The Common Good

Groups cite hate in immigration debate

Date: November 23, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A local TV crew was shooting a live morning report about Lisa Dupre's Sacramento preschool, where toddlers can learn yoga, etiquette and Spanish as a second language.

The phone rang — the first response, Dupre thought, to an on-air invitation for parents to get more information. She let her answering machine pick up.

"I thought this was America, not Mexico. This is English only," she heard a voice growl when she later listened. "That's why we've got a problem with illegal aliens, because people like you are trying to change California into Mexico."

A stunned Dupre — whose school also offers French — said she remembers thinking, "This guy is not the sharpest tool in the shed."

Several more callers complained that she was catering to Mexicans, and a neighbor struck up a conversation with her soon after the August TV report to blame Mexicans, Dupre said, for everything wrong, including grocery prices.

Whether it's in conversation, on Web sites or flowing from cable TV and radio talk shows, the shrillness of the anti-illegal-immigration debate has become disturbing, say two groups that monitor hate speech.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has produced reports on anti-Latino rhetoric, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), founded to expose anti-Semitism, issued a report in October called "Immigrants Targeted: Extremist Rhetoric Moves Into the Mainstream."

Rational debate over immigration has been drowned out by the noise of unfounded accusations that illegal immigrants are the driving force behind problems such as identity theft and rising health-insurance costs.

Anti-illegal-immigration activists say they are holding the line against opponents they accuse of wanting "open borders." And they believe they represent the will of the majority.

"There is no doubt that immigration is a necessary debate," said Deborah Lauter, the ADL's civil-rights director. "But it must remain civil."

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Sacramento-based head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, met last week with several U.S. religious leaders at the Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., to denounce extremist language.

It's time, he said to "clearly state that we all desire to protect our borders and apply the rule of law. But we will not embrace the nativist and discriminatory rhetoric articulated under the guise of border protection."

The vitriolic anti-illegal-immigration dialogue the ADL studied demonizes immigrants, foments fear and spreads unfounded propaganda, the report says.

Researchers with the ADL reviewed Web sites, news reports and activists' media appearances to compile their report.

CNN's Lou Dobbs comes under fire for what the group calls "false propaganda" about illegal immigrants and disease that he refused to recant. TV pundit Pat Buchanan is criticized for spreading xenophobia in his book "State of Siege," in which he describes Latino immigration as a mortal cultural threat: "The crisis of the West is of a collapsing culture and vanishing peoples."

Mark Potok, a lead researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, "One of the most obnoxious elements out there are mainstream media talk-show hosts perfectly willing to popularize ideas that have no basis in reality."

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is cited by the ADL for calling illegal immigration a "slow-motion terrorist attack." He also wrote on his Web site that "murderous illegal immigrants" kill 12 U.S. citizens every day, a claim Potok called "extreme hogwash."

The ADL cites comments by D.A. King of Georgia, who founded an anti-illegal-immigrant group called the Dustin Inman Society. He has appeared on CNN and testified at an Education and Workforce congressional committee hearing in 2006. In April, a newspaper report said, King told a gathering of Georgia Republican Party members that illegal immigrants are "not here to mow your lawn — they're here to blow up your buildings and kill your children, and you and me."

The ADL report also cites Michelle Dallacroce, a Phoenix woman who grew up in Chicago and has become a popular talk-show guest. She started a group, Mothers Against Illegal Aliens, after she became alarmed at the growth of Latino day laborers in Phoenix and upset that schools sent children home with bilingual notes.

Dallacroce said schools are struggling with too many children who don't speak English and she opposes U.S. citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants.

On her Web site, she refers to Aztlan, the mythical northern Aztec homeland, which could include the U.S. Southwest. Some anti-illegal-immigration activists and broadcasters, including Dobbs, have been criticized for spreading an unfounded claim that Latino activists are involved in a plot to reclaim the Southwest for Mexico.

"We are not only at war with Iraq, but we ARE at WAR with MEXICO; a silent war with Aztlanders and a war with President Fox who said he will take over the United States with sheer numbers without ever firing a shot," Dallacroce's Web site states.

In an interview, Dallacroce said she could not provide a source for the alleged words of Vicente Fox, the former Mexican president.

On Fox News, Dallacroce has said that illegal-immigrant women and their children have no jobs in the United States, other than to "dumb down the American children and overpopulate our schools."

She said the ADL, in its report, defamed her by comparing her to hate groups and took remarks out of context. She said the group didn't have the courtesy to call her before releasing the report.

For her, she said, illegal immigration is a question of protecting U.S. families and resources. "It's our children against their children," she said.