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Anti-immigrant racism turned respectable

By Elizabeth Schulte | September 29, 2006 | Page 2

IN TOWNS and states across the country, local politicians invigorated by the national backlash against immigrants are pushing through their own punitive legislation.

Earlier this month, the Culpeper, Va., town council unanimously voted to hire a special officer to seek out single-family homes where more than five unrelated people are living, in violation of a local zoning ordinance--with the aim of targeting and driving out immigrants.

Town officials are also proposing to declare English the town's primary language and punish employers and landlords who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants.

"My family has lived here for generations," council member F. Steve Jenkins told the Washington Post. "But the demographics have changed the complexion of Culpeper, and I haven't been pleased with that."

New segregationists like Jenkins regularly blame "illegal aliens" for "draining local resources such as our hospitals, our schools, our social services," Jenkins declared at a heated public forum in September. "Enough is enough. I believe Hazelton, Pa., is the model for governments across this nation."

Hazelton's "Illegal Immigration Relief Ordinance," passed in July, makes it illegal to hire or house anyone without proof of legal residency status, and makes English the official language of the city.

On his Web site, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta encouraged other cities to join his crusade. And now towns like Culpeper are following suit.

Meanwhile, last week, South Carolina legislators began discussing harsh restrictions on immigration to match a law passed in neighboring Georgia last spring. The Georgia legislation includes provisions authorizing local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, and requires jail personnel to check the status of anyone charged with a felony or DUI and report non-citizens to federal officials.

At the national level, House Republicans are giving the national assault on immigrants a new twist. After failing to win passage of the all-encompassing Sensenbrenner bill--named for its main sponsor Rep. James Sensenbrenner, and also known as HR 4437--the Republicans are taking a piecemeal approach, passing a series of bills that will be taken up this week in the Senate.

One of the bills is called the "Secure Fence Act," and would require construction of 700 miles of border wall along the Mexico-U.S. border. Other pieces of House legislation would allow officials to circumvent Supreme Court decisions preventing the indefinite detention of immigrants; increase the ability of low-level immigration officials to quickly deport people without a hearing; and criminalize the building of tunnels to transport immigrants over the border (a special favorite of California's Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein).

Many of these bills passed with the support of House Democrats. Republicans hope that Senate Democrats will be to afraid of voting against immigration enforcement measures this close to the November election--and that their individual bills get signed into law by George Bush.

No one was sure if the measures would pass the Senate as Socialist Worker went to press, and some Democrats were criticizing them as a Republican stunt. But the Democrats have done everything they can to avoid the appearance that they are soft on homeland security, even if that means abandoning civil rights for immigrants.

Thus, politicians of both parties are hailing recent feeral crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, like a raid last week of some 120 construction workers at Colorado's Buckley Air Force Base. The raid, part of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Secure Border Initiative" is said to be the largest in the history of the state.

Add this to a growing list of ICE raids around the country, from central California to day laborers in Danbury, Conn.

While politicians are vilifying immigrants to divert attention from their own failures, racists have been emboldened to take their own actions.

At the University of Michigan, the group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) is planning "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" games on campuses throughout the state. The "game," which also took place at the University of Texas last spring, awards $200 to the participant who catches a volunteer "dressed as an illegal immigrant."

"A raging national debate over immigration is stoking the fires of racist extremism across the country," wrote Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse in a recent Southern Poverty law Center Intelligence Report. "Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are ratcheting up the intensity of their bloodthirsty 'race war' rhetoric as the tempo of the symbiotic dance between hate groups and the anti-immigration movement continues to increase, and violent hate crimes against Hispanics, regardless of their immigration status, appear to be on the rise."

In Laguna Beach, two men attacked day laborers at a hiring center earlier this month. Despite the fact that witnesses called police and the two men were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and a hate crime, the assailents were still not charged two days after their arrest.

This is the grim consequence of the immigration debate.

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