Jingo All the Way

Outside groups leading the anti-immigration campaign in Arizona are trying to distance themselves from their own bigoted pasts.

Maria Sepulveda's father so offended her, she doesn't want anyone else from his native Chile to come to the United States. Or at least not many more. As a spokeswoman for a national association which seeks to virtually end immigration--legal and illegal--she's paid to promote the idea that the country is crowded enough and doesn't need newcomers.

The U.S.-born Sepulveda says her father emigrated from Chile and opened a business. He encouraged other Chileans to emigrate as well, promising them jobs when they arrived. He did this, Sepulveda says, despite the presence of unemployed Americans--people he refused to hire.

"It hurts me, as a Latina, to see immigrants displace other immigrants," she says, adding in flawless, unaccented English: "We can't assimilate the people who are already here."

It was apparently lost on Sepulveda that her own immigrant family had, within a generation, assimilated quite successfully.

Speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., Sepulveda explains how she came to understand that limiting immigration is an environmental--not cultural or ethnic--issue.

While researching pollution problems for a school project, Sepulveda became aware of population effects on the environment. It was then, she says, that she realized her father was part of that problem.

Today, Sepulveda works for Population-Environment Balance, one of four national organizations which recently targeted Arizona in a monthlong media campaign. Full-page newspaper ads, radio spots and television programs competed for the attention of Arizonans in November, and will likely resurface after the turn of the new year. The organizers say they see in Arizona fertile ground for a movement they've been pushing in other states for years.

Sepulveda says the campaign has done extremely well, more than tripling the size of her group's mailing list in Arizona. Other organizations in the effort report similar gains.

On November 10, representatives from Sepulveda's organization and several others, including two local groups, held a press conference on the steps of the federal courthouse to launch their media campaign.

Speakers included a representative of another group concerned with the environmental effects of immigration called Negative Population Growth; author Roy Beck, who uses census data to show the effects of immigration on jobs and wages; and members of two other national organizations less shy about citing the cultural effects of immigration, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and the American Immigration Control Foundation.

After the speeches, reporters asked whether, despite the campaign's focus on such issues as jobs and the environment, some of the speakers' statements were likely to appeal to bigots.

The groups responded by sending out Rebecca Ann Sandoval, a member of a tiny Tucson immigration-reform group, who screamed at the gathered journalists, admonishing them for looking for a racist agenda. How could the immigration reformers be racists with someone named Sandoval on their side?

In conversations with New Times, however, leaders of the campaign acknowledge that they constantly field such questions about their motivations. And, yes, they admit, their campaign does tend to attract bigots. But the reformers say they've weathered past revelations about questionable sources of their funding--revelations about connections with groups interested in proving the supremacy of the white race--and are determined to keep their Arizona campaign one that doesn't appeal to baser motivations.

Sensitive about being branded racists, the organizers of the campaign have latched on to other, more palatable themes. Their campaign is about jobs, wages and urban sprawl, they say, and not meant to exploit negative perceptions of Mexican immigrants.

But in a state where the public has defended police who recently joined with the Border Patrol in raiding the Chandler homes of Mexican-American citizens to demand their "papers," that distinction may be very difficult to maintain.

Roy Beck is talking about what makes immigration such a strange animal in the political menagerie.

It's an issue that confounds traditional party differences, splitting Republicans and Democrats alike. Support for high levels of immigration comes not only from civil-liberty-minded liberals concerned with providing sanctuary for persecuted foreign nationals, but also conservative, free-market Republicans who extol the virtues of cheap labor, as well as "family-values" conservatives who like the traditional values Latin-American newcomers bring with them.

On the other side, coalitions for immigration reform face the challenge of uniting unionist Democrats who worry about immigration lowering wages, conservative environmentalists and less free-market-oriented Republicans concerned with the cultural effect of so many newcomers.

Beck, author of The Case Against Immigration, figures the best way to cement that coalition is to stick to the numbers. And he's become well-known nationally for his ability to do so.

His video program Immigration by the Numbers, a lecture which boils down his book's argument, ran several times on local television as part of the Arizona media campaign. One showing in particular, which appeared on KPHO Channel 5 before a college football game, produced more than 300 calls to Beck's 800 number, he says.

Until five years ago, Beck was a reporter covering Congress for a Midwestern chain of newspapers. He still has a Midwestern twang despite his years inside the Beltway, and he has a disarming, easygoing manner atypical of other activists. In an hourlong telephone conversation, Beck doesn't once fall into deprecating statements about recent immigrants and expresses distaste for the kind of immigrant-bashing that occurred in California's 1994 passage of Proposition 187.

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