McConnell GrimesMany immigration-reform supporters in Kentucky are expressing outrage over Alison Lundergan Grimes’ new TV ad on immigration, calling it offensive and even racist.

The ad, which hit the airwaves last week but is not listed on Grimes’ YouTube account, says Mitch McConnell “voted to give amnesty and taxpayer-funded benefits to 3 million illegal aliens.” At the end of the ad, Grimes looks into the camera and says “I’ve never supported amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants, and I never will.”

Despite such rhetoric within the ad, Grimes has spoken in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that provides an earned path to citizenship and criticized McConnell for voting against such a bipartisan bill last year. Prior to this ad, Grimes was pounded with millions of dollars worth of ads from pro-McConnell groups accusing her of supporting “amnesty” and welfare benefits for “illegal immigrants.”

The use of such “illegal” terminology — which is viewed by many as offensive and is no longer used by most media publications — angered many national progressive groups such as MoveOn, America’s Voice and Democracy for America, who asked that Grimes take down the ad. Last night, Jose Antonio Vargas — perhaps the face of the immigration reform movement — wrote a message to Grimes on Facebook saying that “Linking Sen. Mitch McConnell to ‘amnesty’ for ‘illegal aliens’ is not only a bad campaign strategy — it’s morally corrupt. Please remove this immigration ad, now.”

Image from Grimes' ad
Image from Grimes’ ad

Such criticism of the ad was also shared by progressive leaders within Kentucky, including Louisville Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, who sent the following email to the Grimes campaign on Sunday:

“I write to you today because this latest ad by our friend, Alison, is also her most offensive ad. I am reaching out to her camp today and hope that you will do the same because she cannot use the “i” word during tomorrow’s debate and she must become more educated about immigration reform.

Why did she even need to create this ad? Is is designed to pander to Kentucky’s racist political voters?

I refuse to believe that we must do whatever it takes to win, if that means offending our neighbors. I know how immigration was used to attack me during my campaign this year and I cannot be silent when someone I support does the same thing.

Where are the people of color on Alison’s team? She cannot make policy decisions that impact people of color without including people of color in her decision-making process. How is she any different from the opposition when she does this?

Did she have conversations with immigrants in Kentucky about amnesty? If not, she needs to make it her priority to have those conversations this week because, while pandering to one voting base, she is turning away a base of supporters.”

Insider Louisville asked the Grimes campaign last Friday why they used the term “illegal” in their ad — and again this Wednesday — finally receiving the following (non)response:

“Alison favors comprehensive immigration reform. Neither the recent bill that passed the Senate nor any other serious bill currently supported by most Democrats and Republicans is amnesty. Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy on this issue is breathtaking.”

Others attempting to receive an answer to this question have also had trouble getting a straight response. Luis Martinez is a Lexington activist who runs the Latin Lex website and Facebook page for Spanish-language residents in the city. He was brought to America when he was 15 and has lived in Lexington for 12 years, currently protected by President Obama’s deferred action in 2012 that gave legal status to certain young people brought to the country through no fault of their own. Martinez contacted the Grimes campaign about the ad and tried to facilitate a discussion with local Hispanic groups, but has not heard back from them.

“Right now the people who can vote that are Hispanic, I think they are in a bind,” Martinez tells Insider Louisville. “Because McConnell is just all against everything. Anything that comes out of Obama’s mouth, he is against it. On Grimes, she’s trying so hard to sway the conservative votes that it’s affecting others as well … The way it’s looking right now, she’s probably the lesser of two evils, but it didn’t have to be that way.”

The Rev. Tony Aja, coordinator of Hispanic/Latino Ministries at Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, did get a response from the Grimes campaign, but it was not the one he sought. After voicing his criticism on the Facebook page of the Grimes campaign, Aja says he received the following response from an account administrator:

“Thank you for reaching out, Tony. I do support Comprehensive immigration reform because it will do two thing that address your concerns: (1) It will bring illegal immigrants out of the dark and require them to meet all the same obligations that you and your family do; (2) It will reduce the number of illegals sharply with much tighter border security.”

Using “illegals” as a noun is generally thought of as much more offensive than using it as an adjective to describe immigrants among this community. Aja replied with a message from his son telling Grimes to “Beat Mitch on his deference to the 1%, obstructionist agenda and general hostility to the working poor and middle class, not on some BS scapegoating of immigrants.”

Insider asked the Grimes campaign if they did put out such a reply and if they stand by such terminology, but we have not received a response.

Local activist T. Gonzales also wrote the Grimes campaign the following email, accusing her ad of “racism” and saying he was canceling his plans to volunteer for her campaign this weekend.

Dear Alison For Kentucky Campaign,

I am writing in response to your campaign’s recent television ad entitled, “Largest Ever.” I am a Mexican-American, a Democrat, a committed voter, and an engaged community member; I take personal offense to your campaign’s use of the words “illegal” and “amnesty” in some desperate attempt to garner votes from Kentuckians.

In the past week I have been asking these questions of my friends and neighbors, and I ask them of this campaign: Why does Mrs. Grimes and her campaign think so little of my neighbors and me? Why does Mrs. Grimes and her campaign think the best way to talk to the Kentucky electorate about any issue is to play to racism and fear? Why does Mrs. Grimes and her campaign think Kentuckians can’t understand complex issues of migration and immigration in the United States? Why does Mrs. Grimes assume Kentuckians are OK with dehumanizing their fellow Kentuckians by calling them “illegal”? Why does she assume Kentuckians are in favor of denying needed support to people living in this state and country?

Mrs. Grimes, I don’t care for the way you and your campaign talk about my friends and neighbors. Your attempt to highlight some difference between you and your opponent has failed miserably. Your racism is showing, and it is so ugly. To have my support and vote, you need to do better. You can start by taking a pledge to Drop the I-Word:

Finally, I was scheduled to volunteer for your campaign this Saturday morning here in Louisville, but I will no longer offer my time to your campaign. I will, however, offer up my time to efforts that further justice and fairness.

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]