The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

American Legion Immigration Report Replete with Falsehoods

By Sonia Scherr on July 16, 2008 - 4:11 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

Since its founding nearly 90 years ago, the American Legion has been a fixture of community life. It has hosted Memorial Day parades to remember those who died in America’s wars. It has held bingo nights and dances at its 14,000-plus posts worldwide. It has supported thousands of Boy Scout groups, sponsored a baseball program that’s produced numerous professional players, and helped children living in poverty or with special needs. From World War II to the war in Iraq, the legion has fought to improve benefits for veterans and their families.

Now, America’s largest veterans organization has launched another campaign — a hard-line attack on undocumented immigrants that’s at odds with the legion’s mainstream image. As part of this effort, the legion, which purports to speak for 2.7 million members, recently issued a booklet that regurgitates discredited and often completely false information about how “illegals” are bringing crime, disease, and terrorism to this country, even as they wreck the economy for natives.

The legion’s 34-page booklet, A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration in the United States, asserts that “poverty, political instability, disease and war” are “on our back doorstep” because of porous borders and the failure of the government to stringently enforce immigration laws. But in making its case, the legion repeatedly cites dubious sources, ignores well-known facts and makes baseless claims — such as the false assertion that the undocumented infected more than 7,000 people in America with leprosy during a recent three-year period.

“They’re sort of trotting out old tropes to do with immigration,” said Richard Wright, a Dartmouth College geography professor who specializes in immigration. “These are hackneyed stereotypes that have no place in a policy document.”

That’s not all. On April 28, when it released its booklet — which was actually a repackaged version of a May 2007 legion “white paper” — the group announced that its campaign would include letters to the editor, news releases from posts around the country, and six 60-second radio spots. These spots revisit some of the nastiest claims in the report, portraying undocumented immigrants as sex offenders, gang members, terrorists and murderers. Remarkably, they are delivered by Richard Fatherly, Kansas City chapter media adviser for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps — a group whose members President Bush once denounced as “vigilantes.”

The Intelligence Report sought comment from the American Legion and was directed to Robert Caudell, assistant director of its Americanism and Children & Youth Division. Caudell requested a detailed list of false or misleading claims, but then declined to address those claims once he had received it. Instead, he E-mailed a general statement pointing to the legion’s recommendations to the government and arguing that the Intelligence Report was simply interpreting the same facts and statistics differently than the legion. “It’s quite the same when two individuals witness an identical incident,” Caudell wrote. “Each has his perspective, his personal assumptions, and often a disparate ability to describe the event.”

That’s not the way Hispanic veterans organizations see it. Felix Vargas, a retired Army colonel and the director of government relations for the largest such group, American GI Forum, told the Intelligence Report that the booklet was misleading and untruthful and called it a slap in the face to Hispanic legionnaires. “We didn’t need this distraction,” said Vargas, who served as an Army Ranger and Special Forces commander in Vietnam. “The legion crusade is a disservice to both the veteran community and the nation.” Added Eric Rojo, the president of Hispanic War Veterans of America and another retired colonel: “Their position is absurd and ignorant. Someone didn’t sit down and check the facts.” And John Amaya, a staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, noted that 11% of the first 4,000 American casualties in Iraq have been Latinos — and many of them are the children of undocumented residents of the United States.

The American Legion actually has been engaged with nativist groups for some time. In 2004, its national convention in Nashville, Tenn., featured Dan Stein, leader of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a strident nativist group that opposes both legal and illegal immigration. In March 2007, it held a forum on illegal immigration spotlighting nativist heavyweights like the leaders of NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies. It has allowed its posts to be used for gatherings of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. And this spring, it gave its “National Commander’s Public Relations Award” to CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, who has himself regularly presented false data about immigrants.

