Immigration, Southern Manners, and South Carolina Demographics


Photo by Pegabovine.

Courtesy and demographics are not two issues commonly lumped together into one discussion. However, after Congressman Joe Wilson’s outburst during President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress to discuss heath care reform last night, this seems an apropos time to remind the Congressman about the importance of courtesy, the reality of his state’s changing demographics, and the political pitfalls of being an anti-immigrant legislator.

By way of background, the website Transition Culture reviews books on the decline of civility. In Talk to the Hand: The Utterly Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life, the author discusses a phenomenon known as “‘Booing the Judge,’ which is about the loss of deference and the loss of respect for figures of authority {and} the spread of a general sense of disrespect, that anyone in a position of responsibility needs bringing down a peg or two.”

So how should one behave in public? One online guide reminds us of some of the most important components of polite behavior:

When someone else is speaking, don’t interrupt. Wait until they are done speaking, or if it is an urgent matter, say, “Excuse me, but …”

And another one says:

“Don’t be uncouth, rude, brash, loud, coarse, or cause a commotion in public. Only trashy types do such things.”

Etiquette aside, Joe Wilson needs a few other lessons.

First, the demographic shifts going on in his state prove that pursuing an anti-immigrant agenda is not smart political strategy. For example, When Rep. Wilson was last reelected in 2008, he beat his opponent Rob Miller by just over 25,956 votes. IPC data shows that roughly 2.3% (or 12,900) of all voting-age U.S. citizens in his district were immigrants (naturalized citizens) in 2007. Approximately 2.1% (or 11,775) of all voting-age U.S. citizens in his district were Latino and 1% (or 5,600) were Asian—for a total of 17,375 Latinos and Asians who were voting-age U.S. citizens.

Second, the myth that undocumented immigrants will receive health care under reform plans introduced in Congress has been rebuffed by many sources, including many outside of the immigrant-advocacy community, like FactCheck.org and PoliticFact.org.

Finally, the important contributions immigrants bring to South Carolina cannot be ignored. Recently compiled research by the IPC shows:

  • Immigrants make up about 4.3% of South Carolina’s total population, and more than a third of them are naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote.
  • The purchasing power of South Carolina’s Latinos and Asians totaled $5.2 billion in 2008.
  • Businesses owned by Asians and Latinos had sales and receipts of $2.8 billion and employed more than 20,000 people in 2002 (the last year for which data is available).
  • If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from South Carolina, the state would lose $1.8 billion in expenditures, $782 million in economic output, and about 12,000 jobs.

Perhaps Rep. Wilson could learn from the senior Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, who has not always been a pro-immigrant reformer, but is now emerging as one of the main leaders on comprehensive immigration reform. The South has long been known for its excellent manners and hospitality, and this southern congressman should claim no exemption.

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  1. Melissa says:

    I sincerely hope that Rep. Wilson’s interjection isn’t a harbinger of bitterly partisan rhetoric on immigration reform. However, in anticipation of the debate over passing a bill in 2010, Public Agenda has released a study of the views of those most affected by legislation: foreign-born adults in the U.S. You can check it out here: http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/immigrants

  2. Rudy Ruiz says:

    Wendy, I could not agree more with your entire argument. Please check out my column at http://www.RedBrownandBlue.com. I am so appreciative of the focus you bring to the facts. From a demographic perspective, economic reality, and accuracy standpoint, you provide highly compelling reasons for South Carolina and other states with legislators clinging to the past in unproductive and obstinate ways to either pressure their elected officials to open their minds to a new day in America or step out of the way.

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