinos supposedly care about.

Then you have the Democrats, who take Latino voters for granted and whose entire Latino outreach strategy can be summed up in six words: “Vote for us. We’re not Republican.”

That’s it? I don’t know about you, but I’m still hungry.

Democrats weren’t always impotent when it came to Latino voters, but it’s been that way at least since 2000. That’s when Bill Clinton (who was popular with Latinos) left the stage, and George W. Bush (who got 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004) took his place.

Democrats were boxed in by three factors — African Americans, working-class whites, and organized labor. Democrats were afraid that African Americans would bristle at a new group getting attention that should go to them. They were also afraid of being portrayed as soft on border security by Republicans in the same way that — in the days of Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D. — they were portrayed as soft on national security. And they were tied down by organized labor, whose rank-and-file members remain vehemently opposed to any immigration reform that gives the undocumented legal status.

At best, Democrats didn’t defend Latinos from evil, racist and mean-spirited attacks by the GOP. At worst, they joined in.

Some Democrats opposed the 1986 amnesty law and a Democratic president signed into law the draconian 1996 immigration bill. Democratic leaders helped sideline immigration reform under Bush in 2006 and 2007, and it was “no” votes from Democrats that helped kill the DREAM Act in 2010. Democrats endangered nearly 700,000 “Dreamers” by requiring them to turn themselves into authorities — starting in 2012 — to get Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Trump is merely emulating President Barack Obama, who deported record numbers of people, divided scores of families and stuck refugee families in detention camps.

In reality, Democrats have never been there for Latinos. And now they’re surprised that this group may not be there for them in the midterm elections?

The surprise is that Latinos have been fooled for so long. Now, it seems, more of them are waking up — and refusing to stick up for a party that won’t stick its neck out for them.

© 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Email: His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.


Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Defining ‘American’ from the outside

They say that youth is wasted on the young. So too is U.S. citizenship wasted on native-born Americans.

People like me, born on third base when I was born in a hospital in Fresno, California, in May 1967. I hit the lottery when, through no effort of mine, I was born a U.S. citizen. That designation is why I’ll never fully understand the immigration issue. To achieve that, you need to be born on foreign soil.

Jose Antonio Vargas qualifies. Born in the Philippines, the 37-year-old writer, filmmaker, and storyteller has now spent twice as long living in the United States as he did living on the islands. He is also not just your run-of-the-mill immigrant, but an “undocumented” one at that.

Let the record show that Vargas took on that role without his consent. When he was 12, his grandfather brought him to the United States from his home country so that he could have a better life — brought him illegally. The young man wasn’t privy to the scam until, as a teenager, he strolled into the Department of Motor Vehicles for a driver’s license and his permanent residency card was rejected as fake.

From there, Vargas cobbled together one lie after another in pursuit of a college degree and a career in journalism that led to a Pulitzer Prize. His grandfather may have started the fraud, but the young man eventually became a willing accomplice.

Along the way, Vargas co-founded “Define American” — an organization dedicated to answering a simple question that actually isn’t so simple: “How do you define American?”

He has also produced a pair of documentaries, and spoken at several dozen colleges and universities.

But writers are gonna write. So it is no surprise that Vargas has now written a new memoir about his experience as “an undocumented citizen” in a country that tends to run hot and cold on people like him.

America spends half her time embracing illegal immigrants — and the other half pushing them away. We complain that they’re here, and yet we have a tough time imagining life without them.

In his book — “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” — Vargas explains that the experience of living in the United States without documents is all about three things: lying, passing, and hiding. By that he means: lying about your immigration status; passing as an American citizen; and hiding from authorities who might deport you.

I recently tracked down Vargas on his book tour and asked him how his adopted country was treating him. I was especially interested in how living in the United States changed him.

“America has dared me to dream, dared me to challenge what it stands for and who it stands for and why,” he told me.

Vargas likes to say that he was a “Dreamer” before the term was even coined. He missed by one year the age cut-off to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama administration program that convinced nearly 700,000 undocumented young people to turn themselves in to immigration officials in exchange for a two-year exemption from deportation and a work permit.