At times in its history, the legion has made other forays into nativist politics. In 1937, the legion published A Review of Alien Isms, Revolutionary Communism and their Active Sympathizers in the United States, which linked immigrants to what was seen as the ultimate evil “ism”: communism. The book claimed that immigrant children accounted for most of those attending communist summer camps and that other supposedly subversive groups were also heavily populated by immigrants. It demanded enhanced border patrols, immediate deportation of the undocumented and slashing of all immigration quotas by 90%. After World War I, when anti-Asian sentiment was sweeping the country, the legion on the West Coast championed policies that discriminated against Japanese-Americans. This attitude also affected the national legion, whose committee to investigate Asiatic immigration included a Seattle attorney who had served as president of his city’s Anti-Japanese League, according to Tom Heuterman’s book The Burning Horse.

What follows is a sampling of the kind of claims that the American Legion is making with regard to undocumented immigrants, along with the actual situation, as revealed by statistics and interviews with non-partisan experts.

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: American prisons “are crowded or full because of the illegals convicted of committing crimes against the people of the United States.” Non-citizens make up fully 30% of the American prison population.
As with many of its claims, the legion offers no source for this figure other than to claim that it has been “widely reported.” A 2005 report by the nonpartisan General Accounting Office says that immigrants — both documented and undocumented — constitute 27% of federal prisoners. But fewer than 13% of incarcerated people in America are in federal prisons, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. When both federal and state prisoners are counted, about 6% are non-citizens; that is actually less than expected, because documented and undocumented immigrants make up roughly 8% of adults residing in the U.S.

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: Based on the same General Accounting Office (GAO) report, the legion states that 49% of all incarcerated illegal immigrants had prior felony convictions.
THE TRUTH: The GAO report contains no such information, despite the fact that the American Legion report specifically cites it. What it does say is that of the offenses for which undocumented immigrants were arrested, just 12% were violent crimes.

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program aimed at catching child predators arrested more than 6,000 “illegal aliens” in its first two years. The legion also asserts that 240,000 undocumented immigrants are sex offenders.
THE TRUTH: While it’s true that Operation Predator made 6,000-plus arrests in its first two years, those arrested consisted of both documented and undocumented immigrants, as well as American citizens, according to ICE. About 85% of those arrested were foreign nationals (many of them documented), but this was no surprise, given that the operation specifically targeted foreign-born predators whose status made them deportable, along with U.S. citizens who engage in child sex tourism abroad. With regard to the total figure of undocumented sex offenders, the legion cites a self-published article from independent criminal profiler Deborah Schurman-Kauflin stating that 240,000 undocumented immigrants are sex offenders. Schurman-Kauflin based that figure on the assumption — for which she provided no specific source — that sex offenders account for 2% of all undocumented immigrants. She didn’t respond to an E-mail from the Intelligence Report seeking clarification.

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: Thousands of immigrants from countries with terrorist connections have been caught trying to enter the United States illegally. This claim is immediately followed by several paragraphs about illegal crossing of the Mexican border, suggesting that those “from countries with known terrorist connections” are entering the U.S. via Mexico.
THE TRUTH: A 2006 report by the Nixon Center, which appeared in the peer-reviewed Terrorism and Political Violence journal, found that the suggestion that terrorists were entering the U.S. through Mexico, while frightening, was entirely untrue: “Despite media alarms about terrorists concealed in the illegal traffic crossing the Mexican border, not a single subject entered from Mexico.”

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: “More Americans are killed by illegal aliens than die in the Iraq War.”
THE TRUTH: The legion cites no source for this allegation. Its claim appears to come from a February 2007 article by the editors of Family Security Matters, which frequently publishes breathless “exclusives” such as the one about Latinos titled, “Illegal Aliens Bring a Taliban Culture to the United States.” The February 2007 article attributes its data to an article on the far-right WorldNetDaily website, which in turn cites blogger Matt Johnson. In 2005, Johnson claimed — based, absurdly, on murder rates in immigrants’ home countries — that undocumented immigrants kill 1,806 to 2,510 people every year. Applying that claim to the FBI’s most recent murder total (15,854 murders in 2006) would mean that the undocumented, who number about 12 million people or 4% of the U.S. population, are responsible for 11.4% to 16.1% of U.S. murders. In plain English, that means the legion is claiming that undocumented immigrants murder U.S. citizens at a rate of three to four times that of the general population. In fact, nonpartisan studies have shown that immigrants of all kinds are significantly less criminal than their native-born American counterparts.

