MIAMI — Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) apologized today for saying Mexican immigrants are less patriotic than Cuban-Americans, but it was too late to stop a storm of protest over her remarks.
"I was shocked," said Osvaldo Soto, president of the Spanish-American League Against Discrimination, a prominent Miami-based rights organization. "I hate anything that would pit one group against the other."
The controversy began with Hawkins' comments Tuesday on the Spanish-language radio station WQBA-AM during a campaign swing through this city's Little Havana district. Hawkins is trying to retain her seat in a tough race with Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat.
During the broadcast she was asked about the immigration bill recently passed by Congress. She said it had been delayed because of Mexicans, the nation's largest Latino group.
"Mexico gums up everything because they walk over at night," Hawkins said. "You can't see them. And they're not patriots by and large. They're not patriots like the . . . Cuban-Americans."
Asked after the broadcast about the comment, Hawkins said she did not mean to "broad-brush" all Mexican immigrants.
But she added that "quite a large group" of Mexicans don't like the United States because they have been "bombarded" by anti-American propaganda.
"They think we're \o7 gringos,\f7 " Hawkins said.
Today, Hawkins said she is sorry for her comments about Mexicans.
"I really do apologize for causing any furor--they're as patriotic as any other people," she said.
But she added that Mexicans have a "different agenda" from that of Cubans.
"The Cuban-Americans are highly motivated because they are moved by a sense of urgency to return democracy to Cuba," the senator said. "Mexican people are enjoying freedom and democracy in their homeland. They come (to the U.S.) for better living conditions and social progress."
Her comments were roundly condemned by both local and national Latino groups.
"I'm chagrined at her ignorance," said Diana Campoamor, a spokesman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in California.
Ruben Bonilla Jr., chairman of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas organization, said Hawkins' idea of a good immigrant is a Republican.
"Because Cubans are ideologically more conservative, they have Republican leanings, and her comments were probably uttered in a partisan sense and because of the lack of a large Mexican-American population in Florida," said the Corpus Christi attorney.