The comments sections of the Guardian's Politics blog and the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate Web site have been lit up over the past week with angry (and sometimes overtly racist) denunciations of Latino immigrants, triggered by the latest Chronicle stories challenging San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies and by Guardian revelations that Chronicle writer Jaxon Van Derkeken accepted an award and substantial cash payment from a controversial nativist group.
While Van Derbeken, two Chronicle editors interviewed by the Guardian, and other critics of San Francisco's longstanding policy of not notifying federal authorities about the arrests of undocumented immigrants have denied trying to stir up nativist furor, the tone and content of many of these comments seems to indicate they've done exactly that.
The saga began June 19 when we published "Chronicle accepts award and cash from anti-immigrant group" on our Politics blog. The story began: "San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken recently accepted an award and cash prize (he refuses to say how much) from the Center for Immigration Studies — which a Southern Poverty Law Center report in February 2009 criticized for its overtly racist roots and extreme anti-immigrant agenda — for his controversial articles on San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies.
"CIS paid for Van Derbeken to accept the award at the National Press Club and conservative Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders to introduce him earlier this month, an appearance they used to make derogatory comments about San Francisco, its values, and local immigrant rights activists, while saying little to rebuke the group for stirring up hateful nativist furor around what has become perhaps the country's most divisive issue."
Van Derbeken would only address the issue by e-mail, sending us two terse replies to our inquiry and refusing to answer most of our questions, including much how cash he received for a prize that we discovered paid $1,000 in 2001 (the complete e-mail exchange is include in our post).
"No one should mistake their decision to endorse my work for my endorsement of theirs," was Van Derbeken's most substantive comment, although he refused to offer an opinion on CIS or the SPLC report, which he didn't read until after accepting the award. "I haven't drawn any conclusions about it."
CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, author of The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal (2008, Sentinel), responded to our inquires with an e-mail blaming the "jihad against dissent from the elite consensus for open borders" and referring to a column he wrote for National Review Online criticizing SPLC's fundraising.
But in the past, Krikorian has called for the federal government to cut off funding to San Francisco and even prosecute local elected officials, writing in his CIS blog, "Local neutrality on immigration is no longer possible. Every jurisdiction in the country has a choice to make: Either buttress federal efforts at immigration control or subvert them. San Francisco has chosen the second option. It should now learn the consequences."
We did phone interviews with Van Derbeken's editors, Managing Editor Steve Proctor and Assistant Managing Editor Ken Conner, who both defended the stories and the decision to accept the award. Neither would reveal how much cash was involved, and neither would admit that it represented validating a group that recently has been vying for mainstream legitimacy.