Barbara Coe is not your typical sixty-something silver-haired-senior-in-polyester. The California resident, who claims to be part Sioux Indian, is a seasoned veteran of the state’s anti-immigrant wars. Now, in the wake of September 11, she thinks the time is ripe for another anti-immigrant campaign.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, at a rally at the Garden Grove Woman’s Civic Hall, the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) announced that they would begin collecting signatures for a new statewide anti-immigrant ballot initiative. According to the Orange County Register, Barbara Coe, president of CCIR, boasted that her new ballot initiative–eerily titled the “Homeland Security Initiative”–would deny illegal immigrants access to public services. (For more on CCIR, see www.ccir.net.)
Coe’s California initiative, which may be the tip of a nationwide anti-immigration iceberg, is being described as a “modified” version of the state’s notorious 1994 anti-immigrant ballot initiative, Proposition 187. In fact, Coe worked with then-Governor Pete Wilson to pass Prop 187, which was later ruled unconstitutional by the courts and subsequently suspended by Governor Gray Davis. According to the Orange County Register, ” ‘The Homeland Security Initiative’ is intended to remove what it calls incentives for illegal immigration. It would require the state to verify the legal status of anyone receiving ‘public benefits,’ ensure that all applicants for driver’s licenses are in the country legally, and require that police officers turn over any illegal immigrants they arrest to federal authorities.”
These days, conservatives are fond of fashioning a connection between immigration and terrorism. A good portion of Pat Buchanan’s latest book, Death of the West, is devoted to warning that immigrant hordes are hellbent on destroying Western civilization. Congressman Ron Paul, who represents the 14th Congressional District of Texas, described it this way: “The fight against terrorism should be fought largely at our borders. Once potential terrorists are in the country, the task of finding and arresting them becomes much harder, and the calls for intrusive government monitoring of all of us become louder. If we do not want to move in the direction of a police state at home, we must prevent terrorists from entering the country in the first place. Finally, meaningful immigration reform can only take place when we end the welfare state. No one has a right to immigrate to America and receive benefits paid for by taxpayers. When we eliminate welfare incentives, we insure that only those who truly seek America’s freedoms and opportunities will want to come here.”
Barbara Coe is no anti-immigration amateur. Since the mid-1990s, according to the Chicago-based Center for New Community (CNC), an organization that monitors the activities of white supremacist organizations, Coe’s California Coalition for Immigration Reform has been “the leading grassroots anti-immigrant organization in the country…with an impact that has extended beyond the borders of California to reach across the country.” CCIR has been able to “find allies in elected office even while maintaining a firm footing in the politics of white supremacy.”
For years, CCIR has been working with a number of anti-immigrant white supremacist organizations. The Orange County Register pointed out that Coe “works closely” with Glenn Spencer, leader of the Sherman Oaks-based American Patrol and Voice of Citizens Together. American Patrol and Voices of Citizens Together, along with other groups including the White Aryan Resistance, is one of more than 600 organizations on a list of “active hate groups” compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Spencer’s contribution includes the production of videos warning about a vast Mexican conspiracy to take over the Southwest.
Coe insists that her group has been falsely accused: “We know we’re not [hate groups]. We both know what we are, who we are and who we represent,” she told the Register. She also claims that her “efforts are not racially motivated or targeted at Mexican immigrants.”
In 1996, however, Coe told the Washington Times: “Are we shocked by the demands that Latinos be given instant citizenship privileges… These are the same legal and illegal immigrants who bleed our welfare and medical care programs dry for benefits that citizens are denied, destroy our educational system, and laugh at our judicial system while they grab their welfare checks with one hand, deal drugs with the other, and their gangs savagely murder our citizens.”
The Center for New Community has thoroughly documented CCIR’s activities. According to CNC, CCIR’s newsletter 9*1*1 promotes the “infamous ‘Reconquista’ conspiracy theory that permeates the anti-immigrant movement at the grassroots level.” In stories headlined “Hispanic Takeover of U.S. Predicted in 1980s” and “The ‘Immigration Invasion’ is a Reality!: Who’ll Take Over the U.S. First–Mexico or China?” (9*1*1, July 1997), CCIR outlines this racially charged conspiracy theory. Coe claims that the Mexican government promotes illegal immigration with “Reconquista” in mind. According to her, “Mexico intends to 1. Reclaim all the southwestern states for Mexico as the ‘Nation of Aztlan’; 2. Take over & control the United States government; and 3. Establish communism in the United States…”
The Center for New Community reports that CCIR has been involved in joint actions with a number of white supremacist organizations over the years. Coe and CCIR’s Stan Hess attended a December 1995 conference in Birmingham sponsored by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC); she authored a cover story with CofCC’s Earl Holt for the fall 1996 issue of the Citizens Informer which described pro-immigrant demonstrators as “cockroaches.” At a January 1998 anti-immigration demonstration in Cullman, Alabama, “Hess was arrested with Alabama anti-immigrant activists James Floyd and William Burchfield after the three burned a Mexican flag, a United Nations flag and a flag bearing a hammer and sickle,” according to the Center for New Community’s August 2001 Background Brief. One month later, 9*1*1 praised Floyd and Burchfield, dubbing them “patriots of the highest caliber who are seeing their state, Birmingham & their own home town of Cullman being destroyed by the deluge of illegal aliens who are being imported to work for the ‘cheap labor’ poultry corporations.” (The CNC’s background brief is accessible at www.newcomm.org/bdi/Backgrounders/SQL/index.htm.)
Toward the end of the post-Thanksgiving rally at the Garden Grove Woman’s Civic Hall, Harold Martin, a member of the Anaheim school board, summed up the prevailing mood of the evening. Echoing the anti-immigrant themes of Buchanan’s latest book, Martin warned that Mexican immigrants want “to overthrow our culture, our way of life.” And just to make sure people understood the message, Martin invoked the tragedy of September 11, saying that the objectives of Mexican immigrants “are no different than Osama bin Laden’s.”