Hovering above a busy Berkeley intersection is a billboard that reads No Racist Amnesty. It was placed by a group called Vietnamese for Fair Immigration, whose leaders say they feel illegal immigrants -- and particularly Latino immigrants -- are to blame for the long waits their family members face to come here from Vietnam.
But the group may not be entirely what it seems.
The Lompoc-based group, which has endorsed political candidates, written letters to the editors of newspapers and has aired its views on Web sites, was co-founded by a white, Southern California cyclemaker who is also a member of one of the state's most prominent immigration control organizations.
In fact, the group's self-proclaimed Vietnamese-American spokesman, who wrote at least one of the letters and has espoused the group's views on several Web sites, is the group's Caucasian co-founder using a Vietnamese surname, his wife said.
The spokesman, who called himself Tim Binh, initially denied that he was the cyclemaker from Lompoc, Tim Brummer. But after a reporter told him his wife identified him as Brummer, he said it was her idea.
And he feels he used the name legitimately, adding that he may make Tim Binh his legal name.
"I speak Vietnamese. I eat Vietnamese food. I live with Vietnamese. In my mind, I'm half Vietnamese. Just like my wife thinks she's half-American," Brummer said.
Pro-immigrant advocacy organizations say Vietnamese for Fair Immigration may be one of an increasing number of groups that appear to be nonwhites gathering to ask for greater immigration controls, but are actually groups started with help from whites or from major, mostly white anti-immigrant groups that are seeking greater legitimacy for their views.
Earlier this year, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the nation's largest immigration control groups, created and backed a group called Choose Black America, which was supposed to be an organization created by blacks who feel illegal immigration has hurt blacks. But its leaders later acknowledged their kickoff press conference in May was funded by FAIR. And they were unable to name any of Choose Black America's members when asked.
"Because the (immigration control) movement is overwhelmingly white, there's a great desire to throw off the accusations of racism," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which has tracked such groups and broke the story about Choose Black America. "And the easier way to do that is to have groups that are not white. I think that is what is going on in many, many cases."
FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman said his organization helped bring Choose Black America together after it got calls from African-Americans who were concerned about how illegal immigration was affecting them. He said many felt illegal immigrants were taking jobs away from blacks.
"I don't think FAIR did it to gain legitimacy. I think FAIR is a legitimate organization whose viewpoints represent the viewpoints of a substantial number of Americans. But several groups have a bigger stake in this issue," Mehlman said.
He said FAIR has helped other, similar groups get off the ground, many of them based by geography rather than race.
In an early interview, Brummer -- who identified himself as Vietnamese for Immigration Reform's spokesman, Tim Binh -- said the group was created two years ago by Vietnamese refugees who have been frustrated in their efforts to bring relatives to the U.S. through legal channels.
He said the group's members feel illegal immigration and amnesties granted to onetime illegal immigrants are to blame for the long waits. And they feel the system favors Latino immigrants over everyone else, he said, pointing to numbers that show that more Latinos immigrate here than anyone else.
"The politicians, we call them up, they don't listen to us. So we put our billboards up," he said. "They just want Hispanics, it seems. So we thought the American people should know."
The group's members include Hung Nguyen of San Jose, who said he has faced a long wait to bring siblings to the United States from Vietnam.
"I don't know much about politics and illegal immigration," Nguyen said. "I'm just against illegal immigration."
Brummer said funds for the Berkeley billboard, the only one the group has put up so far, were raised from among the group's 100 members. The billboard costs $5,000 a month, he said, and was extended for another month this month. One member of the group this newspaper spoke with, Nguyen, said he was not aware the billboard had been placed.
Web searches listed LeQuan Hoang, a refugee from Vietnam and Brummer's wife, as the group's director, and Brummer as a member of its board of directors.
Brummer is also a member of Californians for Population Stabilization, which advocates for strict immigration controls. The Santa Barbara-based group says immigration-driven population increases are hurting the environment and causing overcrowded schools, traffic and an overburdened health care system.
In a phone message to a reporter, Brummer admitted to helping Hoang form the group. But he said he is now only an adviser to the group, and in a later interview he tried to diminish his role in the group further.
Business records generated by the Southern Poverty Law Center listed Brummer as the group's official business contact in August 2004.
But Hoang admitted that Binh is Brummer. She said it is his Vietnamese name.
"I think that will make the Vietnamese community seem close to him, so they've given him a Vietnamese name," she said.
Hoang said both individuals and groups helped pay for the group's billboard, but would not name any of the contributors.
Brummer also said he used the name for personal security reasons. He said he and his wife had to move from their prior home two years ago after receiving e-mail threats. He said he contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the threats, but that they failed to act. He said he did not have copies of the e-mails.
In the meantime, "Binh," Brummer and Hoang have aired their views in letters to a handful of newspapers and on several Web sites whose creators advocate for stricter immigration controls, including VDare, which recently ran an article on "the black-white IQ gap."
They also endorsed political candidates for this past election and are endorsing a proposed initiative to create a state border police force.
Brummer later said Truong Quang Si of Westminster, who is active in Republican politics and in an anti-Communism group, is the group's current director. Truong was out of town when a reporter called and not available for comment.
Hoang said she wanted to form the group because she and others she knows have had trouble bringing relatives to the U.S. through legal channels. A brother died of his war wounds before she could get him here, she said. And her late mother waited so long to come she ultimately gave up.
Hoang said she doesn't think illegal immigration is impacting the legal process for Vietnamese and others to come here. But she said geography favors some people over others.
"They can just cross the border. We cannot swim across the ocean," Hoang said when asked if she thinks the immigration system favors Latinos.
Hoang said she supports controls on legal immigration, though she admits this could increase wait times for those seeking to enter legally.
When asked why she posted to the VDare Web site, she said she wasn't familiar with the site's content.
"If you disagree with somebody's point of view, they say you're racist," Hoang said.
The leaders of several pro-immigrant organizations voiced disagreement with the group's views.
"We certainly understand and share the group's frustration with the way that the legal immigration system isn't working for anybody -- Asian, Latino, or any other community," said Tracy Hong, whose Washington, D.C.-based group, the Asian American Justice Center, has worked with Congress to try to increase the family visa caps. "This isn't a competition between races."
Contact Michele R. Marcucci firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 208-6434.
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