Press Release

ADL Calls for Civility in Conversation about the Humanitarian Crisis at the Border

New York, NY, July 23, 2014 … Citing increasing rhetoric from elected officials and public figures that demonizes and dehumanizes children from Central America fleeing violence and increasingly violent sentiments from anti-immigrant activists, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today called for civility and respect in the conversation on the humanitarian crisis at the border.

ADL expressed concern about remarks made by community leaders, members of Congress and anti-immigrant activists whose remarks are becoming increasingly extreme. The most common tropes include allegations that children seeking asylum will bring disease and violence to the United States.

“We are deeply troubled by some of the comments we have heard recently not only from the anti-immigrant movement but also from community leaders, including members of Congress, when talking about children fleeing violence in Central America,” said Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair. “Hateful rhetoric that demonizes and dehumanizes has no place in public discourse, particularly when talking about children.”

In an interview on WOCA radio in Florida, for example, Rep. Rich Nugent (R.-FL) claimed that “a lot of these children…quote un-quote…they’re gang members. They’re gang affiliated.” He later said that “these kids have been brought up in a culture of thievery. A culture of murder, of rape. And now we’re going to infuse them into the American culture. It’s just ludicrous.”  In another example, radio host Laura Ingraham said on her show, “And who's to blame if, heaven forbid, an American citizen dies of a communicable disease spread by the these folks spreading all over the country? The government spreads the illegal immigrants across the country, and the disease is spread across the country. Who gets the blame here?”

“It is particularly troubling when elected officials and public figures, who should be role models for society, use language that demeans these children who are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “No matter their politics or views on the humanitarian crisis, there is a respectful way to engage in debate on these issues. We call on members of Congress, opinion leaders, and public figures to set an example by rejecting hateful rhetoric and forcefully speaking out against language that dehumanizes.”

As anti-immigrant rhetoric seeps more into the mainstream, statements from anti-immigrant activists have become more extreme and increasingly violent. At a town hall event in Vassar, Michigan earlier this month, for example, one attendee expressed support for putting a minefield on the border between the United States and Mexico. In reference to President Obama’s policies, Stephen Steinlight, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant think tank, said, “I would think being hung, drawn and quartered is probably too good for him.”

“Words don’t exist in a vacuum.  The language we use in this debate directly impacts our ability to sustain a society with dignity and respect for everyone,” said Mr. Foxman.  “When public officials start using offensive rhetoric to describe children fleeing violence and anti-immigrant activists’ statements begin referencing land mines and murder, it does nothing to advance the conversation about how to solve this humanitarian crisis.”