An advocate for greater restrictions on immigration says his group and others must fight racist members. Meanwhile, an advocate for comprehensive reform, says they also have extremists in their ranks.
One thing about getting those with opposing views into a room is the conversations that can develop. That was the case Thursday at the International Center for Journalists in Washington, D.C. when organizers set up a panel on advocacy work that included Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, who advocates for greater immigration restrictions, and Paco Fabian of America's Voice and Douglas Rivlin of the National Immigration Forum, both advocates for comprehensive reform.
Towards the end of a nearly two-hour conversation, the two sides opened up about playing politics and some of the challenges they face dealing with extremist members who can derail their efforts.
"I can tell you that within our organization there are real racists," Beck said.
Beck said some NumbersUSA members were angry late last year when he condemned the murder of an Ecuadorian man in Long Island, N.Y., allegedly by a group of teenagers who in the middle of a drinking binge decided to "beat up a Mexican."
"Sadly, out of 900,000 people we still had a dozen people who thought we were awful for standing up for the guy," he said. "They said 'well, he may not have been whatever, but he was illegal so he deserved to be killed.' There are people who think that.”
Rivlin said his group has dealt with similar problems.
"There are extremes in our coalition who really are for open borders; who really are for emptying the jails," he said. "And you know we get tagged with them. They get wrapped around our neck the same way the hate crimes get wrapped around Roy’s neck."
(Beck jokingly motioned like he was tugging at a chain around his neck.)
Its part of the political game, said Rivlin. And each side does its best to use the opposing groups' own extremists as an advantage.
"As advocacy groups, we're always saying we're in the middle and we're fighting for the middle. And we're always dealing with the extremes in our coalitions and always trying to characterize them as the extremes in their coalition. That is just the way Washington works."
Photo: David Paul Ohmer