A couple weeks ago, I reported that the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was urging Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to apologize for and stop running a race-baiting anti-immigrant attack ad on his opponent, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) that contained offensive ethnic stereotypes. “We found the ad to be totally abhorrent and shocking, and I’m going to use the ‘R’ word and say racist,” Darlene Kattan of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana told a local news station.
In a debate last night, Vitter was asked to respond to the allegations. Rather than apologizing, Vitter affirmed, “I stand by the ad.” According to him, the images in it aren’t a “stereotype,” but rather, “a fact”:
MODERATOR: Do you offer them an apology or do you stand by the ad?
VITTER: We have an illegal immigration problem and a huge part of that is the Mexican border. That is a fact, that is not a stereotype. Ninety seven percent of our apprehensions of illegals is at the Mexican border. That is a fact, that is not a stereotype. Over 80 percent of the 12–15 million illegals in this country have come through that border from Mexico and South American countries. That is a fact, that is not a stereotype. Now there’s one thing in that ad that is offensive and that is Mister Melancon’s votes that the ad highlights. […]
MODERATOR: How do you respond to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Charities, the Archdiocese of New Orleans who say that this ad played into offensive racial stereotypes?
VITTER: Let me just ask you, what is the stereotype?
MODERATOR:They’re talking about the images seen in your ad.
VITTER: Is it a stereotype that folks coming across the border — that is a problem and they look like that? Dennis that is a fact, that is not a stereotype! Let’s get our heads out of the sand!
It’s interesting that Vitter avoided taking the Sharron Angle route of denying that the negative images in the ad are necessarily Latinos. Instead, he readily admits that there’s a connection between the two. Yet, Vitter’s ad isn’t a “fact,” it’s a racist parody of Latin culture. His implication that the running image of goofy Latino men who sneak through a hole in a fence with a giant neon welcome sign and then run off with a check from the government is somehow representative of people from Mexico and South America says a lot about how Vitter perceives reality.
It also shows just how disconnected the Senator is from the immigration issue. While it is true that many undocumented immigrants are from Latin America, most of them don’t look anything like the caricatures shown in the ad. Their journey to the U.S. is plagued by the threat of violence, kidnapping, rape, and death. When they arrive, they’re not greeted with a welcome sign and a check. Instead, many of them work below the minimum wage for abusive employers in towns where their presence is resented and in states that are driving them out. Meanwhile, all undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving major federal federal benefits.
About two dozen New Orleans-area community leaders called on Vitter to apologize and remove the ad, including representatives of African-American, Latino and Vietnamese groups and Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans.