“ ... They want to maintain their own language, maintain their own culture, and put their South American flags above the American flag. That’s what people are so upset about,” said Gorman. ... "
"All I See is Bad"
The coffee and doughnuts, the metal folding chairs and the middle-aged group at the VFW post had the generic feel of any routine municipal meeting. But to the two dozen people gathered here this month, no less than the country’s future was at stake.
“If this bill passes,” said William “Terry” Gorman, “by 2028, the United States will cease to exist as we know it, and the American culture will be lost.”
Gorman, 67, is the founder of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, or RIILE ( www.riile.org ). Formed in February 2006, the group opposes illegal immigration and “its crippling economic effects” to the state and country, and endorses enforcement of current immigration laws.
The group’s numbers have grown (it says it has 250 members statewide) as has Gorman’s profile, making his a familiar voice on conservative talk radio and at State House hearings, Lincoln Town Council meetings, rallies and demonstrations, and through letters to the editor, legislators, senators and congressmen, school officials and others.
On this warm spring night, a copy of the nearly 400-page bill sits on the front table. Gorman and fellow RIILE members call it an “amnesty bill” for the estimated 12 to 14 million illegal immigrants in the country, and are doing all they can to see it defeated.
“All I see is bad in it,” said Gorman. “I think this latest wave of immigrants to this country have no more intention of assimilating than the man in the moon.”
Buddy Tassoni, one of RIILE’s first members, said, “If they ever pass this bill, I’m done. This country’s finished.”
As the Senate remained mired in debate, Gorman pushed the group to ratchet up its efforts by joining a national Internet campaign through the conservative grassfire.org and NumbersUSA, and by inundating the Rhode Island delegation in Washington with phone calls, faxes, petitions and e-mail.
“Call, call, call, call,” said Gorman. “E-mail, e-mail, e-mail, e-mail.”
(The night after the meeting, debate was cut off and the bill seemed destined to fail; at the urging of President Bush, it has been resurrected and is being debated again in the Senate.) “This is like being in a war, and this is just a skirmish, and there are going to be a lot more skirmishes before this ends,” Gorman said of RIILE’s opposition to the bill.
“If you’re here illegally, taking advantage of our system, I have a problem with you. It’s not the legal immigrants we have a problem with. It’s the illegal immigrants.”
That line frequently blurs, however, when Gorman and fellow RIILE members predict that a current influx of “Spanish-speaking people” will lead to a Hispanic majority that will turn the United States into “a Spanish-speaking country,” if nothing is done to curb illegal immigration.
Gorman and other RIILE members said that most of the illegal — and legal — immigrants coming from South America and Central America, are “largely uneducated” and “refuse to assimilate.”
“They want to maintain their own language, maintain their own culture, and put their South American flags above the American flag. That’s what people are so upset about,” said Gorman.
“I think our culture is going to go away … The Irish didn’t force meat and potatoes on you. The Italians didn’t force spaghetti and meatballs on you. But that’s what’s happening. They want us to take on their culture.”
A PAWTUCKET NATIVE, Gorman attended parochial school, then served eight years in the Air Force on Long Island, before returning to Rhode Island with his wife and two children. He had $40 in his pocket, no car, and no furniture.
He moved up the ladder, from a job “feeding junk plastic” into a hopper at a garden hose manufacturing company, to an overnight shift sorting mail at a post office. He cleaned chimneys by day, and ran a rubbish business. He eventually became an account representative at the post office, retired after 28 years, then worked as a consultant.
He now owns a tanning and fitness salon in Lincoln. The Gormans have five children and seven grandchildren.
Gorman said his concerns about illegal immigration grew over time.
He said it started when a Cumberland factory closed in 1997. Among the laid-off workers, said Gorman, were men he believed to be Colombian. “They didn’t speak English, and the State of Rhode Island paid to teach them English so they could apply for other jobs. Imagine, being in this country for 17 years and you don’t learn how to speak English. That’s the first thing that got my goat, thinking about that stuff. And I thought, ‘Gee, how many illegals are out there?’ ”
The tipping point came when he learned that dozens of languages are spoken in Providence schools, and that the city and state spend millions of dollars on English-as-a-second-language classes.
“I think it’s a fair assumption that if the parents don’t speak any English whatsoever, and the children don’t speak English, they’re here illegally,” he said. “Well, maybe they could be here on a visa or something, but not in the numbers there are in Providence.”
In 1999, Gorman heard about a nonprofit organization called FAIR — The Federation for American Immigration Reform — on a talk-radio program. “I agree with their viewpoints,” he said, “so I joined.”
According to its Web site, FAIR is a national nonprofit, public-interest membership organization of concerned citizens who believe that the country’s immigration polices should be reformed “in the national interest.”
Those reforms include improving border security and promoting “more traditional rates” of immigration of about 300,000 per year. FAIR says it has more than 250,000 members and supporters nationwide.
As one of the most high-profile anti-illegal immigration groups in the country, FAIR has been criticized by The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, among others.
Both organizations have underscored FAIR’s financing by the Pioneer Fund. According to the SPLC, the Pioneer Fund “has long subsidized dubious studies of the alleged links between race and intelligence.” (FAIR now says it has severed its links to the Pioneer Fund, according to the SPLC).
The Southern Poverty Law Center also noted that FAIR’s president, Dan Stein, “has warned that certain immigrant groups are engaged in ‘competitive breeding’ aimed at diminishing white power.”
The Anti-Defamation League raised similar concerns in a 2000 report, “Is FAIR Unfair?”
Gorman said he is unaware of controversy surrounding FAIR, one of 11 anti-immigration groups linked through RIILE’s Web site. “I’ve been a member since 1999, and this is the first negative thing I’ve ever heard.”
Some of Gorman’s comments echo FAIR’s proposed solutions to illegal immigration, including a five-year freeze in many immigration categories.
“One of my solutions — and maybe it sounds preposterous — but I think we should close the borders, period. Nobody comes to visit; nobody comes to school [on a visa], period. Nobody comes here, period. And then we clean up this mess, and then go back to immigration laws like they were before.” He said that moratorium would apply to every country in the world. (He also stressed that this was his own opinion, not that of RIILE).
Gorman said he was unfamiliar with Stein’s comment on “competitive breeding,” but was familiar with the concept, through other Internet sites.
He said he always assumed that FAIR was talking about “that there are more Hispanic babies born every year, while the number of U.S. citizens having babies has dropped. I don’t know why, I don’t know if there’s an ulterior motive, but it lends credibility … to what [Patrick] Buchanan said, that if that community continued to have three babies to one, for American citizen babies, eventually that community would be the majority, and then the United States would be a Hispanic country.”
Gorman said he believed the greater concern “is about the illegal immigrant community having babies. Those babies become ‘anchor babies,’ ” he said, “and now the baby becomes a U.S. citizen and we’re responsible for that child until they become 18 years old.”
LAST YEAR, Gorman decided to form a group similar to other groups opposed to illegal immigration springing up around the country. He contacted Sandra Gunn, then the eastern field representative for FAIR.
At her suggestion, he put a notice in The Times of Pawtucket encouraging “anyone interested in trying to do something about illegal immigration” to come to the Capt. Elwood J. Euart VFW Post 602 in Pawtucket.
Gorman said eight people, including himself and his wife, attended the first meeting. Journal reporter Tatiana Pina attempted to attend and cover the meeting, but Gunn asked her to leave.
Gunn, now a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, addressed her role in helping RIILE organize.
“One of my jobs was to help give direction when groups get started. I attended just one meeting to help facilitate, to get people together,” said Gunn in a brief phone interview. “We went over an agenda.”
Gorman said he remains a member of FAIR, as do some people in his organization, but RIILE “is in no way affiliated” with FAIR.