The legion quotes a 2005 article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons saying that many illegal immigrants “harbor fatal diseases that American medicine fought and vanquished long ago, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, plague, polio, dengue and Chagas disease. The influx of illegal aliens has serious hidden medical consequences.” The legion also claims that drug-resistant tuberculosis cases have risen 25% recently.
The “journal” the legion cites is a pseudo-scientific publication known for articles like the recent piece attempting to refute the well-established fact that the HIV virus causes AIDS. And the 2005 journal article’s author, the late Madeleine Cosman, was a lawyer and medievalist with no medical expertise at all. She was also a rabid migrant hater, as evidenced by this 2005 comment about all Mexican male immigrants to the U.S.: “Most of these bastards molest girls under age 12, some as young as age 5, others age 3. Although, of course, some specialize in boys, some specialize in nuns, [and] some are exceedingly versatile and rape little girls age 11 and women up to age 79.” It is true that certain diseases like Chagas disease, are more prevalent among immigration populations. But the legion’s claims are wildly overstated, suggesting real and widespread threats to the health of the general public. As an example, in the case of drug-resistant tuberculosis, the Centers for Disease Control reports that there were only 116 cases in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Overall, tuberculosis cases in the United States are at an all-time low since national reporting began in 1953.

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: “Between 2000 and 2003, leprosy infected over 7,000 people in the U.S., brought to this country by illegal immigrants from India, Brazil, Mexico and the Caribbean.” That compared to 900 cases in the prior 40 years.
THE TRUTH: The legion’s claim is based on a misreading of a New York Times article cited by Cosman in her journal article. In fact, just 453 cases were diagnosed in those years, according to the National Hansen’s Disease [leprosy] Program. As program director James Krahenbuhl told the Times: “It’s not a public health problem. That’s the bottom line.” The legion’s claim has been popularized nationally by CNN host Lou Dobbs, who refused to retract his assertion even after it had been debunked by “60 Minutes” and many others.

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: “Illegals cost Americans jobs.”
THE TRUTH: A 2006 Pew Hispanic Center study found that, overall, large increases in states’ immigrant populations did not correspond with more unemployment for their native-born workers. While some scholars have said that undocumented workers depress wages for native-born high school dropouts, most have failed to establish a link between immigration and job loss, said Richard Wright, the Dartmouth College professor. In fact, many experts have argued that immigration can lead to a net gain of jobs. Said Wright: “The actual effect on the economy is at worst minor, at best beneficial.”

THE LEGION’S CLAIM: “Illegal immigration … causes an enormous drain on public services.” Citing the partisan Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restricting immigration, the legion says undocumented immigrants don’t pay nearly enough in taxes to compensate for the burden they place on public resources.
THE TRUTH: Undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving most forms of public assistance, other than public school education and emergency medical care. But they do pay taxes, including sales taxes, and often, through phony Social Security cards, payroll taxes. In 2005, The New York Times reported that undocumented immigrants contribute some $7 billion a year to the Social Security system that they will never be able to claim. Local and state governments, however, do not receive any benefit from that money and may, as a result, spend more on services to the undocumented than they get back in local taxes from them.

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  • rfn
  • Brad

    I love the SPLC “hatewatch” symbol: a single, staring, angry eye. Very 1984 Big-Brother, very Sauron. Well done!


    When debating please refrain from quoting Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the worst souce of information, it is rarley checked and anyone can post just about anything and it is taken as gospel.

