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Foes of Illegal Immigration See Support Growing

Californians for Population Stabilization says its funding and membership have risen since recent protests. The group says illegal immigrants overwhelm state services.

May 16, 2006|John L. Mitchell | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — Not everyone who is up in arms over illegal immigration has plans to patrol the border or participate in a face-off at a day labor site.

Some crunch numbers, zap out e-mails and talk -- calmly -- to anyone who will listen to them about the problems they say are caused by illegal immigrants.

Diana Hull, president of Californians for Population Stabilization, belongs to the second camp.

For years, she has blamed virtually all of the state's problems -- clogged freeways, dysfunctional schools, overburdened healthcare systems, deforestation -- on illegal immigration. Until recently, Hull said, few Californians were flocking to embrace her message: Crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants and cut off the government assistance (healthcare, school lunches, subsidized housing) they may rely on.

But the massive nationwide immigrant protests of the last several weeks have awakened what she calls a "sleeping giant" of opposition.

Her group, she said, is poised to tap into that opposition.

"There's a limit to the number of people we can take in," Hull said. "There's just a limit to the amount of space for landfills, a limit to the water, a limit to all our resources."

Her group's "stop overpopulation" campaign is orchestrated by Hull and three paid staff members from a three-room office suite on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

The organization sponsors a website that offers newsletters and "action alerts" ("Ask senators to support a strong immigration enforcement bill!") and scripted e-mails designed to be sent to politicians.

The website also contains a link to an anti-illegal immigration video, produced by immigrationwatchdog.com, titled "Nation of Aztlan," that shows scenes from recent protests intercut with sound bites from Latino leaders such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles).

The organization sells the usual T-shirts and bumper stickers and sponsors low-budget television and radio ads such as one with a little boy asking a simple question: "If Californians are having fewer children, where are all the people coming from?"

This month, the population stabilization group's budget surpassed $1 million and, according to the staff, membership topped 15,000 -- up more than 20% since the massive demonstrations began in March. The money comes from dues, fundraising and membership bequests.

"They made a big mistake," Hull said of the protesters. "They're doing us a favor."

Hull, a former college professor and behavioral scientist, insists that rapid growth represents the most dangerous threat to the nation's future.

"Do we want to have 500 million people, a billion, in the country by the end of the century?" she asked. "That's the direction we are heading."

Californians for Population Stabilization has been fighting for tighter immigration controls since 1986, when the nonprofit spun off from Zero Population Growth, a nationwide organization that lobbied for population control and is now known as Population Connection.

"They wouldn't look at California," Hull said. "It was easier to give out condoms in the Third World. Our obligation is to take care of our backyard."

As part of their effort, members of Hull's group were involved in an unsuccessful attempt last year to force the 750,000-member Sierra Club, one of the nation's most influential environmental groups, to take up the national immigration issue. But Sierra Club members overwhelmingly rejected the idea, preferring to take a more global approach to population control.

Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director, said the organization refused to be drawn into the political tug of war over immigration.

"We deal with issues that we think can be resolved on ecological principles," he said. "We can't deal with all issues and since we weren't united, members voted ... to remain neutral."

But UCLA astronomy professor Ben Zuckerman, a vice president of the population stabilization group and a former Sierra Club board member who pushed for change, said environmentalists dropped the ball.

"The movement is afraid to deal with U.S. population growth," Zuckerman said. "When we talk about it they call us racists, xenophobes and fascists ... the people who pay the penalty are not white people but poor people who are disproportionately people of color."

Zuckerman's group has its share of critics.

Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., said it is misleading to characterize immigration as the source of many of the state's problems.

"It's too simplistic and opportunistic to seize on that one group as the explanation," he said. "If you're looking at something like the performance of public schools over the last 30 years, there are a lot of things that have happened. Immigration is one. Proposition 13 is another one. You don't get a full picture if you look at one factor."

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