As grassroots support for the pro-immigration reform March for America grows, anti-immigration groups and their allies are trying to use racial tension to stop the momentum. Opposition groups like NumbersUSA and the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC announced plans this week to partner with Tea Party activists in response to the event, which is expected to draw as many as 100,000 people to the National Mall on March 21.
Their hope? To scare the public into opposing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
NumbersUSA, a mainstream group that was instrumental in defeating reform in 2007, has discussed the idea of calling immigrant women from Mexico "the new welfare queens," while others are spreading paranoia that immigrants are trying to "steal the next election." The White House is holding a bipartisan meeting on immigration legislation this week and the possibility of reform is worrying opponents. They are now desperately attempting to block reform by appealing to frustration and fear.
Along with actions to flood Congress with phone calls and faxes, anti-immigration forces are also spreading misinformation and proposing ways to dehumanize immigrant communities. As Stephanie Mencimer notes in Mother Jones, operatives on the far right are pushing a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is using immigration to steal the 2012 election.
The magazine reports that the WorldNet Daily, a publication which bills itself as "conservative news website," has come up with an elaborate scheme in which a secret "illegal immigrant registration" will "open the floodgates to fraud." That's despite the fact that undocumented immigrants are legally barred from voting in the first place.
On top of that, in a conference call organized by anti-immigration group NumbersUSA, an organization that is routinely quoted by the mainstream media to oppose reform, participants suggested calling immigrant mothers with Mexican heritage "the new welfare queens." As I report for Campus Progress, NumbersUSA, which worked to kill immigration reform in 2007, held the call this week to coordinate actions against the immigration march.
"I feel the new welfare queen in America today is women coming from Mexico with a bunch of babies," said one caller.In response, NumbersUSA conference moderator Chad MacDonald said "Thank you very much. I appreciate that."
Right after that, another caller suggested that anti-immigration activists not use the word "babies," because it was "emotional." Said the conference participant, "They aren't babies. They're dependents. ... They have dependents. We have babies." While NumbersUSA claims to be against "immigrant bashing," they made no efforts to stop the hateful statements that their supporters spewed over the phone.
While incendiary rhetoric from immigration opponents is alarming, Kai Wright writes in The Nation that such radicalism could be a good impetus for Democrats to embrace immigration reform. "The great thing about racists is they'll always take the bait," claims Wright. "You won't get far into an immigration-reform debate, for instance, before the GOP's more zealous legislators start doing things like criminalizing priests and calling Miami a ‘third world country.'"
Politically, most Americans will probably be turned off by hateful and racist language used during the immigration debate, much like they were during the lead up to the confirmation of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In the end, the disgust factor could end up helping Democrats-if they let it.
"Immigration reform is an issue where Democrats are served better politically by picking a fight with the GOP than running from one," Wright explains. "The long-term politics are plain: Latino communities nationwide are young, growing and increasingly ready to show up at the polls. And the certain-to-be xenophobic reaction of the GOP's loudest voices today will not only motive Latinos this November, it will alienate independent voters as well."
Out of patience
This week, pro-reform grassroots groups held a press conference on Monday to denounce what they said was increased enforcement under the Obama administration, as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reported at least a 5% increase in deportations for 2009. New America Media reports that advocates at the press meeting pointed out that "livelihoods were lost, local economies affected, and families split apart."
"These are the same enforcement practices that we marched against during the Bush administration," said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, who was quoted by New America Media. The outlet also notes that advocacy groups "contended that the immigration audits or ‘paper raids' that have replaced workplace raids under Obama are just as damaging to immigrant communities and the businesses that depend on them."