It has become almost obligatory among editorial writers and other pundits dealing with this subject to end every comment about the deplorable and dangerous rush among state legislatures, especially but not exclusively in what used to be the old, racially segregated South, to outdo themselves in passing draconian anti-immigrant laws, by repeating the pius wish that Congress, or policy makers in Washington, would "step up to the plate" and pass a comprehensive reform bill to provide central direction over immigration.


The only problem with this line of thinking is that Congressional action, or any coordinated action by policy makers in Washington, is a virtual impossibility in the current political climate. Congress is not an abstract body, independent from the bitter political dispute that is now dividing America over the future ethnic makeup of this country, which is the alpha and omega of the entire immigration issue. Very much to the contrary, Congress reflects, and is torn by, the same kinds of ideological divisions over immigration that are preventing, at least for the moment, any kind of action to deal with America's budget issue.


Just as the budget dispute is, at bottom, one over which section of society (or "class", to use an unpopular word) will bear the burden of putting America's fiscal house back in order, the immigration dispute is one over whether America will continue along its bumpy, but inevitable road to becoming a more racially and religiously diverse and tolerant nation, or whether it will turn back in the direction of shutting its gates against unpopular minorities, as was done in the 1924 immigration act which many anti-immigration advocates openly wish to bring back in one version or another.


The minorities whom immigration opponents want to keep out, or kick out, of America, are in some respects different ones from the targets of anti-immigrant prejudice in the 1920's. Few American politicians in either party have a problem now with Italian, Jewish or Eastern European immigrants, as was the case in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. But prejudice against immigrants from outside Europe still persists and is the main obstacle to any meaningful immigration reform in Washington or any attempt to limit the excesses of anti-immigrant laws at the state level.


The only way to understand what is going on with immigration policy in many state legislatures today is to look at the issue as a continuation of the battle against racial segregation in the 1960's. This struggle is only on the surface about federalism, whether states or the federal government should control immigration policy, just as the civil rights struggle was only superficially about "states rights" as opposed to federal power.  At bottom, the struggle for immigrant rights, in common with the struggle to end racial segregation half a century ago, is a battle against hate.


Unless and until this battle is won, look for even more racially inspired anti-immigrant bigotry from the states, and even less action from Washington to counteract prejudice.