Anti-Immigrant Hate Coming From Everyday Americans
Frustration with the current immigration system is coming from citizens, not hate groups.
By Lauren Fox July 24, 2014 | 12:01 a.m.
Waving American flags and chanting “go back home,” a mob of protesters stood in the center of a street in Murrieta, California, on July 1, halting three white buses filled with 140 immigrants. The crowd of between 200 to 300 people was enough to force the buses – filled with children and families – to reroute to a San Diego processing center more than 80 miles away.
In communities across the country, agitated citizens are crowding into town hall meetings aimed at preventing detention facilities from coming to their backyards. Concerns about immigrants draining local resources and changing the dynamics of communities are rampant.
Clandestine government efforts to set up new detention centers in areas away from the border have also fueled unrest. Yet, unlike some past anti-immigrant movements, most of the protests are not centrally organized demonstrations by militia groups or nativist organizations, according to experts. They are grass roots uprisings by American citizens fed up with a broken immigration system. A graphic reading, "What we are seeing is there is a lot of anger out there about the failure of the government to resolve the immigration crisis," by Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The people blocking buses in Murrieta, California, didn't come from radical groups, they were everyday Americans who were perfectly willing to frighten those children,” says Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors the rise of extremist organizations throughout the U.S. “What we are seeing is there is a lot of anger out there about the failure of the government to resolve the immigration crisis.”
Congress is mulling President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion budget request to process, house and care for the more than 50,000 young migrants who have come unaccompanied across the border this year. But many communities are rising up against the kids, who are purportedly coming to escape violence or reunite with family in the United States.
“This has struck a chord. The American people feel like this is a real scam,” says Brad Botwin, a leader of Help Save Maryland, a group committed to stopping illegal immigration that is listed as a nativist group on SPLC's website. “These are not refugees in my mind. This is an economic pitfall for the American people.”
In a spring report, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted “nativist extremist” groups have actually been in decline. The extremist groups reached their peak in 2010 when the SPLC counted 319. In 2013, there were just 33 groups left on the map.
Part of their decline has to do with their goals being reached. After Arizona and Alabama passed strict immigration laws that required police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected to be in the country illegally, anti-immigrant groups lost some of their momentum.
“What happened was that the energy of the extreme nativist movement was stolen away by state legislatures that passed aggressive anti-immigrant laws,” Potok says.
Potok notes the high-profile murder trial of Shawna Forde, an anti-immigrant leader of the Minutemen American Defense, which patrolled the border of Arizona and Mexico, also led some groups to retreat. Forde, who now sits on death row, and two others were convicted of killing Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Ylianna Flores, in their home.
“It took the wind out of the sails of the nativist groups,” Potok says.
In 2013, another prominent nativist group leader, Chris Simcox, was arrested and charged with child molestation. He pleaded not guilty and is still awaiting trial.