Echoing health bill fallout, threats surface in immigration debate

Threats to lawmakers that followed the passage of sweeping healthcare reform legislation last month have resurfaced with the immigration debate, as a new threat made against an Arizona congressman closed down offices.

A man Friday made death threats against staff working in Rep. Raul Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) Tuscon office, forcing both of his home state offices to shut down hours earlier than expected.

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The threats were made over a controversial immigration law passed by Arizona’s state legislature this week and signed Friday by Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

The new law allows Arizona state police to check people’s identification to see if they are illegal immigrants. The bill has stirred criticism, including from Grijalva, who says that the bill is discriminatory toward Latinos.

President Barack Obama criticized the bill Friday afternoon at a naturalization ceremony for American military service members, calling it “misguided” and urging Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

"The recent efforts in Arizona ... threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans as well as the trust in police and their communities that are so crucial to keeping us safe," Obama said.

The threat is a reminder that the immigration debate could be shaping up to be just as contentious as the healthcare reform debate that took place over the past year. After the vote on healthcare reform legislation last month, several members of Congress received threats, which have been investigated by law enforcement.

Grijalva, who is chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is one of the first whose office has received threats, though he has not been alone and the reported threats have gone to staffers in both parties.

One man called Grijalva's Tucson office twice and said he would "blow everyone's brains out," spokesman Adam Sarvana told The Hill.

The man who made the threats said that after he killed people in the offices, he would travel to the Mexican border, and then start shooting any Mexican he saw coming across the border, according to Sarvana.

He said that Grijalva's offices in Tucson and Yuma closed Friday at noon local time, hours before they were set to shut down, as a precaution and were expected to reopen Monday.

Police were notified of the threat and were guarding the Tucson office, but not the Yuma office because no specific threat was made to staff there.

Sarvana refused to predict if the threats would proliferate to other members of Arizona’s U.S. congressional delegation but drew parallels to threats made to members during the healthcare debate.

"The character of the threat is similar,” he said. “It is a general animus to a member of Congress because of their stance on an issue, and the fact that they would kill them or their staff -- yeah, it's disturbing."

Grijalva this week had called for an economic boycott of Arizona should the law pass in order to put pressure on Brewer not to sign the bill, making him arguably the most outspoken U.S. lawmaker against the bill.

But Grijalva’s office is not the only one to have received threats for supporting the immigration measure.

A staffer in Rep. Trent Franks' (R-Ariz.) office, Steve Montenegro, has received death threats for supporting it, according to Franks’ spokeswoman Bethany Haley.

Montenegro is a Republican Arizona state lawmaker who is Latino.

“It’s illustrative of the fact that there are kooks on both sides,” Haley said.

Several lawmakers received overt threats in the aftermath of the healthcare reform debate.

The homes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Washington and California were bombarded with calls from a man who warned her not to return to her home state because she would have no place to live.

Gregory Lee Giusti was charged in federal court with one count of harassment and making threatening phone calls.

Norman Leboon, 33, was arrested in late March for threatening to kill House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in a YouTube video.

A man was also charged for threatening Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and another has been arrested for saying that he has 27 people who are going to make sure that Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) “does not live to see her next term,” calling her a b----.

A severed gas line was also found at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother (D-Va.) in late March.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), whose district office was vandalized in the wake of the healthcare vote, released a statement condemning the threats against her counterparts' staff.

"I have said that I strongly disagree with Congressman Grijalva’s call for a boycott of Arizona businesses," she said. "However, resorting to vandalism and threats to express political viewpoints is unacceptable. We must work together as a nation to enforce federal immigration laws and strengthen border security."