Latino Democrats today said a Republican senator made an “offensive and ignorant” decision when she read a racially tinged letter on the Senate floor during the debate of an immigration bill last week.
The Democrats said Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, needs to apologize to the public. They also said she can’t back off from responsibility by claiming she just read a letter.
By reading a letter from a substitute teacher who said he had found that Hispanic students “would rather be gang members and gangsters” than receive an education, they said Klein deliberately injected race into the issue of illegal immigration, even though advocates of a strict-enforcement approach to confronting the emotional and complex problem consistently deny the issue is related to race.
“The words spoken by Senator Klein last week on the Senate floor (go) beyond recklessness and ignorance,” said Rep. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix. “Her willingness to associate herself with an anonymous letter that contains explicit racial connotations clearly reflects her views of Latinos, or her lack of maturity, and ignorance.”
During the March 17 debate, Klein read a letter that painted a disparaging picture of Hispanic students. The substitute teacher also wrote that the Hispanic students “hate America and are determined to reclaim this area for Mexico.”
“For someone to say that all Hispanics want to do is grow up to be gangbangers and return this country to Mexico — I find truly offensive,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix.
But Klein said she merely presented another side to an issue. Senate President Russell Pearce, who actually forwarded the letter to Klein, said he is shocked that Democrats have been quick to “defend the actions of these troublemakers, and mock the frustration many teachers feel in bringing order to the classroom.”
Pearce said he has spoken with the teacher who wrote him the letter and he stood by his description of his classroom experience.
“Some members of the minority are now calling for me to apologize, and calling for Sen. Klein to apologize for reading it. We will not apologize,” Pearce said in a written statement. “A teacher has a First Amendment right to express themselves, and we have an obligation to our citizens to keep them informed on what is happening in our schools.”
Yesterday, Klein agreed that the letter needs to be verified and admitted she read it without confirming if the experience was factual.
“I think basically we need to make sure it is verified. I just assumed because of, you know, where I received it that it was already verified,” she said.
The letter was actually addressed to Pearce, who forwarded it to other Republicans.
When asked if she was surprised by the reaction, Klein said: “What’s wrong with presenting another side to an issue that’s really important?”
In an interview, Pearce said people can read the letter themselves and decide how to view it.
“The truth apparently offends some people and some people can’t handle the truth,” Pearce said.