  • Kobus

    While the report definitely contains inaccuracies, I think that the SPLC is incorrectly calling it extremist. There are some fundamental underlying truths in some statements:

    1) immigrants make up a disproportionate number of prisoners- which understandably makes working-class Americans nervous about increased immigration due to the huge cost of incarceration and law enforcement;

    2)from a health perspective- i agree that the leprosy claims are unfounded, but immigrants are more likely to have been exposed to TB in their home countries, which imposes a significant cost on the health care infrastructure due to the high cost of isolation techniques necessary for preventing airborne infections.

    3)On a local level, the very high costs of illegal immigration are beyond dispute. You can use any fiscal analysis that you want, but the truth is that working class Americans are facing a situation where emergency rooms and schools are facing huge budget shortfalls due to the surge in illegal immigration and the consequent rise in the number of uninsured individuals seeking care in local ER’s and the unexpected rise in student populations at local schools.

    Before you jump to the “racist” accusation- think about the following scenario. Imagine if 12 million Americans moved to Mexico without visas over a span of 5 years, radically changing the ethnic composition of neighborhoods and cities, arguably displacing Mexican workers, incurring huge expenditures at local ER’s and schools, requiring Mexican teachers to teach in English and Spanish, starting new radio and TV stations in English, and were perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being responsible for higher crime rates in communities… what would the response of the Mexican government be?

    How quickly would they assert their right to control immigration in the name of preserving their culture and their way of life. How would they respond to a demographic challenge in which the growth of this immigrant population would make indigenous Mexicans a minority in a generation?

    No one talks about the double standard that has been created for countries with a majority-European population and those with a majority non-European population. Non-Europeans are allowed to assert their concerns about threats to culture and, like most African and Asian countries, can create nationalistic anti-immigration laws. If majority European countries do the same, they are accused of racism.

    The double standard cannot hold.

  • John Mayer

    I’m disgusted that I once contributed to SPLC (mainly due to the Klanwatch campaign). Now SPLC is undermining American workers and supporting the biggest scab action in this country’s history.

    Why do Bush and that bunch of liberals in the Chamber of Commerce so eagerly push for open borders? Is it because they are humanitarians who long to help their brown brothers or sisters? I suggest it’s because they know very well illegal immigrants will force down wages in the fields in which they work and weaken labor demands for such things as safer working conditions and health insurance. Which is what has happened; wages in such areas (fields in which I, myself, have worked) have declined.

    The fact that the workers have broken the law in coming here is a secondary point. It should not be ignored, but I’d probably do the same thing in their place. But why should it be only Mexicans? And why should the illegal employers (yes, there IS such a thing as an illegal employer) not be prosecuted to the fullest?

    And whose side are you on?

  • Jonathan

    Funny, I think the American Legion is onto something:

    “Killings turn focus on San Francisco sanctuary law

    But authorities say that was enough to cause Edwin Ramos to unload an AK-47 assault weapon on a man and his two sons, killing them.

    The deaths immediately drew public outrage, which intensified when authorities revealed that Ramos, 21, is an illegal immigrant who managed to avoid deportation despite previous brushes with the law.

  • Kevin Brown

    As a former regular army officer I was a member of the American Legion for many years but withdrew from it’s membership for just the sort of thing mentioned in the article. It seemed that all they wanted to focus on is a silly “flag-burning” amendment to protect the flag (and trample the first amendment) and the sort of right wing rhetoric included here. It is a shame that as a proud U.S. Army veteran I do not feel I can, in good conscience, be a member of the American Legion.

  • Dale

    From American Legion Website:

    The American Legion’s booklet “A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration in the United States” is being updated. Please come back soon for the new edition.

  • Chad

    While I’m much more liberal than some of my American Legion counterparts, I have a number of friends in my post who I served in Iraq with (they’re retired from the national guard now, and I’m leaving after 20 years in service in September), we are in the Legion primarily for the camaraderie of our brother’s in arms. I can tell you that at least two that I served with and are in the post with are just as liberal, or independent I might say as I.

