Immigrant rights activists say what happened in Charlottesville is a wake-up call for people to condemn white supremacy in their communities.
“If you want to end white supremacy, let’s start in our backyard,” said Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
Hernandez said the level of hate he saw in Charlottesville, Va. — where three people died over the weekend when a large gathering of white nationalists and counter-protesters erupted in violence — is similar to the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric he sees in Southern California.
White nationalists — including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members— descended on Charlottesville to rally against plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. They carried torches and chanted, “White lives matter” and “You will not replace us.”
Hernandez equated those who are against illegal immigration with white supremacists.
“If you look at the values of the KKK, the Nazis, they stand for less immigration. They stand against illegal immigration,” Hernandez said. “It’s a thin line between being anti-immigrant and being a white supremacist.”
That’s not true, say those who oppose illegal immigration. The way they see it, laws must be followed in this country. Unauthorized immigrants are lawbreakers, they say. Wanting our laws enforced doesn’t make them bigots, racists, or white supremacists.
Rebecca Goddard, of Mission Viejo, said she’s opposed to illegal immigration just like she’s against drunken driving or child molestation.
“What laws are you willing to give up?” she said. “We just want the laws followed.”
Across Southern California, anti-illegal immigration advocates have protested during the past year against sanctuary for undocumented immigrants and resettlement for Syrian refugees.
“Anchor baby,” “lawbreaker,” and “Build that wall!” have been common insults hurled at immigrants and Latino elected officials. Immigrants have been told to, “Go back to Mexico!” People from both sides have shouted each other down.
In the mostly Latino immigrant city of Cudahy in Los Angeles County, for example, one activist protesting the city’s sanctuary status was arrested for brandishing a gun, according to news reports. In Victorville, people demonstrated in October against 20 Syrian refugees who had resettled in that city.
Southern California has seen heated confrontations before.
In 2014, the nation watched as anti-illegal demonstrators in Murrieta stopped buses filled with migrant families from entering the Murrieta Border Patrol station. Days of protests followed with those on both sides of the issue loudly squaring off.
Hernandez said anti-illegal immigrant activists have become more combative in recent months. He singled out members of We the People Rising, a Claremont-based anti-illegal immigration group, who disrupted a recent press conference his group held in support of immigrants in San Bernardino.
The event was held in reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that San Bernardino would not be eligible for crime-reduction funding unless the city confirmed its cooperation with immigration officials.
“They wanted to start fights,” Hernandez said. “We see the same type of tactics they are using when we saw this in Virginia.”
Hernandez said anti-illegal immigrant groups should denounce white supremacy.
“Their silence during these troubling times implies that they also, do not want to alienate their membership base,” Hernandez said.
But Robin Hvidston, of We the People Rising, said the belief that her group holds white supremacy ideology, “is ridiculous.”
“We are about upholding the law,” she said. “That doesn’t have skin color. We should speak against all supremacy — white supremacy, black supremacy, brown supremacy,” she added.
Hvidston, though, said confrontations can happen when they attend pro-immigrant gatherings.
“Passions get high sometimes,” she said. “People are not perfect.”
Hvidston said her group has no issue with legal immigration. However, if President Donald Trump believes legal migration should be curbed, then she would support the Trump-endorsed RAISE Act, which would reduce immigration numbers to limit unskilled labor entering the United States.
UC Riverside professor Francisco Pedraza, a political scientist who focuses on immigration and race, finds it telling that anti-immigration activists choose to focus on “this set of rule breakers” over other types of criminals.
“This whole opposition to immigration, whether it’s legal or not, is based on this premise that, ‘We’re losing this country,’” Pedraza said.
This is conflicting, Pedraza said, considering that white people tend to hold higher wages, attain a better education and own more land, savings, and stock.
“Where they’re losing is the ability to go through life unquestioned,” Pedraza said. “Whites are still winning on the material side. The loss is a loss of privilege. It’s not a loss of rights.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.