Hispanic anti-illegal immigration group draws fire from critics
The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
Jun. 13, 2006


HACKENSACK, N.J. - The group's name is You Don't Speak for Me, and the fledgling organization is against illegal immigration.

But this coalition of Hispanics is already drawing fire from a growing chorus of immigration advocates questioning who really speaks for You Don't Speak for Me.

The group was created by the nation's most powerful lobbying organization for strict immigration policies - the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR, which is based in Washington, D.C., also sends out the group's e-mails and lists its own officers as the group's spokesmen.

"It's a front group for FAIR," says Douglas Rivlin, of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "Anti-immigrant groups have been controlling the debate on immigration for most of the last decade or so. Now they're increasingly worried that their dominant role on this issue is eroding."

FAIR scoffs at the criticism, and says it is merely lending support to Hispanics from around the nation who share its views on immigration and who want another "Hispanic voice" heard.

"These are people who wanted to make sure that both sides of the immigration debate were represented," said Susan Wysoki, a spokeswoman for FAIR and the contact on You Don't Speak for Me press releases.

"They were all doing their own thing to support immigration control. We just wanted to facilitate their coming together," she said.

The criticism about FAIR's role in the creation of You Don't Speak for Me particularly vexes the Hispanics who belong to it.

You Don't Speak for Me members strongly condemn illegal immigration. They call for strict enforcement of immigration laws and the passage of additional hard-line measures. They denounce congressional proposals that would allow some people who are here illegally to obtain legal status.

You Don't Speak for Me says that its members truly represent Hispanics on the issue of illegal immigration. They say it is their group - not the protesters who have dominated the headlines this year - who more accurately reflect Hispanic Americans.

"The media image is that the Latino community is in favor of illegal immigration," said Miguel Cruz, a Newark resident and a member of the new coalition. "But that image is erroneous. Hispanics don't all think the same way. Those of us who are U.S. citizens, who are here legally, love this country and the fact that it's a country of laws. We think that to force your way into another country is wrong. You shouldn't get amnesty; we should close the border entirely."

He takes offense at the notion that he and other members of the coalition are being used as props.

"Yes, the coalition is FAIR's creation, it's their mission, but the truth is that without us, they can't do it," Cruz said. "They tell us there's a press conference, and they finance the travel and other expenses, but they don't tell us what to say. They do not intrude."

The coalition's chairman, Albert Rodriguez, who lives in Arizona, grows passionate when assailing illegal immigration. Rodriguez, a military veteran, said he was looking to form a coalition of like-minded Hispanics, and he embraced FAIR's assistance when it was offered.

"I had spoken to a couple of American Hispanics and I said, 'Look, they're trying to lump us with these guys, and implying that we're all for these illegal activities of illegal aliens.' I said, 'We have to do something about this; we have to start telling people that these protesters marching with illegal aliens don't speak for me.' "

Thanks to FAIR, Rodriguez said, Hispanics who favor stricter immigration enforcement are joining forces. He said more than 1,000 people have joined the group via its Web site.

You Don't Speak for Me members concede that the group is meant to challenge the notion that opposition to illegal immigration is rooted in bigotry.

"If you're a European white speaking against illegal immigration, you're automatically considered racist," said Carmen Morales Perez, a You Don't Speak for Me member who lives in Woodbridge, N.J. And so, she said, "Hispanics speaking out are heard more than other people because then the race card is removed, and it's just about what they're saying."

In an opinion piece for a community newspaper in Nevada, Emma Sepulveda, a professor at the University of Nevada, questions the strategy of pitting Latinos against each other.

"Once you begin to read more about such groups and their connections, you almost always find some of the most virulent anti-immigrant organizations behind their efforts, groups such as FAIR," she said. "Organizations such as FAIR are making inroads now in trying to pit Latinos against Latinos. And that could have a demoralizing effect in the future for those organizing the political and social efforts of Latino coalitions