Thursday, January 22, 2009

American Legion Deletes Some Immigrant-Bashing Myths, Repeats Others, In ‘Updated’ Report

More than eight months after promoting nativist falsehoods in a booklet about illegal immigration, the American Legion has discreetly removed the most egregious inaccuracies from an updated version of its report.

But America’s largest veterans group has failed to publicly acknowledge the errors, which Hatewatch detailed last July. Furthermore, the new edition of the report continues to perpetuate derogatory myths about undocumented immigrants. “The security, economy and social fabric of the United States of America is [sic] seriously threatened by individuals who are illegally in this country,” the booklet states.

The legion first released A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration in the United States last April 28. Two months later, the legion announced the booklet was “being updated” after two organizations — the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American GI Forum, a Hispanic veterans group — repeatedly expressed concerns. Nonetheless, in an October 2008 letter to the editor of the Intelligence Report, legion Commander Dave Rehbein dismissed the Intelligence Report’s debunking of factual errors in the booklet, arguing they merely reflected differing “perspectives” on immigration.

But that doesn’t explain why six statements the Intelligence Report identified as false disappeared from the updated booklet, which was released last week on the legion’s website.

For instance, the report no longer contends that “non-citizens make up fully 30% of the American prison population.” (The real number is roughly 6%.) Nor does it falsely claim that undocumented immigrants infected 7,000 people in this country with leprosy during a recent three-year period. (The actual figure of all leprosy cases in the U.S. during that time is about 400, and it’s unknown how many were attributable to immigrants, undocumented or otherwise.) Also gone is the assertion — for which the original report provided no source — that “more Americans are killed by illegal aliens than died in the Iraq War.”

The “updated” report also asserts at the outset that its opposition to illegal immigration is not based on race, religion or nationality.

Despite these changes, the booklet still presents a misleading and defamatory portrait of undocumented immigrants.

For its information, the legion relies heavily on the Federation for American Immigration Reform — which the SPLC lists as a hate group in part because of its ties to white supremacists — and the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration think tank.

Among other myths, the legion booklet still claims that:

• “By failing to assimilate into our culture [undocumented immigrants] divide America into ethnic enclaves.” In fact, a recent study by the Manhattan Institute found that today’s foreign-born, while currently less assimilated than their counterparts of 100 years ago, are in fact assimilating at a faster rate than those earlier newcomers.

• “Illegals cost Americans jobs.” A 2006 Pew Hispanic Center study found that, overall, large increases in states’ immigrant population did not correspond with more unemployment for their native-born workers. Most scholars have failed to find a link between immigration and job loss.

• Undocumented immigrants cause “an enormous drain on public services.” Actually, undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving most forms of public assistance, besides public school education and emergency medical care. They also pay taxes, including sales taxes, and often, through phony Social Security cards, payroll taxes. In 2005, The New York Times reported that undocumented immigrants contribute some $7 billion a year to the Social Security system they will never be able to claim.

Several of the American Legion’s state chapters and local posts are allied with hardliner nativist groups. The California branch of the American Legion recently joined hate groups and nativist extremist organizations in a coalition that seeks to force “illegal alien birth mothers” to obtain special birth certificates. The coalition, Taxpayer’s Revolution, argues that ending the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship to anyone born in the United States is “critical toward reducing the crime problem.”

Last August, a Colorado American Legion post hosted a three-day “national security convention” devoted entirely to illegal immigration. The speakers included Glenn Spencer, leader of the hate groups American Patrol and American Border Patrol, who wrote in a 1996 letter to the Los Angeles Times that “Mexican culture is based on deceit” and “Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival.”

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