Arizona Sen. Sylvia Allen apologizes for saying ‘we’re going to look like South American countries’ at GOP political event

(Bob Christie | AP Photo) In this May 3, 2018, file photo State Sen. Sylvia Allen keeps warm during a late-night session as the Arizona Legislature prepared to adjourn for the year in Phoenix. The veteran Arizona legislator is apologizing while defending herself from criticism for comments she made on immigration and birth rates. The Phoenix New Times posted audio of a July 15, 2019, speech during which Allen said a flood of immigration and low birth rates among whites amid a lack of cultural assimilation mean "we're going to look like South American countries very quickly." The Republican from Snowflake, Arizona, who is white, also said the U.S. has to regulate immigration so the country can provide jobs, education, health care and other needs.

A Republican state senator from Arizona apologized Friday for her remarks on research relating to the “browning” of America and for saying that “we’re going to look like South American countries very quickly.”

Sen. Sylvia Allen faced backlash after the Phoenix New Times published an audio recording of her speech during an event commemorating “Mormon Political Pioneers” at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters in Phoenix on July 15.

The comments come as migrants are arriving at the southern border in large numbers to seek asylum and amid a national debate on immigration and racism. President Donald Trump recently tweeted about a group of minority Democratic congresswomen, saying they should "go back" to where they came from. They are United States citizens, and three of the four were born in the country.

During her 25-minute speech, Allen, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, spoke about her family's deep roots in the country, her passion for liberty, as well as her commitment to religious freedom. She also voiced concern about the large number of immigrants "just flooding us and flooding us and flooding us and overwhelming us."

"We have a right as a country to have people come in an organized manner, so we know who are coming so we can have jobs for them, so we can provide education for them and health care and all these things that people need," said Allen, a longtime representative of District 6 who lives in Snowflake.

In her apology, Allen defended her "browning" comments, attributing them to research by James Johnson, a professor at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, and later posted a link on her Facebook page to a slide show of his research.

Johnson was surprised that his research showed up in the speech.

"I was stunned," he told The Washington Post on Sunday. "I have been in higher education for 40 years, and I've never had anyone spin my research that way."

In the speech, Allen claimed that Arizona state Sen. Martín Quezada, a Democrat, opposed assimilation, and she voiced concerns about how America would look in the coming decade.

"When Senator Quezada says, 'We don't want to assimilate, we don't want that.' Well, then what do you want? What do you plan for America to look like in 10 years? What kind of form of government are we going to live under in 10 years?" Allen asked.

On Friday, Quezada said on Twitter that Allen "went out of her way to single me out because she sees people like me (and the majority of our K-12 students and anyone else who isn't white) as a threat to her radically extremist and racist ideals. This isn't good for AZ."

He told The Arizona Republic that he was surprised by the public nature of her comments but not surprised to hear the content. Quezada said Allen had misunderstood his past comments about acculturation and assimilation.

He told the newspaper that he sees acculturation as being part of a new culture while preserving past cultural ties, where with assimilation an individual would give up a culture for a new one.

Allen apologized Friday on Facebook “to anyone who has been hurt by my words.” She said her original speech referenced South American countries over “the concern that some of these countries are socialist and that we must preserve our Constitutional Republic form of government and that we have not taught the next generation the difference.”

Johnson said America's "browning" means that the population growth of nonwhite people in the country in the 21st century is going up swiftly, as is the number of people who marry outside their race.

"What it means is the nice and neat little crucibles we're accustomed to putting people in won't fit in the future because of the growing diversity of our population," Johnson said. "And I view all of that as a strength, not as a weakness or a problem."

He said it will become more and more important to "embrace immigrants and people of color" for overall competitiveness in the future global marketplace.

In the past and today, changing demographics have been used to stoke nativist sentiments — that white people are losing ground in America, according to an article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine. Heidi Beirich, who leads the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, wrote, “Nativists, racists and our president are taking advantage of the browning of America, contrasting it with nostalgia for a perceived better, whiter past, and using that idea to activate citizens into white nationalist thinking.”

The Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee compared Allen's speech to comments made by former state representative David Stringer, who had said that "there aren't enough white kids to go around" and called immigration "an existential threat." He resigned in March after members of both parties learned that he was charged with sex crimes in the 1980s, according to The Arizona Republic.

Below one of her Facebook posts, Allen thanked supporters in a comment and wrote that "verbal Lynching is the political tool used today to silence debate on critical issues."

Arizona has been at the forefront of the immigration debate, as it shares a border with Mexico and has experienced a surge in arrivals of undocumented migrants.