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UC Berkeley chancellor's e-mail linking Tucson rampage to issue of immigration draws criticism

Campus-wide e-mail ties Tucson rampage to Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants and the failure of the DREAM Act.

January 14, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's comments were quickly picked up by Fox News and drew a largely critical response.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's comments were quickly… (Ben Margot, AP )

The chancellor of UC Berkeley is drawing criticism for sending a campuswide e-mail that linked a Tucson shooting rampage with Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants and the failure of the DREAM Act.

In the e-mail, sent Monday, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau condemned a "climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated."

He continued, postulating on factors that may have motivated Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman in Saturday's shootings, in which six people died, including a 9-year-old girl, and 13 were injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.): "I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons."

Birgeneau was referring to the new Arizona law that empowers local police to demand proof of citizenship or legal residency when they suspect that a person is in the country illegally. His comments, unusually political for a prominent college leader, were quickly picked up by Fox News and drew a largely critical response.

"From the 'CAPITOL' of liberal dolts," one commenter wrote on the Fox website.

A leader of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group, also criticized the chancellor's remarks. "The supposition that political expression created a climate that led Loughner to his choice is an idea that seems to have sprung from whole cloth out of the minds of people who likely were upset beforehand about 'rhetoric' and 'hateful' speech, including, apparently, Chancellor Birgeneau," Adam Kissel wrote.

Diane Schrader, on the NewsReal Blog of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, accused Birgeneau of delivering "a nasty political rant even while condemning — you guessed it — nasty political rants!"

Birgeneau also commented in his e-mail on the recent failure in Congress of the DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for children of some illegal immigrants. "This same mean-spirited xenophobia played a major role in the defeat of the DREAM Act by legislators in Washington, leaving many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country," the chancellor wrote.

At UC Berkeley itself, a frequent hotbed of student activism, the issue has caused little stir so far; students have yet to return from winter break, campus spokeswoman Claire Holmes said.

"This was his personal view," Holmes said of the e-mail. "He's been a long-standing proponent of something like a DREAM Act, so these talented individuals have a pathway to citizenship, so they are better able to make a contribution to society."

howard.blume@latimes.com

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