Fear of a Brown Planet

Immigration hawks send out an SOS: "More white babies!"


Bill O'Reilly raging against illegal immigration? Nothing special. Bill O'Reilly prophesying the decline of the white race? That's why we pay our cable bills. On May 16, mustering support for President Bush's proposed crackdown on illegal immigration, The O'Reilly Factor's excitable host advanced his theory of why some Americans are wimping out on militarizing the border.

"According to the lefty zealots, the white Christians who hold power must be swept out by a new multicultural tide," O'Reilly panted. "This can only happen if demographics change in America."

It was the second time in a week that a Fox host had warned of the onrushing Brown Peril. On May 11, Big Story anchor John Gibson reported that America's under-5 population was experiencing a dangerous pigment boom. Gibson has never been cuddly; he vaguely resembles Matthias, the zombie Torquemada from The Omega Man who hunted Charlton Heston for his precious bodily fluids. But Gibson worried the most cynical post-apocalyptic zombies with a warning that "Hispanics are having more kids than others" and that "the ones Hispanics call 'gabachos'—white people—are having fewer." It was time for non-Hispanics to "do your duty" and "make more babies."

If you had wondered what ugliness would spring from the drawn-out debate over Mexican immigration, here it was. In the 1990s, talk like this was limited to AM radio channels and Web sites monitored by the FBI. Spooks scanned callers' credit card bills for fertilizer purchases or plane tickets to Montana. Now that talk has moved into prime time on America's News Channel, these opinions have gone legit. Maybe white people do need to have more babies. Maybe the Muslims are making a concerted effort to outbreed Europeans, take over France, and point their newly won nukes at Tel Aviv. (When Gibson felt the blowback from his "make more babies" segment, he cried out for tolerance: No, no, he wanted whites and Hispanics to breed, to prevent the imams from taking over and imposing Shariah.)

For all of the substance in the immigration debate—border walls, ID cards, English as the official U.S. language—it wouldn't have monopolized the national stage last spring without white-hot racial tensions bubbling under the surface. For years, anti-immigration hawks glowered about a Mexican "invasion" taking over America, town by Southwestern town. The images of plaid-clad workers scampering across the Arizona desert made for the best TV, but the serious nativists' veins really throbbed at the talk of "anchor babies," immigrants' American-born kids who get counted as U.S. citizens. The threat from the border was the creation of a minority-white nation by President "Jorge Bush."

It's disturbing, but it won't last long. Paranoid screeds against immigrants and their high-powered loins have penetrated every border ?crisis? in American history. Gilded Age Californians raged against Chinese immigrants who wanted to steal enticing American jobs like rail-splitting and retail laundry services. "The Chinese Empire contains 600,000,000 inhabitants," read an 1878 Knights of Labor leaflet. "The supply of these men is inexhaustible." When Bill O'Reilly's forebears were streaming over from Ireland, groups with names like "Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner" railed against these redheaded runts, many of them conceived in the "legalized Sodoms" and "Popish brothels" described by the reformed priest William Hogan in his nativist tract Auricular Confession and Popish Nunneries.

Back in 2002, the Public Policy Institute of California found that Hispanic families had fewer and fewer kids as they assimilated into American culture. First-generation American Hispanics had three children per family, but the second and third generations had only two—about as many as black and non-Hispanic white families tend to have. If this is an invasion, the Mexican army has some severe morale problems.

Nativists have been wrong before. They'll be wrong again. And they're hilariously wrong right now.