Posted on September 15, 2005

Compassion or ‘Rhetoric,’ Debate Goes

Sharon McNary, Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Cal.), Sept. 10

Some who blame illegal immigrants from Mexico for California’s low-performing schools, crime, crowded hospitals, and budget deficits are adopting a new verbal strategy — compassion.

“This is a new rhetoric,” said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley education and geography professor who directs the Center for Latin American Studies. “It has been rare until relatively recently, but I think it is gaining a wider face, because it cloaks the anti-immigrant message in an outer garment of compassion for the immigrants.”

At a conference at a Beverly Hills hotel last month “Illegal Immigration: Its Impact on America,” a lineup of speakers invited by three conservative research groups urged the government to reject the illegal immigrant for the immigrant’s own good.

“Enforcing immigration laws is right for the illegal alien,” Assemblyman Ray Haynes told an audience of about 110 activists who favor stricter immigration controls.

“The life of an illegal alien is a life of fear, abuse and exploitation by smugglers and by employers,” said Haynes, R-Murrieta. “Those who are on the side of the illegal alien avert their eyes and say that’s not happening.”


James Gilchrist, a retired Orange County accountant who is running for Congress as an independent, criticized the willingness of Americans to accept the economic benefits provided by the low-paid work of illegal immigrants.

“I don’t see any difference between pre-1863 slavery and what’s going on today,” Gilchrist said in May. “The Southern slave traders felt they were doing nothing wrong.”

Gilchrist co-founded the Minuteman Project, an unprecedented large-scale volunteer watch that reported illegal immigrants crossing the Arizona-Mexico border in April. His next project, “Operation Slave Trader,” proposes to gather evidence that big companies employ illegal immigrants, and challenge federal authorities to prosecute the companies.


“People at the conference who are in favor of enforcing the law and closing or securing the border are very sensitive to how that message comes across,” said Michael Finch, executive director of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The group put on the $150-per-seat conference at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel with the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Coalition for Immigration Reform of California.

“We don’t want the perception that we are anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican,” Finch said. “There were people outside screaming ‘racist’ at the conference. People are sensitive to that.”


Crime researcher Heather Mac Donald, of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, told the gathering that cities whose police avoid asking victims and suspects of crimes about their immigration status do all immigrants a disservice.

“They want to keep violent criminals within immigrant communities so that those communities are unable to advance,” Mac Donald said.