The immigration debate in the United States has been marked by racist propaganda, bogus statistics about immigrants and wild conspiracy theories — all of which combine to dehumanize Latino immigrants and falsely portray them as disease-carrying, job-stealing criminals invading our country.
This xenophobic rhetoric — echoes of the scapegoating of new immigrants throughout American history — has seeped steadily into the mainstream, taken up by right-wing politicians and popular media figures like Lou Dobbs.
The myths and conspiracy theories about immigrants often originate within racist extremist organizations. And the vitriol heard daily on talk radio and cable TV has helped nurture a movement of anti-immigration groups as well as traditional hate groups.
The number of hate groups operating in the United States has grown to 888 — a staggering 48 percent increase since 2000, driven largely by anti-immigrant hysteria. And since the spring of 2005, some 300 new immigration restriction groups, including border vigilantes like the Minutemen and organizations that exist simply to harass Latino immigrants, have sprung up across the country. Of that number, 144 are listed as "nativist extremist" groups — organizations that do not merely seek to change immigration policy, but actively confront or harass individuals who they believe are undocumented.
Many anti-immigrant groups — like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — present a veneer of respectability but are deeply rooted in the world of white supremacists. In fact, John Tanton, the founder of FAIR, is considered by many to be the father of the anti-immigration movement.
At the same time that anti-immigrant rhetoric has grown more heated, violence against Latinos has grown. FBI statistics suggest that hate crimes against Latinos climbed 35 percent from 2003 to 2006.
Undeniably, this issue has proven to be fertile ground for hate groups and other extremists looking to spread their racist beliefs. That is why it is important to understand the background and motives of the groups shaping the discussion. The nation's immigration debate is too important to be defined by radical groups manipulating it for their own bigoted reasons.