A Santa Ana immigrants' rights organization Thursday accused candidates in the Nov. 4 election of exploiting immigrants and illegal aliens for political gain in "racist" campaign literature, asserting that it encouraged racial polarization.
"There is a tremendous fear right now in the immigrant community that these campaign mailers could eventually lead to violence against immigrant workers," said Nativo Lopez, speaking at a press conference in Santa Ana on behalf of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional and the Santa Ana branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
He said the organization will seek a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into local political campaigns and will urge the county Human Relations Commission to hold public hearings on their impact.
Julian Klugman, regional director of the U.S. Community Relations Service, a conciliation-mediation arm of the Justice Department, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco that he has not been contacted by Hermandad Mexicana.
"But it doesn't mean we aren't interested," Klugman said. "If we are contacted, I'd have to do an assessment, basically asking questions in the community to see what's going on."
'Very Timely Issue'
The Latino protest, Klugman said, is a "very timely issue."
Lopez said the groups want to stop what he called the "spiraling propaganda" put out by candidates because they promote cultural misperceptions at a sensitive time, noting the recent increase in raids by immigration authorities.
Lopez singled out recent Santa Ana council races and the 72nd Assembly District, in which the loser, Democratic candidate Dan Griset, used a controversial mailer referring to "overcrowded" and "illegal" housing for "immigrant workers." On the mailer was a photograph of a house occupied by a family of U.S. citizens.
In the Santa Ana council races, Lopez focused his criticism on three candidates: outgoing Vice Mayor P. Lee Johnson, who lost a bid to remain on the council; Miguel Pulido Jr., who defeated Johnson and who was the only Mexican-American the Hermandad group singled out, and Alberta Christy, who also lost to Pulido.
Hermandad Mexicana said local business owners who supported these candidates are also "partly to blame."
In a telephone interview, Griset said his mailer was intended to demonstrate his stand for city code enforcement and the need for "community standards."
"We have campaigned on the need for community standards and that those community standards are supported by people of every ethnic group in our community," he said.
He said the photograph was an "unfortunate occurrence," but "we were talking about residences and not residents. That's the distinction."
In her literature, Christy alleged that Johnson "supports making Santa Ana a sanctuary for illegal aliens."
Christy's message was intended only to point out a claim that Johnson had ignored the illegal alien issue in Santa Ana, said David Vaporean of David Wayne Communications, the political consultants who ran her campaign.
Pulido's campaign material stated that the rights of "native American citizens" must be respected by not allowing "illegal immigrants to freely purge our community." The same mailer said: "Our community can no longer tolerate the public nuisance that illegal aliens bring upon us."
Pulido could not be reached for comment.
Lopez said Johnson's campaign literature boasted about his leadership by saying that Santa Ana police arrested "more than 1,750 illegal aliens" during drug busts last year.
Replied Johnson: "If he means I'm anti-illegal alien, he's absolutely right."
"It's people like Nativo who are the exploiters," Johnson said. "He promises all kinds of things to these people, but when he doesn't deliver, he doesn't blame himself."
Lopez also accused Griset and Johnson of being hypocritical for hiring illegal aliens to distribute their campaign literature.