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The same old story 

They're at it again. Last year, the marshals of division worked up a fear-fest by turning a non-issue into the centerpiece of their election campaign: The bogeyman was gay people who -- horror of horrors -- might actually want to have a family!

This year's bogeymen are illegal immigrants, who -- horrors -- are working create better lives for their families.

A state senator from Cherokee County has found his ticket to fame by bashing "illegals." He wants state colleges to turn into policing agencies that track residency paperwork rather than educate students. He's speaking at rallies and getting lots of media attention -- far more attention than he'd get if he tried to improve the schools. Maybe he'll run for governor some day.

The mainstream media don't mind being used on the issue. Ever more solicitous of the conservative sensibilities, the AJC now refers to undocumented aliens as "illegals." They're not people. They don't even qualify for a noun. Just an overheated adjective.

We've done this sort of demagogic dance in the South before. But we seem to learn from our mistakes slowly. Yes, illegal immigration presents serious social problems. But it'll take honest debate -- not demonizing people and kowtowing to demagogues -- to solve those problems. At the same time, people of conscience shouldn't shrink from making the point that immigrants, including illegal immigrants, contribute enormously to our economy and making Atlanta's culture richer -- and better.

Politicians -- Republicans, particularly -- have found the new issue to distract voters in the upcoming 2006 election. Don't let them do to Hispanics what they did to gays in 2004.

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