Monday, January 21, 2008
Race, politics and immigration

Gary Tuchman
360 Correspondent

Langer's Delicatessen has been in business in the same building, in the same neighborhood west of downtown Los Angeles for more than 60 years.

The owner, Norm Langer, proudly touts what his signs say the best pastrami sandwiches in the world. Many of his customers are Latin American immigrants, who are normally not considered a prime demographic for pastrami.

But this part of L.A., next to MacArthur Park, is now heavily Latino, particularly Mexican. It's one of countless neighborhoods throughout the United States that have changed dramatically as more and more Latinos move legally, and illegally into this country.

In this neighborhood, many non-Latinos have the same opinion as owner Langer. He tells us, "I think immigration is fine, as long as it's done legally."

But he thinks it's unrealistic to send illegal immigrants back and thinks efforts to bring in legal immigrants should be streamlined. You can easily find people in this neighborhood who would like to see significant efforts made to find illegals and send them home.

Harold Gustchen lives near the delicatessen.

He says he "hates" having so many illegals around, saying their arrival has led to the deterioration of his neighborhood. He also tells us, "It infuriates me that these people come over here and have more freedom then many people in America."

Does racism help power this volatile immigration debate that we've been hearing during this presidential campaign?

Gustchen says, "I'm not racist, but I hate everybody if this is how you're going to be acting."

Many pro-immigrant groups say they hear that view all the time, and claim it does have racist undertones. And they believe some presidential candidates have capitalized on that feeling as they talk about guest workers, border fences, or amnesty programs.

Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles says, "I can see some presidential candidates being extremely disrespectful, extremely irresponsible in discussing immigration."

She doesn't say the candidates themselves are racists, but says, "many of the candidates have used immigration as a wedge issue." She says she believes that leadership in "the anti-immigrant movement is fueling racism and bigotry into the debate."

One such group that some describe as "anti-immigration" strongly disagrees with that characterization. CAPS, or Californians for Population Stabilization, says after decades of mass immigration, their state can no longer absorb all the immigrants and still maintain a decent quality of life for legal residents. The group advocates saying no to amnesties, reducing legal immigration, and not allowing children of illegal immigrants to become citizens like they are today.

Mark Cromer, who is a senior writing fellow with the group, says broad-brush racism charges against groups like his are an unfair smear saying, "I certainly believe the allegation is used to silence opponents of illegal immigration."

CAPS says it has nothing against Latino immigrants; it is against all "illegal immigration."

Indeed, polls show most Americans are against "illegal" immigration.

In Langer's Delicatessen we talked with Latinos and non-Latinos alike who are against it. But there is a wide range of opinion about how to deal with it. Everyone we talked with says racism has no place in the debate. But whether it's happening anyway - is also part of the debate.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360 to see what people are saying about race, politics and immigration. Tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Posted By CNNBLOG: 11:34 AM ET
Honestly there is no way around the race issue now. Once it's out of the bag it can't be put back in.

I for one think it is stupid to call someone a racist just because they want people to go by the law and not allow illegal people to come and stay in the states. I could care less what race or nationality someone is. But to try and sneak in to live here and to demand rights is ridiculous. And if someone wants to say I am racist for that then so be it. Maybe they need to look in the mirror at themselves.

Looking forward to your report tonight.

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Blogger Cindy : 12:55 PM ET
I guess I don't understand! If you break the law are you not a lawbreaker? Why is this so hard to understand? If they jump the fence they are lawbreakers and need to be treated like lawbreakers! Not rewarded with amnesty! If the United Nations put pressure on Mexico to build an industriel nation and put there own people to work, we would not have to support them.
Posted By Blogger Ronsviews : 1:00 PM ET
Dear Gary,

As usual you have written another thoughtful, informative, and most importantly, balanced post!

In an election this close the candidates will use every issue possible to obtain an advantage, especially the ones that stir up the emotions of the citizens. Immigration, like race, is such an issue. The candidates will not be able to keep both sides happy no matter what they decide and it doesn't help that they are not using the same dictionary when it comes to amnesty.

I think many U.S. citizens are angry because they believe illegal, not legal, immigrants have broken the law and are being rewarded for it. In the eyes of many people illegal immigrants seem to be demanding rights they do not have and have not earned.

Using race to get an advantage is nothing new. Sometimes it is brought up legitimately and sometimes it is not. I have to agree that because race is such a touchy subject, even the media at times seems to have a problem discussing it without taking sides, it is being unfairly used here to try "to silence opponents of illegal immigration." It is also not constructive for the supporters of illegal immigrants to try to suggest that if someone is against illegal immigration they are against all immigration. That is simply not true.

In addition, issues like this can be inflamed by some participants who are truly racist and are not really addressing the problem. However, I think that it is unfair to label anyone who is against illegal immigration as a racist.

The people living in the areas which have been affected the most by illegal immigrants have the best perspective on this issue and we should learn from their experiences.

The saddest part is that innocent children are caught in the middle of this because of the choices, sometimes desperate, made by their parents.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in this struggling economy.

I look forward to your report tonight.

Jo Ann
North Royalton, Ohio
Posted By Blogger Jo Ann : 3:06 PM ET
Why is it that the only discussion about Mexican-American/Latinos/Hispanos revolves around immigration, whereas when any other topics is discussed it is always a black vs white discussion. This the forgotten race in the race discussion. Not all of us immigrated here most of us were here before certain areas were even part of the US. Just like African Americans we are affected by poverty, lack of education, lack of resources, lack of national leaders. I would love to see Mexican-Americans/Latinos/Hispanos included in these major debates and not just on the topic of immigration.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer, Santa Fe, NM : 10:36 PM ET

Great Post! I think when you bring up a topic such as immigration and race you're going to find opinions on both extremes. This is a very complicated issue that I am still trying to fully grasp but I am amazed on how quickly people go to the extreme to label someone a racist without really trying to understand the big picture.

I think all the issues of race and politics that tie in with immigration are argued by many due to how one is effected by the issue (pretty obvious I know). People get very emotional and personal on this issue and I just don't see a solution that will appease any side completely. I think the candidates on both sides for the most part realize this but are still ever so careful not to step on any toes so early in the election.

For me the issue with immigration has put me in the middle. I was born in Mexico City from an American (Anglo) born mother and Mexican born father. We came to the states when I was young and I grew up in a small border town in deep South Texas named McAllen (not so small now). I have grown up as an individual who is bilingual and bicultural so needless to say I have a unique perspective on this issue.

Should Illegal Immigrants be deported? Heck No! Should there be full amnesty? Nope! Do they help the economy working jobs that others won't? You bet! Are they a drain on the health care system? Sure! Can some commit criminal acts and pray on others for there own needs (i.e. drug trafficking)? Yes! Are all illegal immigrants crazed criminals? No way! I could keep going but this just shows again the complexity of it all and how easy one can become so polarized on this issue to some personal way because how it has effected them.

I am really interested to see how the candidates continue to address this issue because race, health care, national security, education and the economy all goes in with our immigration problem. If there is one thing I'll say that is that if the current administration or others that follow think land grabbing to build a fence/wall is going to solve this issue they are waaaay wrong!

Eddie Monroy
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Posted By Blogger Eddie : 1:36 AM ET
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