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Don't say you didn't see this coming: Lou Dobbs' immigration hypocrisy

October 7, 2010 | 12:10 pm

Lou Add another (dis)honorific to immigrant-basher Lou Dobbs' handle: hypocrite. Charlatan or phony may be more apt, given the great lengths to which the former CNN host has gone to portray undocumented workers and their employers as the scourge of America. The Nation reports:

But with his relentless diatribes against "illegals" and their employers, Dobbs is casting stones from a house -- make that an estate -- of glass. Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper. ...

The upkeep of Dobbs's multiple properties creates no small demand for labor in two sectors where undocumented immigrants are known to be particularly prevalent. Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, the horse industry's main lobby group, suggested in 2009 that more than half of the workers in his industry are likely undocumented. Likewise, studies have found that undocumented workers make up an estimated 28 percent of workers in landscaping. In both of these sectors, the use of contractors is commonplace, so it is not surprising that Dobbs has relied on third parties to supply the labor he needs. ...

Dobbs has heaped scorn on the government for using contractors that hire undocumented immigrants. On CNN in 2007, he called private firms that oppose verification requirements for their contractors' employees "ridiculous." Yet interviews with several such employees show that Dobbs has been far from vigilant about the status of workers laboring on his own properties.

Dobbs' story bears some resemblance to GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's immigration entanglement. Both appear to have done little, if anything, illegal, because those outside agencies that furnished the hired help are the ones responsible for collecting papers. But beyond technicalities, Dobbs is the worse offender -- in a league with Thomas Jefferson, who eloquently railed against slavery while indulging in the practice himself.

Whereas Whitman stands accused of treating a single illegal housekeeper poorly, Dobbs has employed small armies of low-paid manual laborers -- some of whom were apparently undocumented -- to landscape his estates and care for his prize-winning horses. Whitman earned her fortune turning underwear-clad insomniacs into online salesman; Dobbs made his money and collected his estates in part by convincing his American audience that the very people who till his gardens and care for his horses deserve to be punished. As The Nation notes, Dobbs has called for employers who hire undocumented workers to face federal felony charges; I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Dobbs to turn himself in. Hypocrisy aside, Dobbs and Whitman have unwittingly (what other way is there on this issue?) become poster children for comprehensive reform. Federal immigration law is so easily and rampantly violated that it's practically useless.

There's also a striking similarity (at least to me) on gay rights. We're all familiar with the platoon of gay-bashing preachers and politicians who turned out to have been lashing out at themselves. But the legions of gay men and women who emerged from the shadows to put millions of human faces on the issue did more to sway public opinion than a few egregious closet cases. Just as with gay rights, we'll always have our immigration hypocrites. But perhaps the real change will come when more laborers living in fear of deportation finally become fed up with this hypocrisy and bravely expose themselves and those who exploit them -- and in so doing, attach to this debate compelling life stories that those who rail against illegal immigration cannot ignore. I don't deny relishing the Dobbsian schadenfreude, but recognizing the pressing need for comprehensive reform is far more important than ending the career of a single demagogue.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Lou Dobbs tapes a Fox News interview with Bill O'Reilly in November 2009. Credit: Kathy Willens / Associated Press

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