“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” From “The New Colossus,” poem by Emma Lazarus, engraved on the Statue of Liberty.
So strong is the nativist tide that has gripped a significant portion of Americans over the last few years that it’s almost as if some activists want to rip those words right off the Statue of Liberty.
For the masses of mostly Latino immigrants, legal and illegal, pouring steadily into America each day represent today’s version of the 19th Century tired, poor, huddled, wretched refuse that Lazarus and some of America welcomed when those 19th Century words were written.
There are, of course, legitimate questions over industrial job losses caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement and other new border-opening treaties.
But the outrage over illegal immigration has gone far beyond those questions, entering the realm of hate. The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups more closely than any other organization, reports that fully 888 hate groups are now active around the nation, 80 of them operating in California. That’s a growth of 5 percent nationally from the number of groups operating in 2006 and far above the 602 the center tracked in 2000. The number of hate groups active in California rose by a startling 27 percent in 2007 and another 19 percent this year, the center reports. (For a detailed list, go to splcenter.org/intel/map/hate.jsp#s=CA)
That count leaves out about 300 other groups that the center says frequently harass and intimidate immigrants.
The fact that anti-immigrant sentiment can lead to hate activity and crimes is nothing new. In 1994, when California voters overwhelmingly passed the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, raised awareness of illegals led to a large increase in hate crimes ranging from assaults to verbal harassment of immigrants – legal ones, too – in gas stations, restaurant parking lots and the apartments and homes where they lived.
The recent rise in number of hate groups also parallels a rise in hate crimes against Latinos, which the FBI reported up by 35 percent between 2003 and 2006. FBI experts say those crimes usually are intended to target illegal immigrants, but often hit legal residents, many of whom are native U.S. citizens.
In California, hate groups listed by the poverty center include racist skinhead gangs operating in locales from Riverside to Fresno to San Jose and Sacramento. Some might take exception to the “hate” tag the center applies to the National of Islam and the Jewish Defense League, both of which have strong California presences. Each would contend it does not push hate, but merely encourages ethnic pride.
There are no such questions about the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement group based in Glendale or the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), founded by former Ku Klux Klansman Tom Metzger and headquartered in Temecula. Nor about several Klan units said to be active in various parts of the state.
“Anti-immigrant rage is the number one factor driving the massive growth in American hate groups,” says Mark Potok, director of the poverty center’s Intelligence Project. “It’s no wonder we are seeing a rise in anti-Latino hate crimes.”
So far, the poverty center has not been able to move against any group for anti-Latino hate actions, the way it did in lawsuits against Metzger’s group and the Klan itself during the 1990s. SPLC lawsuits took away the headquarters building of one Klan group and bankrupted WAR after it was found liable for inciting violence against an African immigrant in Oregon.
In one way, the recent sharp growth in hate groups is odd. For their membership historically tends to decline during conservative presidencies. Hate groups usually grow during liberal presidencies when some elements believe minority groups are favored.
How to explain the seeming anomaly of hate group proliferation during the generally conservative George W. Bush administration? It’s because anti-immigrant elements from the beginning of the current Bush Administration have believed Bush would take no significant actions to stem the ongoing illegal immigration tide. So, as during more liberal presidencies, some fringe elements believe they must take action on their own, which sometimes turns into hate crimes. Not even construction activity on the border wall authorized by Congress has changed that feeling.
The bottom line: government agencies and educators are plainly not succeeding so far in stemming anti-immigrant hate both in California and nationwide.
Elias is author of the bestselling book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It.” His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org