L.A., Mexico? Ad a Flash Point in Immigration Debate

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Alex Cohen of member station KQED reports on a controversial roadside billboard in the Los Angeles metro area advertising a local Spanish-language television station. The ad substitutes "Los Angeles, California" with "Los Angeles, Mexico" — and the ad has become a flash point for opponents of illegal immigration from the southern border with Mexico.

MADELEINE BRAND, co-host:

Up the coast in Los Angeles, billboards for a local Spanish-language television station are stirring up controversy about how immigration from Mexico is affecting the city's identity. From member station KQED, Alex Cohen has more.

ALEX COHEN reporting:

The billboards advertise KRCA Channel 62. The ads feature two of the station's newscasters. Behind them is the LA skyline; above them are the words, `Los Angeles,' followed by the abbreviation for California, CA. But the CA is crossed out and beside it, in bright-red letters, is the word `Mexico.'

Mr. MIKE SPENCE (President, California Republican Assembly): Los Angeles is part of the United States; it's not part of Mexico.

COHEN: That's Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly.

Mr. SPENCE: Despite the fact that there are those that want it to be part of Mexico, that's not the case and we have to protect our borders and it's just a symptom of the problems we're having here in California.

COHEN: Spence is urging people to complain to Channel 62 and Clear Channel Communications, which is leasing the billboard space to the TV station. While appearing on a local radio program last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for the billboards to be removed.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): The big mistake is that it promotes illegal aliens to come in here and it's nothing that we need. So I think it's a big mistake and I think that they should take it down immediately.

COHEN: The purpose of the ad was to instill pride in the 6.8 million Hispanics already living in Los Angeles, says Leonard Liberman, vice president of the company that owns KRCA.

Mr. LEONARD LIBERMAN: Hispanics largely live in the shadows, even if you're legal. And generally speaking, what our billboard was saying was `Los Angeles is your city, and you should be proud of it.'

COHEN: Liberman himself is both Mexican-American and Jewish. Since the ads has gone up, Liberman says he's heard many complaints, anti-Semitic remarks and threats to tear down the billboards.

Mr. LIBERMAN: While I want to address those concerns and while I want to alleviate the controversy, on the other hand, I do have to reconcile in my own mind my right to free speech.

COHEN: As of now Liberman says, he has no immediate plans to pull the ads. Meanwhile, the controversy has become one of the lead stories on KRCA.

(Soundbite of "Noticias 62 en Vivo")

Ms. ERICA FLORES(ph) (KRCA): (Spanish spoken)

COHEN: On a recent broadcast of Channel 62's news program "Noticias 62 en Vivo," Erica Flores, one of the news anchors featured in the billboard, introduced a segment about the recent controversy.

(Soundbite of "Noticias 62 en Vivo")

Ms. FLORES: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

COHEN: In the story, a reporter stands in front of one of the billboards. He asks a passerby, a Mexican woman, what she thinks of the billboard.

(Soundbite of "Noticias 62 en Vivo")

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

COHEN: The woman answers that no one should make a fuss over the ads. She added, `This is a free country.' For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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