A criticism of Dreamers — one that I hear from Mexican-American liberals — is that young immigration activists lack a sense of historical context and act like the immigrant civil rights movement began when they arrived in the United States.

Vargas is different. He pays respect to those who were fighting the battle for social justice and personal dignity before he was even born.

“When I get down, I find a lot of comfort in history, in knowing that whatever it is I’m going through, other people survived it,” he said. “Look at Americans like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, Larry Itliong, Dolores Huerta, Harvey Milk, and the list goes on and on.”

Those people made contributions. And what, pray tell, is Vargas’ contribution?

“Specific to the immigrant rights movement, I think my contribution is on insisting that we cannot change the politics of immigration until we change the culture in which we see the issue and the people who are impacted by it,” he said. “We cannot talk about undocumented people without without including Black people and White people in the conversation.”

Speaking of conversations, it seems to me that the one revolving around immigration is broken. Vargas agrees. And he thinks it is up to people like us to get it up and running.

“The master narrative on immigration is all screwed up,” he said. “And we in the media have a moral and professional responsibility to fix it.”

Such optimism. Such a sense of duty. Such a strong commitment to make the world better.

I don’t know about you. But that’s how I define American.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

With sexual assault, should we always ‘believe the woman’?

The “woke” have become a joke. The Left is devouring itself.

It happened when #MeToo collided with #BlackLivesMatter.

The collision of hashtags — which was caught on video and has now been viewed by more than 6 million people — occurred on a street corner in Brooklyn, New York, in front of a convenience store

It was there that a 53-year-old white woman named Teresa Klein recently accused a 9-year-old African-American boy of groping her. Klein yelled that she had been sexually assaulted, and the boy was the offender. And when the boy’s mother yelled back at Klein, our “victim” did what a lot of white people do when dealing with black people: She called 911.

Apparently, that’s a thing. When in doubt, call the cops. Two black men are removed from a Philadelphia Starbucks by police as they wait to begin a business meeting. An African-American graduate student at Yale University who fell asleep in the common room of a dormitory is questioned by police after a fellow student reports her. In California, an 8-year-old African-American girl gets turned in for selling water outside her apartment building without a permit.

Liberals and conservatives alike are always talking about how we need to be colorblind. How’s that working out, folks?

Law enforcement is being weaponized by white people against black people, for perceived offenses both big and small.

Guess which category Klein’s complaint falls into?

Here’s how the “emergency” call went:

“I was just sexually assaulted by a child,” Klein told the dispatcher. In the background, the traumatized boy was crying hysterically. Meanwhile, our “victim” kept saying: “I’m calling the police! I’m calling the police!” Through it all, the boy’s mother appeared to be caught between anger and disbelief.

“The son grabbed my ass and she decided to yell at me,” Klein told the 911 operator, referring to the boy’s mother. It was a frightening scene.

The message of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and the dramatic testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, is that women who claim to be victims of sexual assault must always be believed. Not sometimes. Always.

For what it’s worth, I believed Ford. I also believed Kavanaugh. I think each was giving us their truth, as they knew it.

Be that as it may, I’m ashamed at how slow men have been to figure out just how widespread the problem is in our society. I’m all-in on the idea that we have to take much more seriously the whole concept of sexual assault against women.

But what I’m not all-in on is the idea that every woman should be believed. It’s difficult to be a Hispanic or African-American male — or even to simply have a historical understanding of how often we’ve been wrongly accused of crimes we didn’t commit, especially those of a sexual nature — and then go merrily along with the idea that everything a woman says has to be swallowed whole.

For those who want to push back, and insist that women don’t make this stuff up or imagine assaults that never occurred, I have to ask: Does that include Klein? If so, you might want to rethink that.

As for what all this has to do with the hashtags, it’s obvious. A lot of women are on edge in the #MeToo era. After years of not reporting sexual assaults, some of them now have a hair-trigger for anything that comes close. Of course, this is also the #BlackLivesMatter era, and African-Americans are on edge as well. They helped spread the video showing what Klein had done. No one is going to put up with anything from anyone anymore.

