The hotter the debate over illegal immigration gets, the better for groups like Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). Since 2005, the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit that seeks to end illegal immigration has seen its public donations quadruple, from $354,188 that year, according to the group's federal tax returns, to $729,385 in 2006 and $1.4 million in 2007.
The extra revenue has allowed CAPS to produce a number of TV and print ads that blame California's social, economic and environmental problems on undocumented immigrants. The most recent effort, a TV commercial targeting California's so-called "sanctuary cities," appeared on network-TV affiliates in Southern California. A CAPS spokesperson declined to specify which stations, but local affiliates for NBC, ABC and CBS all confirmed for CityBeat that they aired the commercial.
The commercial features scenes of both San Diego and San Francisco, followed by a shot of a Latino male dressed in gang-member garb and posing for a police booking photo. "Californians are a compassionate people," says the male narrator. "Our sanctuary cities defy state law so we can protect illegal aliens, even though they're named in 95 percent of outstanding homicide warrants in L.A., even though they're wanted in up to two-thirds of fugitive felony arrest warrants."
Andrea Guerrero, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said she tried to verify those statistics. "I couldn't find the information anywhere," she said.
CAPS spokesperson Rick Oltman said the numbers come from a 2004 article written by Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank. (MacDonald used those same statistics in testimony she provided to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims in April 2005). Oltman said MacDonald told CAPS that she got the numbers from a source in the Los Angeles Police Department, though even MacDonald has admitted that the stats are unverifiable: "Good luck finding any reference to such facts in official crime analysis," she wrote in the 2004 article that ran in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.
City and county law enforcement agencies in California don't keep data on the immigration status of the people they arrest. "Sometimes we know anecdotally that someone with a warrant is undocumented," said Monica Muñoz, a spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department.
The commercial is apparently a response to the shooting death of a father and his two sons in San Francisco by Edwin Ramos, an alleged gang member who migrated to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 13. Though Ramos was arrested as a juvenile, it's the policy of San Francisco's juvenile justice system to not inquire about the immigration status of young offenders.
"The city of San Francisco has been breaking the law by not turning them over to the federal government when they were convicted of felonies," Oltman said. "They're starting to change it now after the body count's gone up."
Guerrero said the commercial sends the wrong message at a time when hate crimes against Latinos are at an all-time high-up 35 percent between 2003 and 2007, according to FBI statistics.
"The loss of a life is always a terrible thing, but our broken immigration system is not remedied by telling lies about immigrants," she said. "I had a professor who used to say that the plural of anecdote' is not data.'"
Started in 1986, CAPS' stated focus is on the environmental and quality-of-life impacts of overpopulation both in California and the U.S. With birth rates on the decline, immigration is the No. 1 contributor to population growth, especially in California.
"By 2050, there will be 68 million people in California," Oltman said (a 2007 report by the state's Department of Finance put the number at 60 million). "There's 38 million people in California today. Sometime in the next 40 years, you're going to see a California that's bulging with people."
CAPS' board of directors includes academics like San Diego State University biology professor Stuart Hurlbert, who's also a member of anti-illegal-immigrant group The Minutemen. The group's director, Diana Hull, is a retired professor of psychiatry, and its vice president, Ben Zuckerman, is a UCLA professor of astronomy and physics. Zuckerman is also on the Sierra Club's national board of directors. In 2003, Zuckerman tried to get the Sierra Club to take a position opposing illegal immigration, prompting a letter from Mark Potok, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization that monitors hate groups, to Sierra Club president Larry Fahn. Potok expressed concern that Zuckerman was taking marching orders from John Tanton, whom Potok describes as "the primary activist behind the entire anti-immigration movement." (Tanton started the group Federation for American Immigration Reform in 1979.) Though Tanton has publicly denied that his anti-immigration stance is race-related, "we also documented links between Tanton and a number of racist hate groups," Potok wrote to Fahn.
"Frankly, we don't care what the Southern Poverty Law Center says," Oltman told CityBeat. "If they want to call us names, let 'em. We know that mass immigration leads to more crime, it leads to worse healthcare, it leads to worse schools, it leads to overcrowding, the use of natural resources, more people buying gasoline, more people using water."
CAPS may deny having a racist agenda, but its actions suggest otherwise. Last month, Mark Cromer, a senior writing fellow at CAPS, authored an op-ed piece, "Changing Face of America Poses Risks," that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. A slightly different version of the piece is featured on the CAPS website under the title "White Twilight."
The piece talks about "the increasingly rapid erosion of the white population in America" and the "pervasive sense among whites that America is being overrun" by immigrants.
As for the environmental impact of immigration-illegal or otherwise-the Sierra Club has declined to take a position, as have other mainstream environmental organizations. Jenny Powers, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the issue's not on the radar.
"These days, it's all about energy efficiency and smart energy programs," she said. "It's the power sector and the transportation sector that's creating a lot of the pollution."
John Weeks, director of the International Population Center at SDSU, said the argument that illegal immigration negatively impacts the environment is something of a red herring.
"The quality of life in California has generally risen with population growth over the past century and a half, rather than the other way around," he said.
More important than focusing on who's entering the country is focusing on the lifestyle choices of the people already here, Weeks said.
"We have to recognize that everyone who comes here from elsewhere, or is born here, immediately becomes a mega-consumer of the environment, because that is how our economy is organized. It is much harder to be environmentally friendly in the U.S. than in Europe, for example, because we have different societal values about how we use our resources.
"People are, by nature, xenophobic," Weeks added, "and immigrants, especially lower-social-status immigrants, have never been treated kindly in this country-or any other country, for that matter."