You are being sent this letter because you were recently registered to vote.  If you are a citizen of the United States, we ask that you participate in the democratic process of voting.

You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time and you will be deported for voting without having a right to do so.

At the same time, you are advised that the government of the United States is installing a new computer system to verify the names of all newly registered voters who vote in the October and November elections.  Anti-immigration organizations can ask for information from this new computer system.

Unlike Mexico, here, there is no incentive to vote.  There is not a voter registration card in the United States.  Therefore, it is useless and dangerous to vote in any election if you are not a citizen of the United States.

Do not listen to any politician who tells you the opposite.  They are only looking out for their own interest.  They only want to win elections without any regard to what happens to you.


Sergio Ramirez

This letter was sent to some 14,000 foreign-born registered Democrats with Spanish surnames in the 47th Congressional District in Orange County, an area that includes part of Fullerton and much of Anaheim, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana.  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasted no time in declaring that the letter was “a despicable act of political intimidation and a hate crime.”  His Democratic challenger, Phil Angelides, claimed it was “the latest in a disgraceful pattern of efforts to intimidate Latino voters” by Republicans.  Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh called the letter “reprehensible and stupid.”  The incumbent representative from the 47th, Loretta Sanchez, said, “To have an opponent who is an immigrant who is suppressing the immigrant vote is disgusting and sad.”  Sanchez was referring to Tan Nguyen, a one-time Vietnamese boat person, who lives in an area of Garden Grove known as “Little Saigon.”  He is her Republican challenger, and, after much finger pointing at anti-illegal-immigration groups, his campaign was ultimately fingered for sending the letter.

The hyperbolic rhetoric in response to the mailing comes as no surprise, although Governor Schwarzenegger calling it a “hate crime” was beyond even my expectations.  That Democrats would use the letter as an opportunity for rhetorical ballistics should surprise no one, but for Schwarzenegger and other Republicans to use even more inflammatory language needs an explanation.

Outside California, people may not understand that Republicans in the Golden State live in abject fear of the Latino vote.  Whether legal or not, Latinos are voting in record numbers.  The Latino Caucus already dominates the state legislature, and the Latino population is exploding.  During the last four years, Los Angeles County has added a million people, nearly all illegal immigrants from south of the border.  On the campaign trail, Schwarzenegger has been certain to miss no photo opportunities in Latino neighborhoods, where he has emphasized “education for the children.”  This is certainly an issue that resonates with illegal immigrants who have large families consisting of both foreign-born and American-born children.  All the children seem to qualify for the free (to them) school breakfast and lunch programs, and Hispanics constitute the majority of students in most school districts in Southern and Central California.  In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, they account for 80 percent of the students.

Although Republicans have denounced and abandoned him, Tan Nguyen has hung tough.  “What is wrong with the letter?” I heard him ask on a local radio talk show.  While not admitting that he was responsible for the letter, he defends its contents and claims that voting by illegal aliens is a problem in the 47th District.  The claim is not unfounded.  Back in 1996, then-Democratic challenger Loretta Sanchez upset multiterm incumbent Robert K. Dornan by a mere 984 votes in what was then the 46th District.  Dornan claimed that Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an organization of Mexican nationalists, had won the election for Sanchez by registering noncitizens to vote.  A special U.S. House of Representatives probe found 750 illegal voters and “substantial fraud” but decided against further investigation, saying that it was unlikely that it could prove there were enough illegal votes to reverse the election.  The probe also established that Hermandad Mexicana Nacional had registered noncitizens to vote, but no indictments against the organization followed.  Further investigation and a recount probably would have given the election to Dornan, but the Republicans decided against it and against indictments of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, fearing a Latino backlash and foolishly hoping Hispanics would vote Republican in the near future.

Now, a decade of massive illegal immigration later, the number of noncitizens voting in the 47th District is likely in the thousands.  Illegal votes will decide any close election.  Tan Nguyen knows this, and so, too, does everyone else.  But sending the letter to 14,000 Latino households was a “hate crime.”  Special agents from the California Department of Justice raided Nguyen’s campaign office and his home, and confiscated everything but the furniture.  If only they took such action against illegal aliens.  Just what crime Nguyen has supposedly committed is anybody’s guess.  Intimidation of voters, perhaps, for using the word immigrant without a qualifying illegal preceding it.  If so, that would be the irony of the century, because many major newspapers in California—and especially the Los Angeles Times—refuse to modify immigrant with illegal.  Moreover, the actual letter that was mailed was written in Spanish and used the word emigrado, meaning a legal but noncitizen resident, and not inmigrante, (an immigrant whose legal status is not specified).  If that’s a distinction without a difference, as some contend, then why did La Opinion, Los Angeles’ leading Spanish-language newspaper, print a Spanish-language version of the letter and use the word inmigrante rather than emigrado as in the original?

If we could ask the alleged author of the letter, Sergio Ramirez, what he meant by his use of emigrado, we might have an answer.  However, Sergio seems to be the man who never existed.  A second raid by special agents of the California Department of Justice suggests that the author of the letter may be Mark Nhan Nguyen, a close friend of Tan’s and, despite the surname, not a relative of the Republican challenger.  Late in October, the agents swept down on the Anaheim house Mark Nguyen shares with a woman who works in Tan’s campaign office.  It seems that Mark Nguyen contracted with and paid for a Huntington Beach postal business to reproduce the letter and mail it.

The hysterical reaction to the letter may very well mean that the battle for the integrity of the election process in California was lost in 1996.  Elections are corrupt in Mexico; why shouldn’t they be corrupt in California as well?  Moreover, the demographic sea change in California means that the state will come to resemble Mexico or another Latin American country by the middle of this century.  Voter fraud, mordida, narco drug lords, overcrowded neighborhoods, trafficking in human beings, pimping, and an exploited laboring class have already caused parts of the 47th District to look more like Mexico than the California of the 1950’s that was the envy of America.  For this California kid who remembers the 50’s fondly, and has traveled extensively in Mexico, it is nothing less than a disaster.