The Russian proverb observes, “history tends to repeat itself, sometimes as tragedy, sometimes as farce.” As the country begins to analyze, scrutinize and fantasize about immigration reform as a result of the recently enacted Arizona legislation, I am afraid our initial days of commentary and those taking to the streets demonstrate we are about to exceed the bounds of history and create both tragedy and farce at the same time.
In that vein, I had a moment of clarity recently while watching a rebroadcast of "The Gangs of New York" which depicts an ugly, if fictitious, conflict between nativists and immigrants during the time of the U.S. Civil War. The film has at its core a fanciful, bloody and barbaric immigration battle running alongside the actual draft riots that seized New York in 1863, and brought that city , and almost the entire nation, to its knees.
If we are not careful with the current immigration debate, and don’t tone down the rhetoric and irresponsible claims of racism and xenophobia being hurled about at those who simply want our porous borders repaired, we almost certainly will find ourselves in an uncivil war with each in a way that will impel those among us who can’t limit themselves to control their emotions to take to the streets as did the characters in Scorsese’s movie.
Of course, the real gangs of New York were actually nothing more than political thugs whose main objective was more in line with the Tammany Hall politicians of the day -- get their folks elected so that each could get its share of the City’s political plunder. As I watched first one side and then the other in the past week take to the airwaves to denounce anyone who did not share their limited view of how to resolve these complex immigration and border security problems, I feared that our nation is once more headed for the intemperate verbal abuse we heaped on each other in the 1960’s.