Demographic changes spark sentiment against immigrants

The Associated Press
Saturday August 04, 2001

A group in North Carolina plans to protest the “overwhelming number of illegal Hispanic workers invading the area.” A California coalition urges people to lobby against giving legal status to undocumented immigrants. 

And on New York’s Long Island, the topic at a conference this weekend is the “illegal immigration disaster.” 

Sparked by changing demographics, examples of anti-immigration sentiment seem to be cropping up with increasing frequency around the country. 

Observers say much of the hard feeling is directed at Hispanics, whose numbers grew 58 percent to more than 35 million in the last decade, according to census figures. 

Anti-immigration advocates feel newcomers lower wages, increase unemployment, pollution, traffic and crime, and strain hospitals, parks and energy resources. 

They’re also upset that President Bush is weighing a proposal to grant legal residency to some undocumented Mexicans in the United States. 

“It’s because it’s getting more in your face,” said Gordon Lee Baum, head of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which says it has 25,000 members. 

“All of the sudden they see it happening in their community. They wake up one morning like the people at the Alamo, and say ’Where did the Mexicans come from?”’ 

Lisa Navarrete, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, said community organizations report violence against Hispanics is growing, although La Raza does not formally track such crimes. 

In the middle-class community of Farmingville, on Long Island, a county official vetoed a proposal last spring to build a hiring center for day laborers. The workers, many of them undocumented Mexicans, congregate in Farmingville seeking work in landscaping, painting and construction. 

Last September, two Mexican day laborers were beaten, allegedly by two men posing as contractors. One of the men, Christopher Slavin, is now on trial in Suffolk County Criminal Court. 

“The backlash came the minute they walked across the border,” said Ray Wysolmierski, a spokesman for Sachem Quality of Life Organization, the Farmingville citizens group that is sponsoring this weekend’s conference on illegal immigration. In June, a Minnesota man was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for first-degree assault after hitting a Salvadoran immigrant in the head with a piece of wood. Prosecutors said the man decided to attack after hearing the immigrant speak Spanish. 

And in Arizona, hundreds of ranchers are patrolling their lands along the border, detaining immigrants and turning them over to the Border Patrol, said Roger Barnett, who carries a pistol while cruising his 22,000-acre Douglas ranch. 

“They don’t need to be on my place, and they don’t need to be in this country,” Barnett said. “Our government is doing nothing about it.” While such dramatic examples of anti-immigrant sentiment are sporadic, observers say the feeling has manifested itself in other ways. 

The Newton, N.C., rally later this month will protest an “alien invasion,” as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement and trade with China. The event is being sponsored by the local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens. 

The Ku Klux Klan last August held a rally in Siloam Springs, Ark., where Hispanics make up the largest minority group. In response, the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas helped organize a cultural diversity fair, dubbing it “pinatas for peace.” 

And in February 2000, former Klansman David Duke told Siler City, N.C., residents their town will be overrun by a wave of immigration from Mexico. 

Messages like that are painful to immigrants, said Ilana Dubester, director of Siler City’s Hispanic Liaison. “They are trying to adjust, working really hard, they have their families, they go to church, and yet somehow are not made to feel welcome,” she said. 

Some groups are using billboard campaigns to criticize immigration. 

A few miles from the state line between California and Arizona, a billboard sponsored by the California Coalition for Immigration Reform reads “Welcome to California, the illegal immigration state. Don’t let this happen to your state.” A second, near Porterville says, “Deport all illegal aliens. The job you save may be your own.”