Who’s afraid of legal immigration?

Who is afraid of legal immigration? More people than you might think.

True, legal immigration remains every popular with most Americans. A recent Gallup poll asked: “Is legal immigration good thing or bad thing for the country?”

Eighty-four percent said it was a good thing; only 13 percent said it was a bad thing.

Trouble is, that 13 percent can be very vocal, and it seems have secured a beachhead among anti-immigrant organizations, conservatives in the media, and top White House advisers.

Recently, a center-right radio host — who happens to be a friend of mine — pushed back on air against something I’d said by asking me some simple questions that deserve thoughtful answers.

What I said was that — once you go beyond being concerned about illegal immigration to also opposing legal immigration — it’s a short walk to the racist part of town.

After all, what do low-skilled illegal immigrants from Mexico have in common with high-skilled legal immigrants from China, India or Brazil? Answer: They’re not white.

We were talking about Laura Ingraham, the Fox News primetime host who last week took that walk to the racist part of town when she said that immigrants — even the legal kind — are ruining the United States by causing “massive demographic changes.”

Ingraham caught heat for those comments, and so she tried to walk them back the next night by claiming that what concerned her most was securing the border, preserving the rule of law and making sure that future immigration is merit-based.

That last item — which is embraced by the White House and could lead to America having an admissions policy that rivals the Ivy League — aims to keep down the overall number of immigrants. The Trump Administration also wants to deny U.S. citizenship to legal immigrants who, at some point, use public welfare programs.

My radio friend claimed that he hadn’t heard Ingraham’s comments, and so he opted not to comment on them.

By the way, he used to be a reporter and host at Fox News. That fact might have influenced his willingness to slam someone who works for his former employer.

Nevertheless, my friend’s questions were legitimate:

“Is there a problem with objecting to the rate of LEGAL immigration in this country? Is there a problem saying maybe we should slow it down? What if you look at the number of legal immigrants, and you think it’s too much? Is it not fair to object?”

In other words, can’t someone suggest that America has too many LEGAL immigrants, and that we need to limit the number?

That depends, I told him — on three things.

First, for the sake of honesty, it doesn’t help if you’re one of those Americans who insists at dinner parties and baseball games that you have no beef with legal immigrants, only those who come illegally. That may sound good, like you’re a perfectly reasonable person. But the fact that you now want to cut the very thing that you claimed you had no problem with should make us all wonder why we should take seriously anything you say.

Second, any anxiety you’re feeling should never be about the race and ethnicity of those who come legally. Ingraham’s giveaway was the word “demographics,” which has nothing to do with securing the border, preserving the rule of law and making sure future immigration is merit-based. Changing demographics is all about numbers, about one racial or ethnic group replacing another. That’s foul. And it’s where Ingraham crossed the line.

And third, if your cold little heart is set on turning away legal immigrants who play by the rules to get to this country, then you probably shouldn’t say that the reason you’re shutting the door is because there is something wrong with the immigrants or that they’re ruining America. That was also Ingraham’s point. She basically said that this country of immigrants was being ruined by immigrants. That’s crazy. Proud Americans should take offense.

Sadly, Ingraham is not alone. Her fellow Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson recently interviewed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich about whether illegal immigrants were voting, and whether Democrats were counting on those votes to win elections.

“When you were Speaker there were about 22 million foreign-born people in the United States,” Carlson told Gingrich. “That number has now about doubled.”

Whoa. Did you catch that?

What worries Carlson is the large number of “foreign-born people.” Not just illegal immigrants, but anyone who was born in another country and came here — even if they came legally, got naturalized, became a citizen and began paying taxes trying to make America great again.

Gingrich gave a quick answer and went on to express his support for legal immigration. After that, the segment came to an abrupt — and merciful — ending.

The ugly and racially-charged debate over legal immigration will not be so merciful. It will not end anytime soon. Americans will not get off that easy.

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