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Population boom 

An anti-immigration push wants to preserve 'American' culture -- but doesn't say so

For a more balanced view of population and environmental impacts, the 1st Orlando Earth Day Symposium will offer discussion on topics from organic pollutants, dangers to wildlife embryos, and global warming. Orlando Museum of Art, April 25th, 1998

Immigrants, including a growing percentage of Asians and Hispanics, represent "an invasion" that will end "American culture" in the eyes of a Florida-based anti-immigration group currently promoting -- and attempting to disguise -- its beliefs behind the Green screen of environmentalism.

The "values, assumptions, history, traditions and language" of America are under assault by current immigration levels, said Virginia Abernethy, a board member of the extremist anti-immigration group Population Environmental Balance. While there is a "glorification of other cultures," she said, there is an increased feeling that "we do not have a right to our own history any more."

Abernethy, a Havana-born professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, spoke last Sunday at the annual meeting of Floridians for a Sustainable Population (FSP), held in Winter Park.

The Florida group actively campaigned for the anti-immigration position this spring as the national Sierra Club membership debated whether to take a stand on immigration. Results of that vote are expected this week. But while many true environmentalists would curtail global population growth, FSP and other "immigreen" groups take a somewhat different stand: They claim that when immigrants move to America, they consume resources at a higher rate than in the country of their birth. Stemming immigration, their argument continues, will help preserve our nation's natural resources.

But saving the planet was barely discussed this past weekend; instead, participants were encouraged to distribute "Florida Full" stickers in their communities. The gathering revealed the group's true purpose: Defending what they view as "America's culture."

Abernethy and others in attendance flatly deny any racist bent. Their position, they say, is that of nationalists and patriots. "What is wrong with wanting to preserve your culture?" Abernethy asked. "Name me a country in the world that doesn't want to preserve its culture."

But the content of her speech suggest the psychiatry professor needs to review her own lessons on denial. The fact that the Cuban-born speaker quoted French philosophers while addressing a group arrayed in ethnic symbols as varied as the Star of David and a Celtic cross showed that American culture takes many forms. And Freud could have a field day explaining why Abernethy holds up the scandal-ridden, Cuban-dominated local governments in Miami and Dade County as an example that new immigrants are generally less trustworthy and more corrupt than "Americans."

But she made clear the threat she sees from an increasingly diverse, non-white, non-European wave of immigration. Current immigrants, she said, are creating an "extraordinarily explosive situation in this country."

"Latinos are very prejudiced against blacks. When there is a recession and many are unemployed," the consequences will be revealed, she said.

Her speech echoed the teachings of another leader of Population Environmental Balance, Garrett Hardin, who believes in the racial superiority of whites and who, according to writings on his web site, thinks America must "defend the integrity of its borders or succumb into chaos."

At least those who heard Abernethy's message on this outing were few in number. Only a dozen people, all white and generally older than 60, attended the FSP gathering. But according its treasurer's report, the group has more than $14,000 in the bank and maintains ties with well-funded national anti-immigration groups. And FSP president Joyce Tarnow plans to continue pursuing support.

"Ask people to join," she told Sunday's gathering. "A lot of people are just waiting to be asked."

And FSP members have other plans. Fifteen people from Florida, including Tarnow, are in Washington, D.C., this week for an effort that is drawing 200 people from across the country. The group plans to lobby in support of two anti-immigration bills. One would place a moratorium on immigration. The other would deny citizenship to children born in America to non-citizen, or resident alien, parents.

And whether using environmental issues or some other smokescreen, the group will continue to try to mask its racist intentions. In particular, Abernethy told the gathering that "when addressing the general public, talk about numbers" of immigrants, not who they are or where they come from.

Those numbers embraced by FSP claim that 60 percent of the rise in U.S. population is caused by immigrants and their offspring. Ignoring the fact that nearly everyone in America comes from immigrants or their offspring, those numbers are designed to take advantage of the discomfort of the white majority in places like Central Florida, where the racial balance is shifting.

Hispanics, currently 9 percent of Central Florida's population, represent the country's fastest-growing ethnic group. Some neighborhoods in southeast Orlando are already 19 percent Hispanic. And Hispanics are expected to represent one in four people living in those neighborhoods by 2002.

Ada Rodriguez, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Central Florida, sees little of the ethnic tension here that is evident in South Florida. But, she said, any talk of Hispanics being outside of "American culture" would not be taken lightly.

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"Hispanic groups are not the immigrants to this land. This is our land. We were here long before other" groups.

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