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E-mails on illegal immigration are eye-opening

A deeper look at the facts contained in chain letters reveals hyperbole, exaggerations and misstatements by opponents.

September 07, 2009|HECTOR TOBAR

The story made no effort, however, to determine immigration status. I'd like to point out that just living in an "illegal garage" doesn't make you "an illegal." You might just be a starving artist, or a guy who recently lost his job.

7. "The FBI reports half of all gang members in Los Angeles are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border."

This is another "fact" spun from the 2004 op-ed by Heather Mac Donald, whose article refers to a single Los Angeles gang and the conjecture of an unnamed federal prosecutor.

8. "Nearly 60% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal."

Annie Kim, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles, called this statement "an urban legend."

The source of the information may be an Associated Press report from earlier this year. It quoted a government study that found that 0.4% of residents of federally funded public housing are "ineligible noncitizens." Half of those, or about 0.2% of the total, are illegal immigrants.

9. 21 radio stations in L. A. are Spanish speaking.

10. In L. A. County 5.1 million people speak English, 3.9 million speak Spanish.

These facts are close to the actual numbers, though the language figures are deceptive.

An annual census survey asks people if they "speak a language other than English at home." According to the most recent report, 3.7 million county residents speak Spanish. But more than half of those Spanish speakers answered that they also speak English "very well." Only one in 10 Spanish speakers said they don't speak any English at all.

Obviously, the ability to speak a language other than English, or the desire to listen to Spanish music, doesn't make you an illegal immigrant or a threat to U.S. democracy. It's a slur against Los Angeles, really, to find these items on a list of "problems" caused by illegal immigration.

The authors of the chain e-mail and the phony government report fear what Los Angeles has become -- a multilingual, multiethnic city with multicultural tastes.

They search for information to persuade others to be afraid, but the actual numbers don't quite add up to the big monster they think is out there.

So they make the numbers bigger. Or they just make them up. And they spread them around until all that fear and anger turns into a big hate.

That's what I saw when I let that e-mail open my eyes.

--

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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