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Racial Tensions Rise in Las Vegas, Part 2

ED GORDON, host:

Las Vegas attracts its share of visitors. People come to Vegas to play and gamble, but others, some who are not legal residents of the United States, also come for work. Many of those workers are Latino and that's causing some racial tensions in Sin City. From NPR member station KNPR, Ky Plaskon reports.

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KY PLASKON reporting:

Casino owners here like to say they see dollar signs, not skin color. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman says that attitude permeates the entire city.

Mayor OSCAR GOODMAN (Las Vegas, Nevada): I think it is. I really believe Las Vegas is color-blind.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

PLASKON: Color-blind or not, it's hard to ignore the bright yellow anti-immigration billboards that have been popping up all over town. The billboards say, `Stop immigration now. Join the National Alliance.' The US Commission on Civil Rights requested the FBI to investigate the National Alliance after its fliers were accompanied by dead animals on the doorsteps of minorities this year. Hispanic organizations have held a series of protests demanding that the billboards, which they describe as racist, be taken down.

Hispanics represent 22 percent of Las Vegas' population. According to a survey by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2003, 60 percent of Hispanics hadn't completed immigration papers and they account for 25 percent of the city's work force. But employers hiring workers illegally aren't the ones being targeted on billboards and on a syndicated anti-immigration talk show. The show is produced by KDWN Radio in Las Vegas.

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Mr. MARK EDWARDS (Host, "Wake Up, America!"): Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Wake up, America. It's time to wake up.

PLASKON: "Wake Up, America!" radio host Mark Edwards recently held a summit by that same name here in Las Vegas. The weekend event attracted Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo as well as members of the Minuteman Project. That group has gained fame in recent weeks for setting up an ongoing vigil on the US-Mexico border. Also on hand were groups with names like The America Resistance Foundation, American Border Patrol and Council on Illegal Immigration. Again, host Mark Edwards.

Mr. EDWARDS: And we're trying to get people all on one page even though they all have their own ways of doing things.

Mr. MIGUEL BARRIENTOS (President, Mexican American Political Association): They're Nazis. They're white supremists. They're KKK.

PLASKON: Miguel Barrientos is president of the Mexican American Political Association which protested the summit.

Mr. BARRIENTOS: They're using this border issue basically to get out and get on the news and talk to people and get people on their side and they've even got Tom Tancredo, a congressman from Colorado, involved and you've got--the racist KKK Klansmen are involved.

PLASKON: Edwards denies his group is racist. However one views the immigration controversy, it's not the kind of image Mayor Oscar Goodman wants for the city.

Mayor GOODMAN: You don't want to be homogenized milk or white bread. That's no good. You want to have people of different backgrounds. That's what makes a place interesting.

PLASKON: In addition to keeping Las Vegas interesting, he says immigrants today should be valued for laying down the brick and mortar of the town. But according to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas study, almost 70 percent of Hispanics reported experiencing some kind of discrimination. For NPR News, I'm Ky Plaskon in Las Vegas.

GORDON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ky Plaskon
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