    One thing I definitely don’t agree with the Legion on is the slant they sometimes take on national political issues (namely leaning right-wing on presidential politics). I believe they should be entirely non-partisan…court ALL the politicians to back veterans benefits. Compared to a number of other countries, our nations honor to vets is horrible. We are good at throwing ticker tape parades, and patting them on the back, but give it a year or two and they’re left in the cold (figuratively and literally in some instances).

    While I would like to see a crack down on illegals coming into the country, it is deplorable that the Legion would miss-represent the facts. They should be ashamed, and have brought discredit to those of us that wear the legion hat. I will be contacting National about that.

    If we would have spent the near trillion dollars we’ve spent in Iraq (that wasn’t a terrorist training ground, but now is pumping them out like there’s no tomorrow) on border security, better tracking of visitor/student visas, we’d be far more secure than we are now. But I suppose that will be thrown aside as liberal rhetoric. Though I guess I could take the easy, uneducated, or more appropriately uninformed, scare tactic of “the terrorists are coming, the terrorists are coming, shoot everyone…we’re all going to die.”

  • Slavyanski

    Reality check time. First off, let’s see a source on your claim regarding welfare benefits. Second, many undocumented workers do not have children here, they are sending money back to families in Mexico. Next, and more importantly, what the hell is with all this “socialist” labelling? If this country were socialist, you wouldn’t have contractors and employers exploiting cheap labor from poorer nations. Your illegal immigration problem is literally due to capitalism, capitalists, and specifically small businessmen like contractors.

    Only the united struggle of native and immigrant workers can back these people into a corner and achieve the wages, benefits, and safety measures these jobs should have.

  • Sparky

    Your claim that illegals cannot collect welfare is a flat out lie. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich posted figures from welfare officials showing that 25% of the Los Angeles welfare expenditures went to illegal aliens and their children. Illegal aliens use “Anchor Babies” to collect food stamps and housing assistance.

    Maybe you and your associate Socialists and open border promoters should get your facts straight. I don’t get what you think is so wrong about protecting the sovereignty of ones own country. As far as crime goes even one murder, rape or hit and run driving fatality is to many if perpetrated by somone who shouldn’t be here to begin with.

    What is wrong with having controlled and orderly immigration into the United States?

  • loren

    Thank you SPLC for exposing the falsehoods in the American Legion booklet. Part of being patiotic, as any Boy Scout knows, is telling the truth. The American Legion has failed the truth test here. It is sad when a respected organization is taken over by extremists who are willing to pursue their own political agenda, even if these views are detrimental to the organization itself. It is equally sad that the American Legion does not value the sacrifices made by Latino veterans and their families.

  • mrguapo

    It is sad when a respected group like the American Legion is unable to separate fact from fiction. Apparently, they have been taken over by nativists who are more concerned with their own agenda, than in what is right or patriotic. Part of being patriotic is the ability to tell the truth. The American Legion, unfortunately has flunked the truth test on this matter. It is also unfortunate that they have turned their backs on Latino veterans by subscribing to this dogma of hate and misinformation. Thank you SPLC for investigating the information contained in their booklet and for exposing the lies contained within.

  • High John de Conquerer

    I’m thankful the American Legion is getting involved in trying to get the border secured in contrast to the SPLC which is trying to create another 9-11.

  • Slavyanski

    Note the child-like thinking of some people here: When facts, coming from organizations like the GAO, IRS, or Social Security administration don’t go their way, they become “liberal”, “anti-American” facts, and thus invalid. Thus facts no longer matter, because they can be painted with that brush and thus ignored.

  • Richard

    You say that all their information is false, well they are going by stats like yourself, you just decide to go along with the most anti-American liberal stats you can find.
    The bottom line is that these people have a right to question and to dislike our current lax immigration policies. Organizations like the legion are concerned for our safety, our cultural heritage and our soverignty.
    Why do you liberals find it so hard to comprehend that we are a nation of laws, and that we must protect this country from esentially an invading country that has no intentions of integrating into our culture or obeying our laws.

