As could’ve been expected, the debate over illegal immigrants has grown ugly with racism. Hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, have been very vocal lately in their denouncements of immigrants, illegal or not. It’s like the immigration debate has breathed new life into their hatred.

In an Associated Press story, immigrant activists place the blame for the current climate squarely on the House of Representatives who passed a bill in December making illegal immigrants felons. House members bristled when former President Jimmy Carter said the bill had “racist overtones,” but it did. Though representatives quickly declared that they aren’t against immigration or Mexicans, just the illegal aspect, sociologist Gonzalo Santos said Mexican and immigrant are code words that inflame racists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has detailed an alarming number of events of hate groups in their vendetta against immigrants. “Let’s get rid of the Mexicans,” yelled a Klan member in Arkansas. Hal Turner, a New Jersey-based neo-Nazi radio host, told his listeners “I advocate using extreme violence against illegal aliens. Clean your guns. Have plenty of ammunition. Do what has to be done.”

Time magazine reported last week that militias, which were depleted of members after the Oklahoma City bombing by one of their own, are on the rebound and fueled by anti-immigrant fervor.

The SPLC, which has tracked hate crimes for decades, said hate groups are always looking for a racial angle to exploit in public discussions.

The hate has become a national problem as well as a local one. In online comments at The Herald Bulletin, some urged investigation of Hispanic business owners, assuming they were here illegally.

The Pandora’s box seems to have been opened, and we will now have to work even harder so innocent people won’t be trapped in a cycle of hate and violence.

During the public debate in recent weeks, we’ve read about Minutemen who will man the U.S.-Mexico border to halt illegal immigrants, as well as a fence of hundreds of miles. All of this suggests to haters, mostly white supremacists, that people of color are taking over the country and must be stopped.

We’d like to think that the country has matured in the last century since the Klan and other groups declared their war on black people. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The hate goes on and a new group is under the gun, literally.

The matter of immigration policy won’t go away, but it needs to be neutered by lawmakers so the hatemongers won’t get the foothold they want. A sane, humanist immigration policy should be what we seek and lawmakers shouldn’t ratchet up the hate and scare tactics when they seek such a policy.

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