Demonstrations on Immigration Harden a Divide
Demonstrations on Immigration Harden a Divide
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., April 14 Al and Diane Kitlica have not paid close
attention to the immigration debate in Congress. But when more than
100,000 mostly Hispanic demonstrators marched through Phoenix this
week, the Kitlicas noticed.
"I was outraged," Ms. Kitlica told J. D. Hayworth, the Republican who
is her congressman, as she and her husband stopped him for 20 minutes
while he was on a walk through their suburban neighborhood to complain
to him about the issue.
"You want to stay here and get an education, get benefits, and you
still want to say 'Viva Mexico'? It was a slap in the face," Ms.
Kitlica said, adding that illegal immigrants were straining the Mesa
public school where she teaches.
A few miles west, Gus Martinez, a Mexican immigrant who was
moonlighting at a hot dog stand after a day installing drywall, said
the protests had changed his perspective, too.
Mr. Martinez, who said he was a legal immigrant, said he also
supported border security to curb illegal entry. But he had taken the
day off to march earlier in the week because he believed that the foes
of illegal immigration were taking aim at Hispanics as a group. The
demonstrations, he said, had instilled in him a sense of power.
"It showed that our hands Latino hands make a difference in this
country," Mr. Martinez said. "They see you are Hispanic and call you a
criminal, but we are not."
As lawmakers set aside the debate on immigration legislation for their
spring recess, the protests by millions around the nation have
escalated the policy debate into a much broader battle over the status
of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants. While the marches have
galvanized Hispanic voters, they have also energized those who support
a crackdown on illegal immigration.
"The size and magnitude of the demonstrations had some kind of
backfire effect," said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who said
he was working for 26 House members and seven senators seeking
re-election. "The Republicans that are tough on immigration are doing
well right now."
Mr. Hayworth said, "I see an incredible backlash." He has become one
of the House's most vocal opponents of illegal immigration and is one
of dozens of Republicans who have vowed to block the temporary-worker
measure that stalled in the Senate.
The Kitlicas, who had been unaware of his views, decided to volunteer
for his campaign. Mr. Hayworth, who has been singled out by Democrats
in his bid for re-election, faces a challenge from a popular former
Democratic mayor of Tempe, Harry E. Mitchell.
The immigration issue is cropping up in areas as far from the border
as Iowa and Nebraska. In one House district in Iowa, Republican
primary candidates are running television commercials competing over
who is "toughest" on illegal immigration, said Amy Walters, an analyst
with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican from another district,
said his office had been flooded with angry calls about the recent
marches. "It is one thing to see an abstract number of 12 million
illegal immigrants," Mr. King said. "It is another thing to see more
than a million marching through the streets demanding benefits as if
it were a birthright." He added, "I think people resent that."
But Mr. King, who supported a House bill to restrict illegal
immigrants without creating a guest-worker program, said he was also
feeling new heat from the thousands of Hispanics in his district, many
of whom worked in its meatpacking plants. Responding to a survey by
his office, some Hispanics called him a racist for asking questions
about building a wall with Mexico, or suggested a wall with Canada, he
The emotions around the issue are especially intense in Arizona, where
thousands of illegal immigrants cross the border each month and more
than a quarter of the population is Hispanic. In 2004, Hispanics
accounted for about one in eight voters.
When voters approved a ballot measure that year to block access to
state services for illegal immigrants, more than 40 percent of
Hispanic voters supported it, according to some surveys of people
leaving polling places.
But many Hispanics said opinions had changed dramatically in the past
few weeks, partly because of the hostility they perceived in some
proposals from Mr. Hayworth and other conservatives.
"When people are talking about shooting people who come across the
border," said Harry Garewal, chief executive of the Arizona Hispanic
Chamber of Commerce, "yeah, I think that causes some angst."
Leo Hernandez, assistant publisher of Prensa Hispana, a major Arizona
Spanish-language newspaper, said the demonstrations had also played a
role. "The Latino people in Arizona are more united," Mr. Hernandez
said. "They are no more afraid; they go out into the streets."
In Scottsdale, where many employees are Hispanic but few residents
are, some voters said the workplace absences on the day of the marches
highlighted the importance of immigrant labor.
"If you don't get the Hispanics here working in this town, you don't
have cooks in the back, you don't have people building houses," said
Bruce Weinstein, an executive eating breakfast at a restaurant.
Many others, however, expressed alarm about the marches, saying the
demonstrations could have been a chance to round up and deport illegal
"They should all be ejected out of the country," said Andrew Chenot, a
construction worker, who added, "They are in my country and they are
on my job, and they are driving down wages."
Others here, like the Kitlicas, said the marches had only sharpened
their worries that illegal immigrants from Mexico brought with them
crime, financial burdens, national security risks, cultural
disintegration and even diseases like drug-resistant tuberculosis
concerns echoed often by conservative talk radio hosts in the state.
Representative Hayworth said such fears were well-founded. "We have
indicted felons from other societies on the loose here," he said. "You
see the exponential rise of drug-resistant T.B. and other things. That
is not indicting an entire culture, but it is pointing out a problem."
Mr. Hayworth recently published a book, "Whatever It Takes" (Regnery
Publishing, 2006), in which he advocates enlisting agencies like the
Internal Revenue Service to find illegal immigrants; arresting and
deporting them all; deploying military troops on the southern border;
and temporarily suspending legal immigration from Mexico.
His opponent, Mr. Mitchell, calls those ideas "unrealistic."
Randy Graf, a former Republican state legislator, is campaigning on
the same border-security themes as Mr. Hayworth in his bid to succeed
Representative Jim Kolbe, a Republican and a supporter of a
temporary-worker program who is not running again.
Mr. Graf challenged Mr. Kolbe in the primary two years ago over the
immigration issue and won 40 percent of the vote, putting him in a
strong position against two more moderate Republicans in the primary.
Mike Hellon, one of the more moderate candidates in the current
primary, said: "The marches have hardened positions on both sides.
People who really want the border closed who want to put troops down
there are more passionate than ever, and the other side is more
sympathetic." He added, "It does escalate the risk factor for a
moderate like me."
Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who supports a
temporary-worker program that would allow illegal immigrants a path to
citizenship, said that House conservatives like Mr. Hayworth remained
a major obstacle to such legislation. "That is the oil in the water,"
Mr. Grijalva said.
But with the Hispanic electorate set to swell as the children of
immigrants come of age, Mr. Grijalva said that history was on the
"You might be getting a momentary bump," he said, "but in the long run
you are going to lose."