Advertisements that blame lax immigration enforcement for America's ills are back on the air in Iowa.
Critics say the television ads are racist efforts to force the immigration debate into Iowa's 2004 presidential caucuses.
Sponsors of the ads deny claims of racism, saying the ads are designed to spur changes in the law. The latest ads point to loopholes the Sept. 11 terrorists exploited.
The ads attribute the September attacks to rampant immigration violations and are running in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The ads call on viewers to demand that Congress reduce immigration.
They are paid for by groups affiliated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington. FAIR created a firestorm when it claimed in early 2000 that immigration in Storm Lake had made quality of life "a memory."
City, schools and business leaders protested, and noted that FAIR hadn't visited the city, and that its ads used stock photos of ghetto scenes shot elsewhere.
The same FAIR-funded groups used ads last spring to criticize Gov. Tom Vilsack's support for foreign workers as a partial solution to the state's work force shortage.
The Storm Lake ads and others targeted Iowa just before the presidential caucuses, but in a Pilot-Tribune interview, George W. Bush condemned the ads that portrayed Storm Lake as a town run down by an influx of Hispanic meatpacking workers.
Civil rights groups say no state has seen more of the ads than Iowa. The state is ripe for the attention, they say, because its residents are aging and mostly white and Iowa hosts first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, which spotlight national issues every four years.
Sponsors of the new ads say they are intended to urge support for get-tough legislation in Congress. Organizers deny that they want to rally would-be caucus-goers to their ranks. Instead, they say, Iowans have sought their help.
Television spots since early January have featured photographs of Mohamed Atta, the suicide pilot described as the leader of the Sept. 11 hijackings, and other terrorists who are believed to have gone down with him in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania.
"Recently, foreign nationals inflicted the worst harm on America ever," the ad narrator says. "We now must reduce immigration to stop terrorism."
Sixteen of the 19 men identified in the hijackings were in the country legally on Sept. 11, officials have said. The others were found to have minor violations.
The ads seek to rally support for a bill that would revamp documentation standards and ensure that foreign visitors comply with their visas, said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The ads are sponsored by United to Secure America, a coalition of groups that includes Stein's, Numbers USA and others.
The ads are scheduled to end in early February.
The same coalition, using a different name, bought ads in May and urged viewers to object to Mexico's push for more temporary work visas in the United States.
No state has been pummelled by these ads as much as Iowa and as repeatedly as Iowa," said Heidi Beirich, a research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
The law center and other civil rights groups have called the ads racist and claim they are designed to engender fear among Iowa's nonimmigrant residents.
Stein routinely has denied claims of racism. The ads are designed to spur change in the law, not affect elections, he said, adding that the latest ads point to loopholes the terrorists exploited.
Stein said his group and those such as Numbers USA have sent representatives to Iowa only in response to calls from residents concerned about the number of immigrants.
Duane Crum of Mason City began attending Numbers USA meetings last year after friends invited him to hear national director Roy Beck speak.
"This is not just some little isolated incident that happened in a small Midwestern town," said Crum, now the Iowa coordinator for Numbers USA. "It's been going on for years, and it's a big problem for our country."
Frank Sharry, director of the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, said Iowa has become the new immigration battleground.
"Iowa has become something of a fishbowl for immigration," he said. "The heartland is the last battleground, and Iowa is the heart of the heartland."
- With Associated Press Reports