A leading Latino civil rights organization urges rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) To resign because of remarks this month in which she said Latin Americans are “good workers,” but suggested they are not Americans.
Thomas A. Saenz, president and attorney general of the Mexican U.S. Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in a statement Tuesday that Lesko’s recent remarks “reflect an astonishing, acquired ignorance of the people of his district; they also demonstrate a willingness to engage in false bias and stereotype to demonize people who have been at the forefront nationally to confront the devastating effects of covid-1
Lesko made the comment during a virtual hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on coronavirus assistance. She spoke in favor of a Republican amendment that would have given U.S. citizens priority over undocumented immigrants in receiving the coronavirus vaccine, according to the Republic of Arizona.
“What I’m saying is, it’s just great for me,” Lesko said during the hearing. “I do not quite understand it. Arizona is a border state. We are also compassionate people. We have many different varieties of people living here. It’s very different. I worked with people who are Spanish speaking. I mean, they are very good workers. You know, we are compassionate people, but for the sake of goodness, we need to take care of American citizens or people who are here legally first. ”
She added: “I just do not want to be able to explain to my senior citizens that we are giving away the vaccines to people who are not here. [legally]. I just think it’s completely wrong. ”
The Biden administration and public health experts say anything that deters the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States from seeking vaccination – such as strictly enforced proof of residency or legal status – would be self-destructive as the nation seeks to achieve crew immunity .
“It is a moral and public health necessity to ensure that all persons resident in the United States have access to the vaccine,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement this month. “DHS encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once they are qualified according to local distribution guidelines.”
A spokeswoman for Lesko did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In a statement to the Republic of Arizona last week, Lesko defended her remarks, refusing to withdraw them, though she acknowledged that they “could be misinterpreted.”
“Taken in context, my remarks were clearly aimed at ensuring that seniors receive taxpayer-funded vaccines before illegal immigrants,” she said in the statement. “During the debate on the amendment, after being interrupted several times, I said something that could be misinterpreted, but it was certainly not my intention.”
Saenz, the president of MALDEF, noted on Tuesday that more than 20 percent of Lesko’s voters are Latino, according to census estimates, and that more than 90 percent of those Latino voters are U.S. citizens.
“Still, she felt it appropriate to bring together ‘Spanish-speakers’ with ‘undocumented’ in a shocking display of the worst impulses of reductionist racial stereotyping,” Saenz said.
He called Lesko’s “good workers” remark “a coded acceptance of the exploitation of Latinos and immigrant workers”, including the “dehumanizing and cruel” denial of life-saving vaccines.
“After four years of Donald Trump and his transparent white nationalism, the nation should recognize that ‘citizen-first’ policies are simply thinly veiled grounds for upholding white privileges based on racism,” Saenz said, adding that Lesko “should step down in favor of someone who will speak for all Arizonans. ”