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Immigration Debate gets Ugly 

You don't think this is today's most urgent civil rights issue? Think again

Adriana Galvez Taylor, head of the Charlotte organization Communities for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), forwarded me a disturbing e-mail last week from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"Neo-Nazis and anti-immigration extremists" responded to the avalanche of recent civil rights immigration protests across the country "with open calls for violence," the Center reported.

The SPLC's Intelligence Project, dedicated to monitoring hate groups and extremist activity, made reference to a terrorist appeal by radio host Hal Turner. "All of you who think there's a peaceful solution to these invaders are wrong. We're going to have to start killing these people," said Turner after a half-million Hispanics marched in the streets of Los Angeles.

"I advocate using extreme violence against illegal aliens. Clean your guns. Have plenty of ammunition. Find out where the largest gathering of illegal aliens will be near you. Go to the area well in advance, scope out several places to position yourself and then do what has to be done," said Turner, who broadcasts worldwide his radio talk show from North Bergen, NJ.

The hysteria from ultra-right campaigners against Latino immigrants was reflected in the voice of national radio host Rush Limbaugh, broadcast locally on WBT 1110. "If you had a renegade, potential criminal element that was poor and unwilling to work, and you had a chance to get rid of 500,000 every year, would you do it?" Limbaugh asked, referring to Mexican workers much like the fellows who built Bobcats Arena and the Panthers stadium.

The peaceful March 25 protest in Charlotte, organized by the CCIR and attended by 7,000 people, got a hilarious response from the Raleigh-based anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC. William Gheen, ALIPAC president, announced the filing of "a formal complaint to determine why there were no visible police officers or security at a protest attended by thousands of illegal aliens in downtown Charlotte." Although demonstration organizers were aware of Mr. Gheen's presence, no one bothered him as he videotaped the event and begged to be interviewed by TV reporters.

ALIPAC has been linked to supremicist groups, according to a Center for New Community study, "Americans for Legal Immigration: Xenophobia, Nativism and Anti-Immigrant Hysteria," released last June. Indeed, the language on ALIPAC's Web site bears this out: "Please don't let all the good people who have so much common sense get down in the mud with the pigs!" wrote ALIPAC Web site poster Cindy K., in reference to a proposed counteraction to the National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights.

Locally, radio personality Keith Larson, loved by ALIPAC, called for his listeners to counteract the April 10 pro-immigrant Day of No Consumption.

Fortunately, all this anti-immigrant rhetoric has backlashed. Florida Governor Jeb Bush said the tone of the debate had been "hurtful" to him and his Mexican-born wife, Columba. The President's brother charged anti-immigrant politicians with "pounding their chests" for short-term political gain. Republican New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg praised the work ethic of new immigrants.

And the Big Kahuna of the anti-immigrant movement in the media, Lou Dobbs, has received sharp criticism. A New York Times piece described the CNN anchor as "anti-immigrant, and racist and biased," and a Washington Post commentary said Dobbs had become "a raving populist xenophobe."

While the US Senate takes a recess before adopting a final immigration bill, I hope legislators listen to the millions of people willing to work hard, and ignore the screeching extremists.

Rafael Prieto Zartha is editor of the Charlotte-based Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente.

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