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Gripes of Wrath

At CPAC, anti-immigration sentiment gets ugly.

Birth certificates, naturally, were a big topic of discussion today at the immigration policy panel at CPAC—the conference run by the American Conservative Union where College Republicans flock from all corners to co-ruminate with their conservative heroes.

During the somewhat informal panel discussion, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian, recounted a story that a border agent in Arizona told him about a Mexican woman whose water broke as she was lowered over the border fence in Arizona. Minutes later, she was rushed to the hospital to deliver not just one unwanted American baby, but twins. The nurse, in Krikorian’s telling, recognized her immediately as the same woman who had delivered triplets just a year before. Count it: That’s five babies that sprang from one illegal immigrant woman in twelve months. The take-away: Run for the hills, the illegals are coming!

"Some states," Krikorian later told the assembled crowd, "are trying to shed light on this problem by issuing two different birth certificates, one version for children of American citizens, and another for illegal immigrants' babies." At which point, panelist Dino Teppara, from the American Conservative Council chimed in: "And some states can’t even find them!"

The crowd erupted in laughter. There is, after all, nothing like a good birther joke. To be sure, there was more discussed in Thursday’s panel than birthright citizenship, but the moment captures the gist of the policy recommendations the panel presented today: If we want to get rid of them, we are going to have to make their lives unbearable, even if it means forfeiting basic American values of equality and human dignity.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—the author of the infamous Arizona SB1070 law (the one that has been criticized for encouraging racial profiling by the police), who also recently helped write the state's controversial "anchor baby" initiative—was the most vocal panelist. Kobach laid out his increasingly popular strategy for tackling illegal immigration: "attrition through enforcement." Essentially, Kobach argues, if we ratchet up our enforcement against illegal aliens, they’ll start to self deport.

On the face of it, Kobach’s basic argument isn’t so radical. After all, the Obama administration has deported immigrants in record numbers, and there isn’t anything wrong with enforcing our laws. But many of the policies discussed in today’s panel aren’t really about enforcement and are, instead, about making the existence of undocumented immigrants in this country so unequal, unsafe, and unlivable that they’ll just go on home.

Take, for example, a state bill described today (to great applause) by panelist Jayne Cannava, the incredibly young-looking executive director of Pro-English, a group dedicated to establishing English as the official language. The Mississippi bill, titled H.B. 497 and introduced by State Representative John Moore, would require people to demonstrate English proficiency in order to receive any public assistance. In other words, even legal immigrants who don’t yet have a strong command of English would be denied public benefits, including Medicaid, under Mississippi law.

When Cannava, sporting sparkling jewelry and heavy eyeliner, was asked by an earnest GW student in the crowd what she thought about John Tanton, the founding chairman of Pro-English, who has been linked to the white supremacy movement, the panel’s moderator came to her defense. He told the young student the panel wouldn’t waste time answering such questions and added, in a complete non sequitur, that Cannava was not a communist. I guess at CPAC, that’s all the explanation you need.

Eliza Gray is a reporter-researcher for The New Republic.