Immigration Debate So Funny We Forgot to Laugh

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When a Democratic state legislator introduced a satirical bill proposing that Mississippi rename the Gulf of Mexico the "Gulf of America," he fooled a whole lot of people into thinking he was serious, providing a funny (but actually sad) commentary on the state of the immigration debate. A few blogs picked up on the bill Wednesday, after which Think Progress posted about it. From there, outlets from Wonkette to the Huffington Post to Drudge Report pointed to the bill, most of them using it as an example of absurdity. (Think "Freedom Fries.") It is indeed pretty absurd. Introduced by Mississippi Rep. Steve Holland, it reads:

For all official purposes within the State of Mississippi, the body of water that is located directly south of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties shall be known as the "Gulf of America." ... This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2012.

For many, it seemed like a bridge too far, and that's because it absolutely was. Mississippi Public Broadcasting finally got in touch with Holland, reports NPR, who revealed his less-than-earnest intentions. From NPR:

Holland told Daniel that so many of his Republican colleagues seem to want to push anything or anyone Mexican out of the state that he's just trying to "embrace" their cause and help them out. In other words, he's introduced a bill that he thinks will make a satirical point by being outrageous.

Beyond the question of whether congressional legislation is the most effective space for satire (and we're not sure that it is), who is to blame in this situation? Members of the media who thought so little of Mississippi legislators that they bought the story without blinking? Or those in the political arena who regularly invoke scary Mexico for making this story so instantly plausible to so many?
The story's not over though. This bill may be satirical, but it is an actual bill -- the Mississippi House’s Marine Resources Committee is supposedly holding a hearing on it, the legislature could technically approve it if they wanted to, and it could become an actual law. It's not such an absurd thought: It would be a whole lot like the idea of "self-deportation," coined by comedians and eventually taken up by actual politicians. Could "Gulf of America" start as a joke and become ... something else? We have a little too much faith to think it will. But if it did, we'd have to wonder how much of the language surrounding this debate started out in a basement comedy club.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.