Dubbed “Cornerstore Caroline” on social media, Klein has since returned to the store to view security-camera footage. It revealed that what brushed up against her was the boy’s backpack. According to the footage, the boy didn’t touch her. No harm, no foul.

Klein acknowledged as much to reporters, before looking into a camera and apologizing publicly to the boy she had only days earlier attacked. “Young man, I don’t know your name,” she said. “But I’m sorry.”

What a mess. Are we enlightened yet?

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Our undocumented immigrants make America a better place

I’ve come to know Jose Antonio Vargas as a good man and a fine writer who provides — in various media — an essential voice in the immigration debate.

That beats the caricature of Vargas drawn by right-wing nativists as “the most famous illegal in America.”

These are the kind of folks who lose sleep over the thought of taco trucks popping up on every street corner.

Or since Vargas is Filipino-American, maybe what the fear-mongers are really worried about is the trucks could be carrying lechon (roasted pig) or pancit palabok (meat & noodle dish).

Either way, unlike those Americans who get fired up about a subject they don’t understand, this 37-year-old journalist, filmmaker, and storyteller knows what he’s talking about.

All of which makes me feel bad for having said, a few years ago, that Vargas should be deported.

Nothing personal. That law-and-order impulse is hard for me to overlook, as the son of a retired cop.

I was also pushing back against elitism. If you’re in the country illegally and apprehended, and if you’re a gardener, nanny, housekeeper, or farmworker, you’ll likely be deported.

I’ve checked. There is no exemption for Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters who have worked at The Washington Post, produced documentaries, and been on the cover of Time magazine.

Vargas isn’t looking for special treatment. A few years ago, he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement and demanded to know its intentions toward him. His brazenness melted ICE, and the agency basically responded: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

He has a blunt message for America, where he has lived since he was 12, and for Americans like him. I tracked him down and asked him to explain it.

“America, look at yourself,” he said. “Americans, look past yourselves. What you can’t face about yourself is what you can’t see about people like me.”

Now Vargas has written a new memoir about his experience as “an undocumented citizen” in a country that doesn’t know what it wants to do with people like him. The book — “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” — explains that living in the United States without documents is all about lying to get by, passing as a citizen, and hiding from authorities.

I’d add a fourth item. Most of the undocumented people I know have a nervous tic: They won’t admit they did anything wrong. In the case of the Dreamers — undocumented young people brought here as children by their parents — they won’t admit that their parents did anything wrong.

So you have 11 million people — a figure that a recent study by Yale professors estimates could actually be twice as large — who are here, out of status, and no one did anything wrong?

Most Americans won’t accept that. And so they’re not eager to cut a deal that would allow the undocumented to legally stay in the United States. Which gets us nowhere.

Vargas supports immigration reform, but he thinks it’ll be pointless if Americans don’t confront the anti-immigrant virus in our bloodstream.

That’s why he co-founded “Define American,” an organization that wants to explore what it means to be a citizen of this country.

I was wrong about Vargas. I was so busy demanding that illegal immigrants (my friend hates that term, but he’s not writing this column) “earn” their legal status that I didn’t appreciate what a steep price many of them have already paid in terms of pain, suffering, homesickness, alienation, and the heartbreak of family separation.

Vargas hasn’t seen his own mother in 25 years. He could go back to the Philippines and visit her, but he wouldn’t be able to come back. The ledger is clear; he’s paid enough.

I asked my friend what he thinks America wants from him, and what he wants from America.

“America doesn’t know what it wants from me,” Vargas said. “What I want from America is for America to see me, to see us, fully and holistically.”

I see him. I see them all. And I have no doubt that this country is better off with the undocumented in it.

They infuse the country with optimism, fresh ideas, and a fierce work ethic.

In fact, I propose a trade. For every one of these folks who we want to keep, let’s gather up 100 entitled, angry, and lazy U.S.-born Americans who aren’t carrying their weight — and deport these underachievers.

But what country would take them?


Ruben Navarrette’s email address is

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Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns