Supremacist Groups Take Up Immigration Issue
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
As Congress prepares to take up immigration again, all sides are bracing for a heated debate. Analysts say there is more vitriol these days and one reason is that white supremacist groups are embracing the issue.
NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this report.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: When a family of legal immigrants from El Salvador moved into a new home in Kentucky last year, they got an odd surprise - a large cross burning on the lawn. A note said my country, maybe. My neighborhood, no way.
Ms. DEBORAH LAUTER (Director, Anti-Defamation League): It was a terrifying event for anybody. And, you know, the message that that kind of hate crime sends is not just solely directed at that family. That's a message of hate to an entire community.
LUDDEN: Deborah Lauter is with the Anti-Defamation League, which recently reported that the KKK, among other hate groups, is finding new energy in members through the issue of immigration. That came as no surprise to Lisa Navarrete of the immigrant advocacy group, National Council of La Raza. She's seen plenty of hate mail in recent years.
Ms. LISA NAVARRETE (Vice President, National Council of La Raza): We're coming after you, you won't succeed, I'll make sure of it, be careful. We had a staff person in Sacramento, every time she appeared on television, was followed.
LUDDEN: Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says this is more than just the isolated kook. He's tracked a 40 percent rise in the number of hate groups since 2000. At the same time, there's been an explosion in anti-illegal immigration groups. Potok says some 250 created in just the past two years. Now he sees a type of cross-fertilization.
Mr. MARK POTOK (Director, Southern Poverty Law Center): This kind of really vile propaganda begins in hate groups, it makes its way out into the larger anti-immigration movement; and before you know it, you wind up seeing it in places like on CNN television shows, news programs.
LUDDEN: Potok says the propaganda blames immigrants for just about everything: unemployment, failing schools, crime, even disease. He's heard numerous claims that Mexicans are bringing leprosy and malaria to the U.S. In fact, he says what little leprosy there is has been brought in by Asian migrants, and malaria is transmitted through mosquitoes, not people.
Then there's the persistent theory that Mexico is conspiring to re-conquer the American Southwest. Potok says he saw this presented on CNN as fact, complete with a map of the area to be taken over as Aztlan.
Mr. POTOK: The map, as it says prominently on the TV screen, is sourced to the Council Of Conservative Citizens, which is a right-wing, white supremacist group which says, among others things, that blacks are a, quote, "retrograde species of humanity."
LUDDEN: In its statement of principles, the Council of Conservative Citizens says it opposes non-European immigration. Leader Gordon Baum says his group saw a spike in interest after the mass immigrant marches a year ago. Sure, he says, the debate is heated, as well it should be on such an important issue.
Mr. GORDON BAUM (Director, Council of Conservative Citizens): And the very heart and soul of this, do you want to keep America as it is, more or less, or do we want it to be changed into a Third-World country?
LUDDEN: Baum's council helped promote a recent visit by two Belgian politicians with the Vlaams Belang, the current incarnation of a party Belgium's Supreme Court has declared racist.
While in Washington, D.C., the Belgians met with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, which seeks less immigration overall. FAIR has been key in mobilizing grassroots activism and it's often quoted in the mainstream media. The Anti-Defamation League called FAIR's meeting with the Belgians deeply troubling. FAIR executive director Dan Stein accuses the ADL of intellectual fascism.
Mr. DAN STEIN (Executive Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform): There seem to be organizations in this country that wants to stifle a legitimate immigration debate and have tremendous double standards about bigotry and racism.
LUDDEN: Whether you blame legitimate concerns or a propaganda campaign, both sides do say this: The American public holds an increasingly harsh view of undocumented immigrants.
Take this radio broadcast in Nashville last year. An anti-immigration activist was speaking before a live audience about her visit with Border Patrol agents. She told the conservative talk show host how the Border Patrol may repeatedly deport the same Mexican migrant if a check shows he or she has no criminal record.
(Soundbite of radio talk show)
Unidentified Woman: I said, how many times you're going to do that? He said seven. I said what are you going to do on the eighth.
Unidentified Man: Seven?
Unidentified Woman: Seven times. This was policy. I said what you do on the eighth time? He said according...
Unidentified Man: Shoot him.
(Soundbite of applause)
LUDDEN: For analyst Mark Potok, that audience reaction shows the reach of extreme rhetoric about illegal immigration. And yet he admits you can't blame it all on hate groups. Potok says what's happening is not a debate anymore, but a full-scale nativist backlash.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.