    I say that all of your liberal facts are skewed, and you are trying to dupe the American citizen with YOUR hate rhetoric against “Americans”.

    There are also well documented studies on the negative effects of immigration and this myth that multiculturism is good for anyone.

    Quit trying to brand your hate label on anyone with opposing views. This is straight out of the liberal playbook.

    P.S. I bet that you don’t print this, of course that would also show your bias

  • Rob

    THE TRUTH: While it’s true that Operation Predator made 6,000-plus arrests in its first two years, those arrested consisted of both documented and undocumented immigrants, as well as American citizens, according to ICE. About 85% of those arrested were foreign nationals

    Wow, of 6000 rapists and child molesters caught by Operation Predator, 5100 of them were “foreign nationals!” That’s shocking! You prove the American Legion’s point! We need a government that looks after Americans rather than foreigners, and sharply defines what an American is. According to SPLC logic, every person born on the planet out side of America is an embryonic American. I say no. Much of the world is full of people who I sure as heck wouldn’t want in this country. Let them stay where they are, and millions who are here need to be sent back.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a shame (at minimum) that a fine organization such as the American Legion didn’t check the facts before publishing this booklet.

    Hopefully, they will DO THE RIGHT THING and issue both a recall of the booklet and an apology.

  • Jonathan

    Joe McKInney,

    “I’m more afraid of my Anglo-American neighbors than I am of any other group, native-born or not. Oh and by the way, I’m a native-born white Irish American for anyone who’s wondering.”

    Anglo … hmmmm … are you implying animosity against the English?

  • El Guapo

    This is really disgusting. Lies about the effects of immigrants have been spread for years on the internet. First it was the list of false facts supposedly generated by the LA Times. The LA Times denied having printed the lies and then refuted them. Then there was the 2006 INS/FBI report that included a list of lies. Then last year was the list of lies spread by Frosty, Gheen and many, many others. This year we have the Rubenstein report that includes bold lies.

    I can understand the American Legion being deceived. I cannot accept that they would spread them without verification. That’s disgusting.

    If the adverse effects of illegal immigration were so bad, why is it necessary to lie about it?

  • Joe McKInney

    Why don’t you do YOUR homework Wm. Lewis? Immigrants have never been nor will ever be a threat to this country. To be honest, I’m more afraid of my Anglo-American neighbors than I am of any other group, native-born or not. Oh and by the way, I’m a native-born white Irish American for anyone who’s wondering.

  • IludiumPhosdex

    It just so happens that the Legio Americana has this nasty little reputation for associating with the weird and unwholesome from time to time.

    During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Legionnaires acted as strike-breakers (“scabs” in the vernacular) during periods of labour unrest, in particular the Centralia Massacree in Washington state of 1919.

    And the Legion has been known to associate with the Fascist element as required; Wikipedia’s entry on the American Legion thus notes:

    According to congressional testimony in the 1930s, several of the American Legion’s leaders, including its original bankroller Irénée du Pont, plotted a fascist coup against the Government of Franklin D. Roosevelt called the Business Plot. According to testimony, the plot was averted because Major General Smedley Butler warned Roosevelt of the plan.

    (That, and expressing outright admiration for Benito Mussolini’s Fascisti in Italy.)

  • Jonathan

    I’m curious why the SPLC is so pro-illegal immigration? Does the SPLC get funding from companies/individuals that benefit from illegal immigration?

  • Wm Lewis

    The SPLC will stop at nothing to make things easy for ILLEGAL ALIENS to continue invading the U.S.

    The Legion is made up of those people who fought for this country and it’s CITIZENS/LEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

    Many of the items you have pointed out as incorrect are actually quite correct. Do you homework HONESTLY