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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Zimmerman appointee in jeopardy of losing seat
Eight City Council members expressed strong support Tuesday for Council Member Greg Casar’s resolution to rescind the appointment of activist Rebecca Forest to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs. Forest is the co-founder and past president of the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, which puts out a strong anti-immigrant message.
Forest has written, “Our Muslim President continues with his plan to destroy America. (President Barack Obama) floods our nation with hordes of illegal alien BIO-WEAPONS and then sends them to every corner of our country to infect our population and FOOLS in our nation are taking them in and setting the stage for our destruction.” This appeared on her Facebook page Aug. 2, 2014.
Council Member Don Zimmerman nominated Forest, and the entire Council approved her appointment at the April 2 meeting. After that, Casar said he began to get complaints about the appointment.
Forest also wrote on Facebook that same day last August, “GOV. PERRY needs to firmly tell our Muslim President that TEXAS Will NOT be participating in his little relocation program of BIO-WEAPONS. The illegal aliens need to be quarantined ALL TOGETHER in camps near the border until we can send them back where they came from.”
Casar, who appeared to have very strong feelings about the matter, read a statement he had prepared for Thursday’s Council meeting. Zimmerman pulled the item for discussion at Tuesday’s work session.
Casar said, “Boards and Commissions are a key part of Austin’s government. As a general rule, I have deferred to individual Council members’ judgments on their nominations. Individual Council members may make nominations, but it is up to the entire Council to make appointments. It is our responsibility as a body to reject nominees who clearly are not suited for a commission and to reject nominees who violate our core values as a city.
“In public statements, Rebecca Forest, the District 6 nominee for the Commission on Immigrant Affairs, has displayed a bigoted attitude toward communities of color that violates our core values as a city as well as the purpose of the Commission on Immigrant Affairs,” Casar continued. “As established in City Code, the purpose includes maximizing benefits to local immigrants and promoting recognition of the contributions of the foreign-born. The commission is important to the entire Council, but especially to my district, where one-third of the population is noncitizen.”
He added, “If we do not rescind the appointment before the appointments become active in July, then we are effectively endorsing Ms. Forest’s appointment, with full knowledge of her disparaging remarks toward Hispanics, immigrant children, Muslims and other communities of color.”
Casar asked Zimmerman to replace Forest but Zimmerman rejected the idea, saying she is representative of District 6.
In response to questions from reporters after the meeting, Zimmerman said, “As to Rebecca, she’s a very passionate activist, so I think her comments about Muslims are out of fear of what’s happened — with a lot of attacks here on our soil.”
Zimmerman said he had not heard the particular comments referring to Obama as a Muslim before Tuesday. “But it doesn’t surprise me,” he said, “because there are a lot of people that share that fear of extremism that some of the people professing that faith have. That’s no surprise.”
Asked whether the statement bothered him, Zimmerman said, “What bothers me I guess is the lax attitude toward immigration laws. There are security reasons to have these immigration laws, to control our borders and find out who comes in. Those are rational objections. If people come in and they’re yelling jihad …”
Council Members Ora Houston, Pio Renteria, Delia Garza, Sheri Gallo, Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen, Ellen Troxclair and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo all said they would support Casar’s resolution. Mayor Steve Adler did not attend the meeting because he was testifying on the city’s behalf at the Capitol.
The first information that came to light about Forest’s views on undocumented immigrants was a 2011 YouTube video showing a speech she made on the steps of the Texas Capitol, during which she said Texas would not pass the kind of legislation she supported because the state had 36 or 37 Hispanic legislators. Further, she noted that states that had passed strong anti-immigrant legislation did not have many Hispanics members in their legislature.
Politifact Texas confirmed that Forest made the statement and verified that the states passing the legislation in fact had few Hispanic legislators. She said something needed to be done about that. Later, Forest tried to retract her remarks, saying that she supported conservative Hispanics.
In response to a question from Garza, Zimmerman said he was aware of Forest’s 2011 YouTube remarks and that he was hopeful she would attend Thursday’s Council meeting so other Council members could get to know her as he does.
Zimmerman said he expects that all appointees will now have considerably more scrutiny than they have had in the past. It would only be fair, he said.
Houston said she has a statement of core values that she gives to each of her appointees that says “we will treat each other with respect … I just try to make sure that the people who are my surrogates, who represent me, on boards and commissions know that that is how I will be treating everyone and they will be expected to do the same thing.”
Houston also indicated that she was distressed by Forest’s references to the president as a Muslim, when he is a Christian. She said her son is a Muslim. Obviously, she would not want to see an appointee who would be disrespectful to Muslims.
Pool said she thought the appointment would be “disruptive and not helpful. … I view Austin as a welcoming city, and that means a lot of things to a lot of folks. A lot of people are able to come to this town and make something, make room for their family, make their way here. And we all come up from very little to make something of ourselves, so I support the welcoming committee concept in all its many and varied layers.”
Kitchen said she recognized that people could differ on political ideas, but “in this case, I think we do have to draw the line. I don’t think it’s appropriate (to appoint someone with such views). And I realize it’s a judgment call, but from my perspective, this is beyond a difference of opinion and approach to policy.”
Gallo said, “I grew up in this community. I raised my kids in this community, and one thing that was really important to me was inclusion and diversity.” She told Casar she appreciated what he was doing and would support his resolution. However, she said she wished that Zimmerman would simply withdraw Forest’s name.
Gallo said she was concerned about the approximately 600 appointments the Council would need to make for all the different boards and commissions and expressed the hope that they would not require the same level of scrutiny as this one.
Renteria said some undocumented immigrants moved onto his street several years ago, and they became “some of the best neighbors I ever had.” He also told a story about a young man who was arrested for DWI. He had been brought to the United States as a baby and spoke no Spanish, but was deported anyway. He said the man did not even realize he was not a citizen until that happened.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Commission on Immigrant Affairs: The Commission on Immigrant Affairs advises the Austin City Council on issues regarding education, health and the demographic makeup of the immigrant community.
Don Zimmerman: Former Austin City Council Member for District 6 (2014-2016)
Greg Casar: Austin City Council member for District 4