by Love and Rage Team
As the race for the congressional seat in NY’s 22nd Congressional District heats up, incumbent Republican candidate Claudia Tenney released a racist ad on TV. The thirty second ad is filled with rhetoric and images that pander to Tenney’s anti-immigrant base. The video makes it clear who the enemy is: Democratic contender Anthony Brindisi and the DNC establishment, “illegal” immigrants, immigrant justice activists and supporters of sanctuary cities.
The ad shows footage of large groups of immigrants apparently crossing a border – although it appears more likely that the footage is of migrants crossing a border in the mass refugee crisis created by US and the West. A second later, an image flashes on the screen of, presumably, members of the MS-13 street gang. The over-fixation of masses of immigrants crossing the border and the threat MS-13 poses in the US act as an inflated and inaccurate depiction of immigration to the US.
The fact that most undocumented immigrants in the US are here because they overstay their visas is conveniently ignored by Tenney and other politicians. The hype around MS-13 has been pushed by Trump and his supporters for justification for building a wall on the border and to ratchet up mass deportations. The Trump campaign mastered inflating the threat MS-13 actually plays to encourage more racist and anti-immigrant voters to flock to the polls. Tenney, who has bragged in the past of being further to the right of Trump on many issues and has maintained a solidly anti-immigrant record, appears to be doing the same. It should also be mentioned that the notorious gang originated in Los Angeles but many members are originally from El Salvador, a nation where the US has a long history of intervention, backing right wing death squads and terrorist groups, and economic and political destabilization. It’s no wonder that a gang would grow in this kind of environment.
The ad is filled with dog whistles to stir up animosity towards immigrants and play off the fears from a white, nationalist, anti-immigrant base.
In April of 2016, Tenney and Trump supporters from across Upstate NY organized a rally at Fort Stanwix where participants threatened to attack counter-demonstrators who “looked Muslim,” insinuated that independent reporters there were enemies, marched with Confederate flags and advocated lynching former president Barack Obama. This is precisely the kind of base the ad is targeting.
But what alternative is the Democratic Party offering to this bigotry? While many of Democrat Anthony Brindisi’s supporters have branded the centrist contender as a stalwart for immigrant and refugee justice, he holds a mixed record in that arena. He recently spoke in opposition to the abolition of ICE, a popular rallying cry for the immigrant justice movement, and has also supported the idea of supporting building a wall on the US/Mexico border, albeit a smaller one than what Tenney might have in mind.
With no options available in the ballot box for real immigration reform and immigrant justice, more people may be looking outside the polls – to social movements – this election day for alternatives. From the Workers’ Center of CNY to ICE Free Capital District and the IWW, among other groups, sanctuary, anti-ICE and immigrant justice activists appear to provide those visions and alternatives that the Republican and Democratic parties are fighting, or lack, or both.