If you’ve read the papers or watched the news, you know all about the immigration reform marches yesterday. I am impressed by the turnout across the country, and I think both sides have a right to be heard. What I’m not impressed with is the endless stream of nonsense rhetoric.

Let’s stop with the absurd ideas of deporting everyone or building a giant wall. Let’s stop accusing people who want to discuss reform of being racist. It’s too easy to compartmentalize this debate and say it’s all about racism, just as it’s too easy to say that we should deport everyone who is here illegally. These are both knee-jerk reactions that aren’t getting anybody anywhere.

My general thoughts on this issue are that we need to go after the source of the issue: Stopping employers from circumventing the law on hiring, and preventing them from paying substandard wages. I’m also in favor of making it easier to understand how to become a citizen. I don’t think we should necessarily make it easier to BECOME a citizen, but we should certainly make the process more accessible and understandable for those who want to make that effort.

Now, as the debate has raged stronger and stronger in the past weeks and months, I’ve heard the comments that say, “This is all about white people not liking brown people,” and that’s just as ridiculous as saying that “We should deport everyone who is here illegally.” There’s no room for debate when you have two sides that insist on being so far apart. I’ve discussed at length before how the extreme, “deport everybody and build a wall” faction is nonsense, so I’ll address the racism claims here.

I won’t say that there isn’t some element of race in this debate, but I don’t think that it starts with a race-related attitude. Certainly there are people who are viewing this debate with racist glasses, but those people were going to be there anyway. For the rest of us, where I think race does play a role is in how the debate is personified – but that comes after the question has been brought up. If you are going to ask someone in Colorado to picture an illegal immigrant in their mind, you’re likely to get an image of someone from Mexico, Central or South America. But is that racism or just a reflection of the reality of Colorado demographics? I think it’s the latter.

I personally visualize an illegal immigrant as someone from Mexico or south of there, and that is only because those are the illegal immigrants I see most often. Those are also the folks who are at the forefront of the debate here. It’s only natural that I would picture someone from that part of the continent as opposed to the north. How many people from Canada do I run into in Colorado? Not many. I can think of one, off the top of my head.

There are probably far more immigrants in Colorado who are from Mexico than from Canada, so it’s inevitable that more people are going to visualize an illegal immigrant as someone from Mexico than from Canada. For the same reason, most people would be unlikely to picture an illegal immigrant as a person from Eastern Europe or the Middle East; that might be different if we were on the East Coast, but we’re not. This isn’t racism, it’s geography.

Allegations of racism in this case remind me of what happens when white sportswriters criticize black athletes. For example, Philadelphia 76ers star guard Allen Iverson has generated a lot of attention in the past for his appearance, with his cornrows and multiple tattoos complimenting a wardrobe that consists primarily of throwback sports jerseys and huge, baggy clothes. Iverson also has a history of minor trouble with the 76ers for things like refusing to practice or missing mandated appearances to meet with fans and corporate sponsors. Iverson is abrasive at times, but when white reporters criticize him, they occasionally get branded as being racist; they are accused of coloring their opinion based on race because they may not approve of Iverson’s appearance and mannerisms.

I was a sports reporter in a past life, and I’ve dealt with Iverson before. I found him to be unnecessarily rude and difficult – not as a black person, but as a human being. A lot of athletes are abrasive and rude; based on past experience, I don’t particularly like former Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese, either (Griese is white). Nevertheless, there are people who might have said that I don’t like Iverson because he is black, or because of his appearance. I don’t have a problem with his tattoos or with wearing oversized sports jerseys and baggy clothes, though I do think it is odd that a 30-year-old man – whoever he is – still dresses like a 17-year-old whenever he goes out in public (I also think it’s weird when people wear cowboy hats, big belt buckles and cowboy boots when they live and work in Denver, but that’s neither here nor there).

The point I’m trying to make is that I should be allowed to dislike Allen Iverson as a person without being accused of racism. In the same manner, people should be allowed to discuss the issue of illegal immigration without being labeled as racists. And furthermore, people who want immigration reform need to be ready to discuss the issue without taking a militant, “kick ‘em all out” stance.

Illegal immigration is an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. I’ve written before about how, for all his rhetoric, Rep. Tom Tancredo rarely offers any tangible solutions to the issue. People who are beating the drum on racism are doing the same thing – they’re substituting rhetoric for discussion. There are plenty of racist people out there, but not everybody who thinks there should be immigration reform is a racist; there is no automatic relationship between the two.

We’ve had a chance to hear from both sides now, and we don’t need any more rhetoric designed to inflame passions. Both sides are as guilty of it as the other, and once they can admit that, we’ll be getting somewhere.