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Groups See Racism in GOP Immigration Ads

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is the latest GOP candidate to come under fire for a campaign ad against illegal immigration. The ad features men and women climbing through a hole in a chain-link fence, set to arguments that Vitter’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon, wants to welcome undocumented immigrants into the country. Through the fence, the immigrants are greeted by a marching band, a welcoming committee and a group holding a giant check.

The non-partisan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana wasn’t amused by the add — they told a local TV station Thursday that Vitter’s immigration spot is “totally abhorrent and shocking” and “racist” in its depiction of illegal immigrants. “In this ad, he has these Hollywood stereotypes, caricature-types portraying Latino workers,” a spokeswoman from the Chamber said. “First of all, he uses the word ‘illegal’ so many times.”

Latino groups have pushed for politicians and media to stop using the word “illegal” in referring to undocumented immigrants, arguing its bad connotations create “an environment of hate.”

It isn’t Vitter’s first controversy over anti-illegal immigration campaign ads. Vitter also came under fire in the past week when ThinkProgress discovered he and Nevada GOP candidate Sharron Angle used the same stock photo to illustrate illegal immigrants. (Ironically, the photo is of Mexican citizens in Mexico, according to the photographer.) Angle’s ad, which is based on a rather dubious claim that opponent Harry Reid’s policies favor the undocumented over Americans, has also been criticized for its depiction of illegal immigrants:

“Sharron Angle is going way over the line with her anti-Latino campaign ads,” said Adam Luna, political director of America’s Voice. “While claiming to target the issue of unauthorized immigration, her campaign puts out a mailer demonizing the entire country of Mexico and her television ads paint a sinister picture of Dream Act-eligible youth who are, in reality, the poster children for the American success story. This is race-baiting at its worst, just like the Bush ‘Willie Horton’ ad or the Jesse Helms ‘hands’ ad. But in a state like Nevada, with its growing Latino population, this sort of thing may very well come back to bite Nevada Republicans where it hurts.”

While it is never a good thing for candidates to be accused of racism, it’s unclear to what extant outrage over the ads will impact Vitter and Angle’s campaigns. Both candidates have staked out hard-line stances on illegal immigration that are likely to scare off many Latino voters, a majority of whom support comprehensive immigration reform and favor Democratic candidates. Luna is right: The Latino vote is important in Nevada, where Latinos make up 26 percent of the population. But if Angle is not going to win Latino voters anyway, she may be tempted to play to her base with ads that overstate her opponent’s support for illegal immigrants.

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