RIILE’s current focus includes “the cost of social services, welfare, education, medical services and housing that is crippling the economy of our country and our state,” and health concerns such as “the return of diseases like tuberculosis, whooping cough and who knows what else,” he said. “Crime [by illegal immigrants] is also starting to rear its ugly head.”
“The diluting of American culture” is one of the largest concerns. “The more signs there are in Spanish, the more bilingual state literature [voter instructions, et cetera], and the more interpreters that are provided in our courts and hospitals, the more our culture is diluted.”
This month’s meeting at the Euart Post in Pawtucket focused largely on the bipartisan Senate bill.
The bill — criticized by liberals and conservatives alike — proposed creating a new immigration system that would include securing the country’s borders; providing a lengthy path (estimated at 13 years) to legal status and/or citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants; halting future illegal immigration; clearing the backlog of legal immigrant petitions; and offering a future temporary workforce of skilled and unskilled workers.
To RIILE, the bill offers immediate “amnesty” for all illegal immigrants.
Members also vented their frustration at health and educational aid to children of illegal immigrants; alleged that illegal immigrants have voted at the polls in Rhode Island; and objected to the terms “undocumented immigrants” and “illegal immigrants” used by the media.
“It’s illegal aliens, period,” said Kathleen Gudaitas, of Johnston. “I don’t care how nice they are, or how hard they work. They don’t belong here.”
Though Gorman and others stressed that their issue is with illegal immigrants, many comments made little to no distinction between illegal and illegal immigrants, or between illegal immigrants and Hispanics.
Peter Johnson, of Narragansett, who works in the fishing industry, praised the idea of “The Illegal Alien Tour Bus,” that he said was proposed on the air by WPRO radio talk show host John DePetro.
“John DePetro, he got a brainstorm,” said Johnson. “He said maybe we should start a tour bus down Broad Street [in Providence] … to see the Third World.”
“And the trash” in the streets said someone else in the audience.
“They’d point out the tuberculosis clinic that’s never been there before,” Gorman said. “If politicians took the bus — that might open their eyes.”
DePetro confirmed that he had proposed such a bus tour.
Several members described leaving blunt or angry messages about the illegal immigration issue for Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and Congressman James Langevin. Johnston Councilman Joe Wells advised the members to “keep your passion,” but to treat other people “with the same respect that you wanted to be treated with … in getting out your message.” He added, “Good luck, I truly wish you will grow in numbers.”
When Gorman was later asked whether he thought the idea of an Illegal Alien Tour Bus could be considered racist, he replied, “If the consensus of opinion was that I was a racist, I’d quit. I wouldn’t be doing this. It’s so wrong that that’s what I’m about. It just is.”
Michele Jefrey, a nurse from Lincoln, also complained during the meeting that “we get lumped into a category — ‘You are racist.’ That is not true.” Illegal immigrants “have no regard for American law,” she said.
Gorman and other RIILE members spent many hours this year lobbying at the State House for a package of two dozen immigration-related bills: most concerned illegal immigration. Nearly all were defeated. Nonetheless, members proudly recounted their turnout of at least 45 members at a hearing on a failed bill requiring employers to electronically verify the citizenship status of all new hires over the Internet.
As a newcomer to State House hearings, Gorman said he has a new appreciation for the democratic process: “This year, for the first time, I think we were treated as equals to the opposition,” whom he described as “left-wing zealots.”
Though Gorman said, “It didn’t feel as though we lost all the battles,” he was disappointed.
“I sincerely feel that those [bills] are intended to benefit the citizens of Rhode Island — first and foremost we should take care of American citizens. They shouldn’t have to go broke to access services.”
Gorman admits that his fight against illegal immigration “has really become too consuming.” He spends hours every day sending e-mails, calling in to radio talk shows, writing letters, et cetera.
At family gatherings, “I won’t say I’m a Superstar Father,’ ” he said, laughing. “They’ll say, ‘Dad, Dad, we don’t want to talk about it today,’ but they don’t have much choice in the matter. They’re going to hear it whether they come in the room to hear it or not. They’re the ones it’s going to affect the most.”