Eminentoes

On the Rivera

Geraldo panics about border security, but that doesn't mean you should.

By 2.12.08

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His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.
By Geraldo Rivera
(Celebra, 262 pages, $24.95)

Being Hispanic has only benefitted me. I can tan. I don't look like a total ass when I dance. I can roll my "r"s in a sophisticated way. Surrounded by conservatives as I frequently am, I help boost the number of minorities in the room by 100 percent. The best part is, they don't know it or have to come to terms with it, because of my dark secret. I'm Spanish (indeed, from Spain), which is technically Hispanic, according to dictionaries, but I look white, depending on where I spend my weekend.

There are downsides. I have to shave almost twice a day to prevent myself from looking like Pancho Villa. I dial "1" for Spanish just to practice for when I talk to my distant relatives. And I have to dodge the paranoid, delusional bigots my compadre (that's a Spanish word) Geraldo Rivera has uncovered in his book, His Panic. Of course, that last bit is easy, primarily because I've never found any.

Not so for Geraldo. Since his probably-likely-almost-definitely-staged on-screen dust-up with Bill O'Reilly (viewable here), Geraldo has decided to fight "the maddening tendency in this country to want to burn the immigrant bridge as soon as your particular crew has come in over it."

I missed the convention where Geraldo Rivera was appointed as lead spokesman for open borders, but the negotiations should have demanded he remove the "Mario" moustache. A Hispanic that looks like an Italian already sends a mixed message, especially when he triumphantly announces that O'Reilly is wrong on immigration, and that the country "will eventually look more like me than it looks like him." Be warned! Racially confused Hispanics are coming for your women.

Consider that this man is known for a Jerry Springer-like daytime TV show, getting kicked out of Iraq for breaking the Geneva conventions, and heightening the panic in the Superdome during his Katrina coverage. He's been an "investigative" reporter for a variety of outlets, enough to have the journalistic acumen required to work at Fox. In other words, his career looks like a Spanish channel variety show, the only thing missing being a guy in a bumble bee outfit.

It should be no wonder, then, that Chapter 3 deifies heroes like Ricardo Montalban, Charo, Desi Arnaz, and the younger bunch like Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as the harbingers of positive images of Hispanic culture. The latter, he writes, became the heir to the older generation of on-screen Latin lovers yet "ironically plays a gay guy in an incredible performance" in Philadelphia. Ironic? Apparently, Rivera has never been to South Beach where the Latins frequently go Greek.

"IMMIGRANTS ARE NO MORE prone to committing crimes than the native-born," writes Rivera. "Research shows that individuals who are in the country illegally commit relatively fewer crimes than the rest of the population." This point is a wonderful argument about how teachers unions are turning our children into criminal masterminds, and that both the teachers, and the children, ought to be shipped off to be replaced with the Mexicans who will walk a few hundreds miles through the deserts of Southwestern America to take their rightful place in a more just society.

So the obvious conclusion to Rivera: "It might be said that as illegal immigration goes up, crime, proportionately, goes down." Forget about all those wackos who count crossing the border illegally and not paying taxes as crimes.

The problem is that he lumps together research on legal and illegal immigrants. To Geraldo, there's little distinction between a foreign-born individual and a foreign-born individual who entered the country illegally. The border-security zealots want fewer immigrants period. How else to explain this:

"...The General Accounting Office, analyzing FBI records, found that foreign-born individuals accounted for about 19 percent of the total arrests in 1985 in six selected major cities. The foreign-born represented 19.6 percent of the aggregate population. In other words, immigrants in these cities committed proportionately no more than and possibly even fewer crimes than the native-born."

The studies cited in the book are primarily focused on legal immigrants who've committed crimes. Apparently, foreign-born people are just as bad at behaving as the rest of us are. How that should impact the illegal immigration debate is uncertain, but it should be filed under "bait and switch."

Worse, if you go to the GAO report that Rivera cites, you'll see the inclusion of a chapter called, "Criminal Alien Problem Appears Significant." (I'm pretty sure it's this one. It's unclear which report he's referring to, since, surprise! the book lacks footnotes and an index.) There, you'll find a chart pointing out the specifics of each city. In some cities, immigrants were far less criminal, some were more so. But to say that legal immigrants, and by connection, illegal immigrants, are instant model citizens, based on this study, is misleading.

THE BOOK has two big problems. First, it's written by Geraldo Rivera. To get a sense of his sensitivity on the subject, look at how he describes Phoenix, Arizona, as an "All-American town." To qualify as "All-American," a town apparently must be "complete with crowded freeways, malls, fast-food franchises, retirement communities, spas, cowboys, and a passion for big-time sports." At least when Bernard Henri-Levy tried to define America by the circus freaks he encounters during his travels in American Vertigo, he could claim innocence based on being a foreigner (and a Frenchman to boot). But Geraldo is clueless. Look how he confirms his minority status by describing his grandmother as possessing an "angular, chocolate-colored face made leathery by the sun." Not only has Geraldo adopted Borat's use of "chocolate face" but he can't spot a cliche when he sees one.

So confused is Geraldo that he believes "Hispanic" and "Spanish" are the same thing. I'm both, he's not. The mistake is understandable when you don't know any Hispanics. But it's worth figuring out by the time you write a book on the subject.

The second problem is that it addresses the very racist Americans who are unlikely to be swayed by the likes of a man sporting two (fake) names ending in vowels. That's unfortunate not only from a debate standpoint, but also a sales standpoint. The racists he's trying to stick it to aren't going to buy his book, and the open-borders crowd aren't likely to think Geraldo's the best guy to speak for their cause.

Most sensible Americans are concerned about what it means when borders, the very things that define the shape of the country, are uncontrolled. That doesn't mean the Elian Gonzalez Welcoming Committee should start knocking on doors. But it also doesn't mean that it's unreasonable to expect that those who come to this country do so with dignity and start out on the right foot. That obviously calls for a better immigration policy. It also calls for a better way of minding the borders.

Or, you could share Geraldo Rivera's panic about the racists too greedy to share America with the rest of the world. That's His Panic, but it doesn't have to be yours.

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About the Author

J.P. Freire is a writer in Washington and a former editor at the Washington Examiner and The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jpfreire.