Immigrants Targeted

September 09, 2008

For a full report, please see Immigrants Targeted: Extremist Rhetoric Moves into the Mainstream (PDF).

Immigration remains a deeply polarizing issue in American politics and public life. Serious policy questions remain about the best way to reform America’s immigration system but the debate has also been framed, at times, by vitriolic anti-immigrant – and particularly anti-Latino – rhetoric and propaganda.  Purveyors of this extremist rhetoric use stereotypes and outright bigotry to target immigrants and hold them responsible for numerous societal ills.

Unlike the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, who make no attempt to hide their racism and bigotry, these anti-immigrant groups and coalitions often use more subtle language to demonize immigrants and foreigners.  They are frequently quoted in the media, have been called to testify before Congress, and often hold meetings with lawmakers and other public figures.  However, under the guise of warning people about the impact of illegal immigration, anti-immigrant advocates often invoke the same dehumanizing, racist stereotypes as hate groups. And increasingly, they do not make a distinction between illegal and legal immigrants.

A closer look at the public record reveals that some of these supposedly mainstream organizations have disturbing links to, or relationships with, extremists in the anti-immigration movement.  Often identified in the media or their mission statements as “anti-illegal immigration advocacy groups,” they attempt to distort the debate over immigration by fomenting fear and spreading unfounded propaganda through the use of several key tactics:

  • Describing immigrants as “third world invaders,” who come to America to destroy our heritage, “colonize” the country and attack our “way of life.”  This charge is used against Latinos, Asians and other people of color.
  • Using terminology that describes immigrants as part of “hordes” that “swarm” over the border. This dehumanizing language has become common.
  • Portraying immigrants as carriers of diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, Chagas disease (a potentially fatal parasitic disease), dengue fever, polio, malaria.
  • Depicting immigrants as criminals, murderers, rapists, terrorists, and a danger to children and families.
  • Propagating conspiracy theories about an alleged secret “reconquista” plot by Mexican immigrants to create a “greater Mexico” by seizing seven states in the American Southwest that once belonged to Mexico. 
  • Blaming immigrants for eroding American culture, institutions and quality of life and impacting our environment and natural resources.