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Latinos Call on Rohrabacher to Apologize

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A leading Latino rights organization on Monday attacked Rep. Dana Rohrabacher for what it called “blatant insensitivity” in recent remarks about illegal immigrants and demanded that the Orange County congressman retract the statements or face the group’s political wrath.

Officials with the League of United Latin American Citizens said they would work to defeat Rohrabacher in the June primary if he doesn’t apologize for suggesting illegal immigrants come to the United States primarily for free health and welfare services.

“Again we see immigrant bashing at its worst,” said Amin David, LULAC’s Orange County district director. “We are appalled that the congressman has taken such a stand. It is undignified.”

Paul A. Martinez, the group’s county deputy director, suggested that Rohrabacher has “attacked our ancestral heritage” and expressed concern that the episode promotes xenophobia and could spark hate crimes.

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“I think Rohrabacher was very insensitive in the way he used Mexican immigrants as a scapegoat,” Martinez said.

For his part, Rohrabacher remains unrepentant, declaring that he will not apologize for his stand on illegal immigration or remarks he made in what is now being called “the Pedro speech.”

LULAC, the nation’s largest and oldest Latino organization, joins a lengthening list of ethnic groups and activists who have expressed outrage over Rohrabacher’s statements. But the issue could play well for Rohrabacher in his quest for the 45th Congressional District seat in northwest Orange County, where Latinos make up only 7% of the registered voters.

In recent days, scores of calls and letters have flowed into Rohrabacher’s district office to offer support and encouragement, the congressman’s aides say.

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During an April 14 talk before a group opposed to illegal immigration, Rohrabacher described his frustration with stories he has heard about newcomers who have benefited from subsidized medical procedures, saying that “if Pedro’s not here legally, he’s not going to get $50,000 for that heart-bypass operation.”

Rohrabacher said Monday that he repeatedly noted during the speech that anyone addressing the issue of illegal immigration needs to go into the debate “with expressions of love for people in every ethnic background.”

He also suggested that critics of his ideas are trying to veer the debate away from the real issues he is pressing--that illegal immigrants are helping “bankrupt” the country by tapping into a “package of goodies” that includes free education, health and welfare services.

Rohrabacher--caught in a tough fight for the GOP nomination in the 45th District against Costa Mesa Councilman Peter F. Buffa and Huntington Beach Councilman Peter M. Green--has proposed abolishing such benefits for illegal immigrants.

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“What’s happening is an example of why this issue is not being discussed,” Rohrabacher said. “It’s an issue that does deserve an honest and open dialogue and a serious investigation and analysis, not name calling. What we’re having is an attempt to basically browbeat anyone who brings it up.”

Although Latino activists say studies have documented that immigrants in California contribute far more in taxes than they use in social services, Rohrabacher says his office has been “flooded” with phone calls from people reporting illegal immigrants’ “participating in programs from which they’re legally ineligible.”

“I have had over the past year numerous meetings with officials from the county, state and local governments in which they’ve begged me to do something about this issue,” Rohrabacher said. “They say illegal aliens are a major drain on their resources.”

Rohrabacher trumpeted his views before a nationwide audience Monday during an appearance on the Cable News Network program “Crossfire.”

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“In terms of illegal immigration, that’s an example of an area that’s crying out for reform,” Rohrabacher said during the half-hour program. “Illegal aliens . . . are pouring into the state. We have a benefits package for them that includes education, subsidies for housing. We have women come here from other countries to have their baby and all of a sudden their baby is a U.S. citizen and they’re eligible for welfare.”

Officials at LULAC, meanwhile, did not offer any specifics on how they would attempt to unseat Rohrabacher if he continues to cling to his position.

But members of the organization were blunt in their assessment of the congressman’s beliefs on immigration, suggesting that he is relying on anecdotal evidence that doesn’t reflect the truth.

“We call on Congressman Rohrabacher to provide documentation that an (illegal) immigrant is able to get medical services. They’re obviously excluded,” David said. “We ask that this immigrant bashing stop now.”

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David also said he felt the congressman was crafting his comments to fit the crowd when he made his “Pedro” remarks before Citizens for Action Now, a three-month-old Huntington Beach-based group.

“He was playing to the audience, but in a way that’s not fair,” David said. “It is the Rambo mentality of the ghost of (former INS Western regional director Harold) Ezell,” who angered Latino leaders during the 1980s with his blunt approach to dealing with the border.


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