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The presidential candidates seem like they’ll be treading lightly during the days around Christmas, but one right-leaning organization is making sure no aspect of the touchy immigration issue goes unheard.
From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 27 and 28, Iowa airwaves will be saturated with debates about “amnesty,” the term used by conservatives to describe offering citizenship to illegal immigrants, and border control, as 22 radio talk show hosts from across the country descend on Des Moines for the Iowa 2007 Talk Radio Row, sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform Congressional Tax Force.
In describing why the event is necessary, Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the group, suggested that a majority of Democrats and Republicans were concerned that illegal immigration negatively affects the economy. Recent polls have indicated that immigration is among the top concerns of Iowans, and candidates do get peppered with questions about the issue on the campaign trail.
The fact that the radio-talk-a-thon occurs right after the holiday is just a matter of the Iowa caucuses slated for Jan. 3, he said.
Not everyone sees it that way. Several groups, including the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Center for New Community and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and Action Fund, have slammed the F.A.I.R. radio blast.
“I think it’s very ironic that F.A.I.R. would choose the Christmas week for their media blitz, since Christmas week is the time to celebrate someone who represents peace and goodwill because certainly the message of F.A.I.R. mess is not that,” said Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and Action Fund, in a phone interview with The Caucus.
While Mr. Mehlman said F.A.I.R. was a nonpartisan organization that would not endorse any candidate for office, Ms. Terrell asserted that its radio marathon would push a one-sided conservative agenda. She said:
What we want folks to know is that the message of F.A.I.R. is not welcome. They have the right to speak — that’s not the issue — what I’m saying is that their message meant to incite hatred is not welcome in Iowa, and I would imagine it’s not welcome in other states. People can disagree, we can have dialogue about the issue, but it should not be ramped up like this.
Mr. Mehlman, on the other hand, thinks Iowa voters will find the talk marathon engaging.
“Talk radio has become the voice for the mass of ordinary people in the U.S.,” Mr. Mehlman told us. “These are not generally readers of the New York Times, but they’re a significant force. Their voice can’t be controlled by the elite in this country.”
F.A.I.R. embarked on a similar media blitz last spring when Congress was considering an immigration bill that would have provided ways to gain citizenship for many undocumented immigrants who had lived in the country for years. The measure ultimately failed.
“The ordinary people’s voices didn’t seem to matter to the people in the Senate who cooked up the bill,” said Mr. Mehlman, who added that he thought the bill served the interest of the Mexican president.
Right now F.A.I.R. has no plans to stage a similar event in New Hampshire or before any other state’s primary, he said.