Intimidating letter to California Hispanics being investigated |

Intimidating letter to California Hispanics being investigated

Peter Prengaman

LOS ANGELES (AP) – They’ve been naturalized U.S. citizens for nearly 20 years, but Benny Diaz says he and his wife felt intimidated when they each received a letter over the weekend warning that some immigrants could be jailed or deported for voting next month.

The letter, written in Spanish and sent to an unknown number of Hispanics in Orange County, also says the government has developed a computer system to track down the names of immigrant voters.

“A lot of Latino families have called me to say they ripped up the letter because they felt so insulted,” said Diaz, 49, who is originally from Peru. His wife, Nellie, is from Mexico.

Diaz is running for a seat on the Garden Grove City Council, and he believes the letter could scare many new citizens away from the polls.

“We spend a lot of money to communicate with Latino voters, but do you think they are going to come out now?” he asked.

It’s unclear who sent the letter. Meanwhile, authorities say they are investigating, adding those responsible could be charged with a felony.

“Why send something like this?” said state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles. “The intention is clearly to shed fear and intimidation, and ultimately suppress a vote that is critical in the elections.”

In a letter Tuesday to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the letters “racist” and “despicable,” and argued the perpetrators should be tried for a hate crime.

Lockyer spokesman Nathan Barankin said the letter was “something we are investigating aggressively right now.”

The sender could face as much as three years in state prison, he said.

The note’s letterhead resembles that of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigration group based in Huntington Beach, and contained the signature Sergio Ramirez.

The group’s founder, Barbara Coe, told the Los Angeles Times she did not know anyone named Sergio Ramirez, adding she did not authorize the letter and was unaware of anyone in her group who did. Over the last several days, Coe said, she has taken dozens of calls from Orange County Hispanics who received a letter.

It “puts a shadow on our credibility, that we would target certain people who might be citizens of our country,” she said.

She did not immediately return calls Tuesday from The Associated Press.

Coe’s group was investigated by the FBI in the late 1990s because members held signs near polls stating only citizens can vote.

The letter is correct in saying only immigrants who are naturalized U.S. citizens can vote, but many of its other assertions are false.

It also contains several grammatical errors and reads like a literal translation from English to Spanish, suggesting it was not written by a native Spanish speaker.

“Be advised that the government of the United States is installing a new computer system to verify the names of all registered voters. … Anti-immigration organization can ask for information from this new computer system,” the letter states.

John Trasvina, interim president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, suggested the letter might have a backlash effect.

“A lot of people will get angered by this and say, ‘No you can’t take away my right to vote,'” said Trasvina.

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