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Building a Wall

By Ryan Sager

"Presidente Bush, build up that wall!"

So began the official portion of a protest in New York City on Saturday against what its organizers called "illegal mass migration." Usually, people in favor of building walls -- be they in the West Bank or along the Rio Grande -- try to shy away from the Berlin parallel. Yet the folks from New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement (NY I.C.E.) had no such qualms.

A little after 11 a.m. on a very gray day in Midtown Manhattan, in front of the Mexican Consulate on East 39th Street, Carolee Adams, president of the Eagle Forum of New Jersey, took to the bullhorn to deliver the first speech of the morning, an almost entirely incoherent discourse on the scourge of illegal immigration.

Her husband had died after 9/11 of asbestos-related cancer, she said, so America needs a more secure border with Mexico. (Hers is a personal tragedy, to be sure, but has nothing to do with Mexico or border security.) Illegal immigrants are sexual predators, she added. And illegal immigrants don't assimilate. What's more, Republicans had better watch out because she and other voters are fed up and are going to vote for whomever Lou Dobbs tells them to next time around.

On the bullhorn after Adams came a young woman identifying herself as Hispanic and a Democrat. She spoke for about 30 seconds to say that the rally wasn't racist -- as if anyone ever would have come away with such a bizarre idea.

Things got fun, however, as a man bearing a striking resemblance to Richard Dreyfuss (so striking, in fact, as to appear cultivated) took to the bullhorn to explain how Bush, a "son of privilege," cared not a whit for the working man. It was at that point that a young woman with an abundant concern for the working man -- why, she was brandishing a copy of Socialist Worker, for God's sake -- showed up to get the counter-protest going.

Alone in her rebellion for a few moments, she began a one-woman chant: "Don't give in to racist fear, immigrants are welcome here!" (All chants on the Left must rhyme -- it's policy.) She added: "Mexicans didn't cross the border, the border crossed them!" (A violation of the rhyming policy, to be sure, but it's tough to rhyme irredentism.)

It wasn't long before an anti-illegal-immigration protestor and a pro-illegal-immigration protestor were in each other's faces.

"Racists go home! Racists go home!" the counter-protestors chanted, including a young radical in a bright yellow shirt.

A man in a baseball cap from the other side charged up.

"You Nazi motherf--ker!" the kid in the yellow shirt yelled at him.

"Oh, I'm a Nazi, OK," the man in the baseball cap said.

"That's right, this is a fascist organization," the kid screamed, referring to the Minutemen, co-sponsors of the protest.

"I am out of work 30 weeks because of illegal immigration. I have three kids to feed," the man said.

"That's bulls--t ... blame NAFTA, blame Clinton ... don't blame people just coming trying to get a job."

No punches were thrown. A few more people crowded in, but the sides were separated and the police put up barricades as the camps of protestors dug in at their positions on opposite sides of 39th Street for the next hour or so.

Through the rain and through the largely indifferent traffic, they shouted their slogans back and forth at each other. "Fascistas! Fascistas! Fascistas!" the counter-protestors, who had been joined by a large Hispanic contingent, yelled, while waving Mexican flags. "Amnistia! Amnistia! Amnistia!" The protestors, meanwhile, held up their signs, with slogans like, "This is our tsunami," and, "Mexican pride belongs in Mexico."

"Why the Mexican flag?" I asked one counter-protestor, Armando Reyes, who was holding up a giant version of said flag.

"Why the American flag?" was his -- wounded seems like the right word -- response, gesturing toward the other side of the street, where burly guys were waving the stars and stripes like an extended middle finger. "It stands for all immigrants," he said, gesturing now to the Mexican flag. "We're hard working," he said, now gesturing to his work boots. He works, he said, in construction.

Ideally, of course, the American flag would stand for all immigrants, especially the hard-working ones who've braved many hardships and sacrifices to make it to, and make it in, the land of opportunity. But debates about what it means to be an American often bring out the very ugliest in our nation's character. And sometimes, hurt and rejected, those who wish to become a part of America let their worst out as well.

"Racists go home! Racists go home!" the counter-protestors chanted again, as the rally wound down.

The response, unintentionally sad, came from the other side: "We are home!"

Whether or not Congress ever allocates the funds, or President Bush ever signs on, a wall is nonetheless being built.

Ryan Sager (rhsager.com) is author of “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”

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