Notice which way the flow is now heading.

 In the final week of the race for lieutenant governor, candidate Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, thought he would win if he carried both Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Well, he did carry both — Jefferson easily, Orleans by a nose — but still lost to incumbent Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne by about 60,000 votes. The centerpiece of Nungesser’s local television push was a vicious, race-baiting attack ad that purportedly dealt with the illegal immigration “issue.” The spots were created by the same agency that made similar attack ads for Sen. David Vitter’s 2010 campaign. In fact, some of the menacing “illegals” in Nungesser’s ads were actors recycled from Vitter’s old spots. (I hope they don’t get typecast.)

Nungesser’s ads, smearing Dardenne as “soft” on illegal immigration, had received prominent airplay on local television stations for over a month before public outcry erupted during the final week of the campaign. I’d assumed the ads had been pulled when I read a WGNO news story last Tuesday titled “Angry Reaction from Hispanics Prompts Nungesser to Apologize, Vow to Pull Attack Ad.” But a closer inspection revealed that Nungesser only apologized “if he offended anyone.” And instead of vowing to pull the ads, as the headline  claimed, he only promised to “talk to his campaign” about the matter.

Sure enough, Nungesser crawfished and never did pull the ads. They ran frequently during local newscasts right through the day of the Oct. 22 election. I guess when Nungesser “talked to his campaign” about them, the campaign responded, “Don’t pull ’em, Chief. Let’s close nasty!”

It’s no secret that I think this issue is total horse-pucky. I doubt that the anti-immigration extremists who propose deporting millions of people and building a thousand-mile brick wall along the Mexican border truly want to solve the problem. If they do, then why do they childishly label anything short of their absurd proposals as “amnesty?” In my “Superman” series, I’ve dealt with the issue (along with the birther nonsense) satirically, with varying degrees of success.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric and posturing has become so insane now, I can’t parody it anymore, even when material falls in my lap, such as this inconvenient truth: Currently, net illegal immigration from Mexico is between zero and negative. 

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey centered in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research shows that interest in heading to the United States for the first time has fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

There are net outflows — from the U.S. into Mexico, yet a candidate’s television campaign for lieutenant governor of Louisiana was dominated by race-baiting imagery of illegal immigrants, and ominous voice-overs declaring that his Republican opponent was “an illegal-lovin’ liberal.”

Have we all gone mad? Apparently not completely, since Nungesser’s racially-tinged appeals were rejected by nearly half the voters in Orleans and over 53% statewide … but still, it baffles me.

Right now, unemployment is an exponentially bigger national problem than illegal immigration. But the cruel irony is that high unemployment creates the charged political atmosphere which allows pols like Vitter and Nungesser to campaign for office by scapegoating “scary” brown border-crossers, rather than offering real and specific solutions to a frustrating economic malaise.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...