"All issues have proponents and opponents," Proctor told us, equating the award to those given for education and legal affairs reporting and denying that the immigration issue is more divisive and controversial. "At the end of the day, it isn't about this group but about Jaxon's stories," Conner told us.
Those stories continued in high-profile fashion a few days later as Van Derbeken essentially rewrote a June 21 Los Angeles Times scoop about how San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris allowed a half-dozen undocumented immigrants to enroll in a rehabilitation program rather than turning them over to the feds. The details became front-page lead news stories in the Chronicle on June 22 and 23.
Local immigrant rights activists criticized the Chronicle stories and the paper's decision to accept the CIS award and money.
"When I read these kind of stories that lead us down a dark path and play on people's fears and paint immigrants with a broad brush — as a threat, as criminals, as dangerous to the community — I do think that there are anti-immigrant nativist centers egging on reporters like Jaxon down this dark path by giving him cash awards," Phil Hwang, a staff attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, told us. "It's part of the strategy these anti-immigrant groups are employing. It's why they created this award. And if you look at who founded CIS and their vision, it's clear that they believe America is under threat from non-white immigrants,"
Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus, whom Van Derbeken mentioned by name in his CIS award speech, said she is worried this latest round would weaken Harris' support for Sanctuary City policies. That's what happened to Mayor Gavin Newsom last fall, when Van Derbeken wrote the stories CIS honored.
"I'd hate to see another series of anti-immigrant scapegoating being used to make hasty policy decisions that violate the rights of immigrants, tear apart families, and increase the state of terror in immigrant communities," Chan told us.
Harris, who is running for state attorney general, defended her decision to let undocumented immigrants complete the Back on Track program after their presence was brought to her attention, but has since changed the policy to bar them from enrolling. "No innovative initiative will ever be created without some unanticipated flaws to be fixed along the way, but this must not stop us from tackling tough problems with smart solutions," she said in a prepared statement.
"These are tough economic times," Hwang added. "People are very nervous about their jobs. And that is often when the [anti-immigrant] rhetoric ramps up."
The Chronicle writer and editors and Krikorian stopped responding to Guardian inquiries. But the blogs were lit up with comments — hundreds of them from around the country at the bottom of Van Derbeken's latest stories — that had some disturbing themes, accusations, and suggestions. They indicate that the radical nativists are using this issue — and the Chron's spin on it — to promote a dangerous agenda.
Here's a small sampling:
•<\!s> "Illegal aliens are like a plague."
•<\!s> "Kick out all Illegals, return the city to its rightful owners"
•<\!s> "For God's sake, STOP pandering to the ILLEGAL ALIENS and get rid of them!"
•<\!s> "Anyone caught crossing the border illegally should be shot as a spy."
•<\!s> "The border ought to be land mined."
•<\!s> "What is this sham that diversity is great? It is tearing this country apart."
Such sentiments — which we usually counter on the Guardian Politics blog — were met with silence by Van Derbeken.