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Protesters decry ‘racist’ syndicated cartoon in Journal

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

State legislators, the state’s entire congressional delegation and local protesters on Thursday stepped up criticism of the publication of a syndicated political cartoon, which many called racist, on the editorial page of Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal.

Roughly 50 people protested Thursday evening outside the Journal offices, and the cartoon prompted a 30-minute critique from the state Senate floor and a swirl of social media criticism.

Hundreds of angry readers also called, many demanding an apology.

Journal Editor Karen Moses issued an apology Thursday morning and later said in an interview that there will be more scrutiny of editorial cartoons in the future.

“Looking back, we erred, and it should not have appeared in the Albuquerque Journal,” Moses said of the syndicated cartoon.

The cartoon showed a frightened white couple being accosted at gunpoint by a terrorist and a member of MS-13, an international criminal gang targeted by President Donald Trump whose members are primarily from Central America.

The husband tells the wife: “Now, Honey … I believe they prefer to be called ‘Dreamers’ … or future Democrats …”

Journal Editorial Page Editor D’Val Westphal said she chose to run the cartoon because she interpreted it as criticizing fear of immigrants and the broad-stroke racism of calling all Dreamers criminals.

But nearly all of the hundreds of readers who called and commented on the cartoon saw it as anti-immigrant and racist.

“It labeled our Dreamers as criminals,” said protester Margarita Maestas, a retired educator who walked into the Journal to cancel her 17-year subscription before joining the group along Jefferson NE in front of the Journal building.

Others canceled subscriptions during the day, but even nonsubscribers came out to the protest.

“It is kind of hurtful that our own newspaper is reflecting Trump’s agenda,” said protester Marian Mendez-Cera of Albuquerque. “It is xenophobic, anti-immigrant and does not reflect our values in New Mexico.”

At the Roundhouse on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, described the editorial cartoon as “highly offensive” and “beyond the pale,” while other senators called for subscriptions to be canceled.

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, a Republican, also weighed in during Thursday’s floor session, describing the cartoon as “wrong.”

“I’m offended as a Republican, and I’m offended as a conservative, that they would try to depict Democrats as thugs and terrorists,” Sanchez said.

Cartoonist Sean Delonas, of rural Pennsylvania, told the Journal on Thursday that the protesters and angry commenters were more accurate in their interpretation of his cartoon than Westphal.

He said he believes that unchecked illegal immigration has a negative impact on public safety and wages.

“I’m not saying they can’t come in; they have to come in legally, and they have to be vetted,” Delonas said. “I think you can call them Dreamers, but I kind of agree with Trump that Americans have Dreams, too.”

“Dreamers” is used to describe undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children. They were given special legal and work permit status and protection from immediate deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump announced in September 2017 his plans to end the current DACA system in March.

To receive DACA status, applicants must pass a background check for no felony convictions and no more than three misdemeanors, and must have completed high school-level education or be enrolled in school, among other requirements.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Michelle Lujan Grisham – all Democrats – and Rep. Steve Pearce – the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation – and state Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday issued a statement in conjunction with 10 community groups calling the publication of the cartoon counterproductive to current negotiation on immigration reform.

“Instead of putting aside the vitriol, this cartoon feeds it. It plays to the most false and negative stereotype of ‘Dreamers,’ which can only serve to enrage extremists. … It’s never the right time to refer to a group of nearly 800,000 people as criminals, especially when they are active members of our communities, including military service members, teachers, doctors, business owners and more. And now is absolutely the wrong time to print such a divisive cartoon.”

Moses said the view in the cartoon is not the view of the Journal, despite running on its pages.

“I also want to reiterate that we do not agree with many of the opinions expressed on the editorial pages, which are intended to encourage debate,” she said in her statement Thursday.

Many readers, she said, “saw an extremely objectionable cartoon and thought that was the position of the Journal. It is not.

“In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions. This was not the intent, and for that, the Journal apologizes. I repeat that the Albuquerque Journal does not condone racism or bigotry in any form,” she said.

Journal staff writers Dan Boyd, Michael Coleman and Dan McKay contributed to this story.