May 6, 2005

Latino Media, Politicians React To Governor’s Praise of ‘Minutemen’

By Elena Shore

SAN FRANCISCO — Latino media, community activists and elected officials are outraged over comments Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made yesterday in support of the Minutemen, an armed group of citizens patrolling the Arizona border in search of illegal immigrants.

In an interview on the “John and Ken Show,” a conservative talk-radio show on KFI in Los Angeles, Schwarzenegger said the Minutemen “have done a terrific job and they have cut down the crossing of illegal immigrants by a huge percentage, so it just shows that it works when you go and make an effort and when you work hard. I mean it is a doable thing and it’s just that our federal government is not doing their job.”

The governor’s comments came just one week after he apologized for saying that the solution to California’s immigration problem was to “close the borders.” He said he meant to say “secure the borders” and jokingly attributed the mistake to his limited English ability.

The governor’s radio interview, which followed an appearance on the conservative television news channel Fox News the night before, coincided with an announcement that his approval rating had dropped from 60 percent to 47 percent in the last three months.

“It’s not a coincidence,” says Pilar Marrero, political editor for the Spanish-language daily La Opinión, that Schwarzenegger made the comments on “the same day his numbers are going down. He’s trying to distract attention from the fact that he’s losing steam.”

“I heard it yesterday and it made me sick to my stomach,” Marrero says.

“This isn’t the Wild West,” says Assemblymember Hector De La Torre. “This isn’t one of his action movies. The intent of that inflammatory rhetoric is pointed right at us.

“Sir Edmund Burke said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,’” De La Torre continued. “I think scapegoating and immigrant bashing is the last refuge of the wounded politician.”

In the same interview, Schwarzenegger criticized a billboard advertising Spanish-language KRCA Channel 62. The billboard reads: “Your news, your team. Los Angeles, CA” but “CA” is crossed out and replaced with “Mexico.” The governor, who called for the advertisement to be taken down, said it “promotes illegal aliens to come in here, and it’s the last thing that we need.”

Andrew Mars, corporate vice president of KRCA Channel 62, says his station’s billboard is a marketing campaign that people have reacted against “out of fear.”

“Our position with the billboard was to tell the 7 million Hispanics in L.A. that we support them,” Mars says. “What the governor didn’t understand is that the billboard was geared toward the people in L.A., not Mexico.”

Schwarzenegger has emphasized his own experience as an immigrant in speeches, including his address at the Republican National Convention.

“He uses that immigrant myth of his personal life when it suits his purposes,” says De La Torre.

With yesterday’s comments, the governor has placed himself to the right of President Bush on illegal immigration and the border. Bush has criticized the Minutemen as a group of “vigilantes.” When asked why Bush used that term, Schwarzenegger paused. “I don’t know,” he said on the radio program. “I have not had that conversation with him, but the next time I see him I will have that conversation.”

Not all Latino media workers were ready to condemn the governor’s comments, however.

“A lot of times we hear from our elected officials, who immediately react with anger, but we don’t get enough discussion about immigration,” says Gloria Alvarez, managing editor of the Los Angeles-based bilingual Eastern Group Publications (EGP). Alvarez says a lot of second- and third-generation Hispanics are concerned about the large number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. They are afraid to speak up, she says, because “to do so would put them in the position of being called racist.”

In the radio interview, Schwarzenegger was quick to point out that he did not blame impoverished Mexicans who want to come to the United States — remarks missing from most newspapers’ coverage of the interview.

“I think a lot of people have used his words in ways that are not necessarily beneficial to understanding and promoting the plight of immigrants,” Alvarez says.

In his remarks, Alvarez says, Schwarzenegger “wanted to make a point that we need more border patrol,” not to advocate vigilante groups. “I don’t assume that it was racist. It’s almost like we have a standard reaction now.”

Alvarez says that the media and politicians “tend to present a ‘Latino perspective’ without taking into account that not everyone thinks the same way.”

Enrique Morones, who heads the nonprofit Border Angels, says the governor’s comments come at a time when the Minutemen are planning to expand from the Arizona border to California. Morones, who has appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News and hosts his own English and Spanish-language radio shows, says his group sets up water stations in the desert for illegal immigrants and is the “mirror opposite” of the Minutemen.

“We are very worried that the Minutemen are coming out here,” he says. “We know they’re coming.”

The Minutemen are expected to begin patrolling the California border in June, according to Alvarez.

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