The debate about immigration reform is front-page news across America. The unprecedented pro-immigrant demonstrations that swept the country in recent weeks have put in sharp focus for all of us our heritage as a nation of immigrants - as well as the urgent need to reform our immigration and asylum laws with an appropriate balance of fairness, compassion, and national security awareness.
In 1958, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote an essay entitled A Nation of Immigrants, in an effort to highlight what immigrants have done for America - and what America has done for its immigrant communities. The Anti-Defamation League published in book form a revised and expanded version of that essay in 1964, with a new introduction written by the President's brother, Robert F. Kennedy.
Attorney General Kennedy called the book "a weapon of enlightenment" in any future effort "to eliminate the discrimination and cruelty of our immigration laws."
My friends, we have not yet completed that task.
As part of the ADL's long tradition of fighting bias, prejudice, bigotry and hate, we have always been an advocate for fair and humane immigration policies. Two months ago, we reaffirmed our commitment to this issue, adopting a policy resolution calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
In our view, immigration reform should include not just enhanced border security, but also an insistence upon humane treatment of undocumented persons and a path to legalization. We need to find a way as a society to draw undocumented workers out of the shadows, and help them assimilate into and contribute to American society.
Today, however, we are not here to talk about the details of comprehensive immigration reform. Rather, we are here shining a spotlight on those who have seized upon the immigration debate as an opportunity to advance their agenda of hate, bigotry, and white supremacy.
Today, ADL issued a report detailing how domestic hate groups are targeting Hispanics and new immigrants for violence. The report, available on our Web site -- www.adl.org - tells how extremist groups that foment anti-foreigner bigotry in this country, and private vigilante groups that engage in confrontation and violence, are growing in strength. They seek to exploit the flow of low-income foreign workers to spread their message of xenophobia, to promote hateful stereotypes, to incite bigotry and, at times, violence against new immigrants.
White supremacists have not simply expressed racist convictions, but have urged each other and white Americans generally, to "fight back" against the perceived invasion of the "white" United States by Hispanics from Mexico. The rhetoric in such pronouncements has grown increasingly radical.
White supremacist groups have organized a number of explicitly anti-immigration events and protested at events held to support immigrant rights.
White revolution, an Arkansas-based neo-Nazi group, asked its followers to participate in a national "anti-invasion day" just 2 weeks ago on April 10, in response to pro-immigrant marches planned for that day.
Their rhetoric is ugly, hateful, incendiary, and downright scary. While these sentiments are often relegated to the private chat rooms, blogs and message boards maintained by hate groups, it only takes one individual with hate in his heart to act on these notions. For us, that is a very real concern as the national discussion on immigration continues to gain momentum.
Perhaps the white supremacist most active in explicitly advocating extreme violence against Hispanics is new jersey racist radio talk show host Hal Turner, who reserves his most extreme statements to urge violence against illegal immigrants from Mexico. Says Turner:
The dangerous and disturbing trend of white supremacists and racist skinheads to demonize and attack Hispanic Americans and undocumented immigrants is compounded, unfortunately, by the natural reluctance of out-of status persons and their family members to seek police protection, to report crimes committed against them, or serve as witnesses in other crimes.
Our new report reminds us that there is a direct connection between the national policy debate and the atmosphere surrounding the daily lives of immigrants and foreigners seeking to participate in the public life of our country.
ADL has previously issued reports about a number of extremist groups operating along the US-Mexico border, such as the minutemen project. Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and racist skinheads have rallied to the cause of such anti-immigration groups, distributing anti-immigrant propaganda and participating in rallies and protests.
Motivating these actions is the core conviction of modern white supremacist ideology: that the white race itself is threatened with extinction by what they call a "rising tide of color."
In the 1920s, racists identified this "rising tide" as Asian immigrants.
Today, 80 years later, they believe the "rising tide" now consists especially of immigrants from Latin America.
Because we believe that it is crucial to not only identify problems, but to recommend solutions, we have developed a public policy action agenda, including:
American historian Oscar Handlin, whose own parents were immigrants, has said, "Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history." Almost everyone in America is an immigrant - or descendent of immigrants.
I came to America, as a survivor of the Holocaust, with my parents from a displaced persons camp in Austria. I know what it means to be an immigrant, and as a Jew I know what it means to be the target of hatred.
It is essential that we remember our country's historic commitment to principles of tolerance and diversity when considering immigration policy. We can look to the teachings of our own Jewish religious and ethical traditions that call on us to "protect the stranger."
The tenor and outcome of our national debate over the fate of undocumented persons in the U.S. will speak volumes about where we are heading as a society. An effective immigration system must be governed by an appropriate mix of compassion, rule of law, and national security interests.
America must continue to welcome and embrace foreigners from many lands who come here seeking refuge and opportunity.
This is a time for Americans to come together to speak out against hate and violence and to show pride for our immigrant past and our immigrant future.
We stand today with our friends to speak out - to rededicate ourselves to the core principle that is as urgent and timely a call in this time as it was when the kennedy brothers wrote it in 1964: "our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the american ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as their talent and energy allow. Neither race nor creed nor place of birth should affect their chances."
Cecilia Muñoz, Vice President of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, is a longtime friend, partner and ally of the Anti-Defamation League in our common struggles. We are delighted she is here with us today -- welcome Cecilia.