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Nativists fanning the flames of U.S. immigration debate

Nativists fanning the flames of U.S. immigration debate

Reaching into the back of a truck, U.S. anti-immigration activist Don Pauly grabs a Mexican flag, a can of lighter fuel and an aluminum baking tray and heads to the curbside outside the Mexican consulate.
As a small group of police officers, protesters and puzzled bystanders look on, he douses the green, red and white flag with fuel and spits on it for good measure, while an eye-patch wearing accomplice strikes a match.
"We need to get rid of all those who are destroying our country," Pauly said as the national colors of United States' southern neighbor flamed out on the sidewalk in central Phoenix earlier this month. "We are being invaded."
Direct action
The founder of the Emigration Party of Nevada is among a growing number of nativists from across the United States that have been stepping up direct action in recent months to make a stand on the issues of illegal immigration and border security.
The milder end of the spectrum includes the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, who spot for illegal entrants crossing the borders from Mexico and Canada, and councilors in towns and cities from California to Pennsylvania who vote to curb landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants.
The wilder fringe stretches from activists who burn Mexican flags - like Pauly and his eye patch-wearing companion Laine Lawless - to brutal thugs like a Texan teenager sentenced to 90 years in jail in December for sodomizing a Hispanic youth with a pole.
"We have seen an explosion of these groups, a real prairie fire that has spread across the country in quite an amazing way," said Mark Potok, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's intelligence project, which has tracked their rise.
"What's really amazing ... is how vicious this movement has become," he added.
Sniper teams
Nativist activism has been around for centuries in the United States. Some analysts trace it to the gangs who battled newcomers on the streets of New York in the 1800s, while others date it to the Ku Klux Klan's rants against Mexican immigrants in the last century.
All agree that it has mushroomed amid growing security concerns since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are now more than 140 nativist groups taking direct action on the borders with Mexico and Canada or targeting the 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens living in the United States.
"We are seeing the radicalization of the existing vigilante groups, we're seeing more and more interaction between existing anti-immigration groups and genuinely white supremacist groups, Neo-Nazis and so on, and a rise in hate crimes against Hispanics," said Potok.
Some are quirky and relatively harmless, like Luca Zana, an Italian-American immigrant who uses a truck-mounted sound system to blast the amplified shrieks of wild animals over the Mexico border in a down-home version of psychological warfare to dissuade undocumented migrants from crossing north.
Pauly, meanwhile. is more extreme. In one recent Internet posting he called for Mexican women to be sterilized after the birth of their first child, and wants the U.S. Border Patrol to be transformed into sniper teams with orders to "shoot to kill on sight."
Laine Lawless, the founder of the Arizona-based Border Guardians group, also reaches out to white supremacists online. In one recent e-mail to a Neo-Nazi group, she urged "warriors for the race" to intimidate Spanish-speaking school children, and rob aliens depositing funds in U.S. banks.
The message ended with the brisk rejoinder: "OK now, let's get going!"
Out of step
The Southern Poverty Law Center sees the soaring number of nativist groups weighing into the immigration debate, and the coarsening of their discourse into openly racist rhetoric sprinkled with calls for violence, as cause enough for alarm.
However, analysts caution that the groups are small and increasingly out of step with mainstream Americans, who elected a Democratic Congress on November 7 that promises a comprehensive approach to immigration combining tough enforcement with incentives for newcomers.
"The (nativists) show up at town meetings, they call talk radio shows and some of them even engage in acts of violence, but the elections are the ultimate poll," said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum think tank in Washington.
"It was very clear ... those who want a solution that is comprehensive in nature have ... more support than those who have hard-line views and hold them with tremendous passion," he told Reuters.
The distance between the new nativist radicals and more moderate opinion was stark at the recent flag burning outside the Mexican consulate in central Phoenix.
Lawless and Pauly had hoped for 500 supporters, but only half a dozen showed up. They were soon shouted down as "Nazis" and "racist nuts" by protesters and bystanders, leaving the two activists crestfallen and alone on the sidewalk.
"I can't imagine why more people didn't come," Lawless told Reuters with a look of bewilderment beneath her theatrical eye patch. "Where are they all?"


Updated : 2021-05-13 12:22 GMT+08:00