A California congresswoman is pointing the finger at white supremacist groups, who she says have inspired Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., told a Democratic Club on Tuesday that white supremacist groups are influencing lawmakers to adopt laws that will lead to discrimination.
"There's a concerted effort behind promoting these kinds of laws on a state-by-state basis by people who have ties to white supremacy groups," said the lawmaker, who is of Mexican descent. "It's been documented. It's not mainstream politics."
Sanchez said front organizations for white supremacist groups are approaching lawmakers to propose the language to the bills and urging them to push them through state legislatures in an effort to legalize discrimination.
"It creates a Jim Crow system where based on the color of your skin you could be treated as a second-class citizen or harassed based on how you look," she said.
The Arizona law, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally, requires police enforcing any other law to question people about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally.
Supporters of the law say it will save taxpayer money and reduce crime by pressuring illegal immigrants to self-deport. But critics say the law is unconstitutional and promotes racial profiling.
Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif., told the Whittier Daily News, which first reported the story, that Sanchez's comments are "an outrageous accusation."
"It's trying to find somebody somewhere you can accuse of something," Miller told the newspaper. "It's red herring. (She's) trying to change the debate from what the law says."
"Gov. Brewer signed S.B. 1070 because it mirrors what is already federal law and because our federal government has failed to secure our international border, leading to Arizona become a super highway of illegal drug and human trafficking," Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said in an e-mail to the newspaper.
Sanchez told the newspaper after her speech that she based her accusation on online stories, particularly a blog written by Andrea Nill, an immigration researcher for ThinkProgress, an offshoot of the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Nill wrote that the Immigration Law Reform Institute, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), helped write the law. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled FAIR a hate group, a designation that the organization disputes.
Sanchez sought to clarify her comments Thursday.
"I never said that everyone who supports the Arizona law is a racist or white supremacist," she said in a written statement. "Anyone who says different is just trying to inflame the issue and get away from the real discussion of how to reform the immigration system in this country."
"The only way we are going to fix this problem is to have federal legislation," she added. "Unfortunately, the people who get on the airwaves to stir up anger by misconstruing my comments are not interested in constructive solutions. They're interested in dividing this country into 'us' and 'them' and totally undermining attempts to bring about real solutions."