Readers of the Albuquerque Journal opened up the opinion section on Wednesday to find a provocative, racially tinged cartoon.
The syndicated cartoon, by artist Sean Delonas, depicts a terrified-looking white couple being mugged at gunpoint by members of the criminal gang MS-13. A man beside them is seen carrying bombs, along with a bloody knife.
“Now, honey,” a word bubble from the white man reads. “I believe they prefer to be called ‘dreamers,’ . . . or future Democrats.”
The cartoon’s publication prompted a wave of outrage from immigrant advocates, bipartisan lawmakers and hundreds of readers. It also came at a particularly tense time in the national immigration debate, as Democrats in Congress continue to seek protections for “dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Temporary protection from deportation for them through the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is set to expire next month.
Late Wednesday, the editor of the Albuquerque Journal issued an apology, saying that while the mission of the editorial page is to spark debate, “this cartoon only inflamed emotions.” Following continued criticism, the editor, Karen Moses, published an expanded apology Thursday morning.
“I do not presume to know what cartoonist Sean Delonas was trying to convey in his cartoon that was published in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal,” Moses wrote. “But on one level it appeared to us to be poking at President Trump’s rhetoric by portraying a quaking Republican couple who were painting Dreamers with a broad, totally false, brush.”
“Instead, many saw an extremely objectionable cartoon and thought that was the position of the Journal,” Moses added. “It is not.”
The apology did not appear to quell critics, as dozens of people protested outside the newspaper’s offices on Thursday evening, the Albuquerque Journal reported. One protester, Margarita Maestas, even walked into the newsroom to cancel her 17-year subscription, according to the Journal. “It labeled our Dreamers as criminals,” she said.
Even journalists on staff at the Journal, who work independently of the editorial staff, condemned the decision to publish the cartoon. Roberto E. Rosales, a Journal photojournalist, tweeted: “As a photojournalist from El Salvador who by the way condemns MS-13, and works at @ABQJournal how do you think this cartoon makes me feel? Pathetic!”
Earlier in the day, state lawmakers dedicated a half-hour to criticizing the cartoon on the New Mexico Senate floor.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) said the cartoon was “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, according to the Journal.
Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation also issued a statement condemning the cartoon as feeding into “vitriol” at a time when lawmakers are seeking an immigration compromise.
“It plays to the most false and negative stereotype of ‘Dreamers,’ which can only serve to enrage extremists,” the statement read. “Instead of highlighting some middle ground that could be fertile for agreement, this cartoon pushes the two sides further into their respective corners.”
The letter was signed by New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall (D) and Martin Heinrich (D); Reps. Ben Ray Luján (D), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Stevan Pearce (R); New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) and a number of immigrant advocacy groups.
Delonas, 56, a cartoonist for the New York Post’s Page Six from 1990 to 2013, is syndicated by CagleCartoons, and his cartoons have appeared worldwide. He is no stranger to controversy or cartoons that elicit outrage.
One of his cartoons, published in the New York Post in 2009, was deemed particularly offensive. In it, two law enforcement officers are depicted shooting the body of a chimpanzee. The word bubble says, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
As one Vanity Fair writer put it: “I’m struggling to find an interpretation of this that doesn’t odiously compare Obama, who just signed the stimulus bill yesterday, to a monkey, resorting to one of the most wretched racist stereotypes.”
That cartoon’s publication even elicited a rare apology from Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corporation, which owns the New York Post. He apologized “to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.”
“It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such,” Murdoch said.
Speaking to the Journal, Delonas said he sees unchecked illegal immigration as a threat to 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, who is based in Pennsylvania, said. “I think you can call them Dreamers, but I kind of agree with Trump that Americans have Dreams, too.”
His statement paralleled one made by President Trump during his State of the Union address. Trump lamented crime from MS-13 and other gangs, which he blamed on “open borders.” He sought to repurpose the term “dreamer” by saying American citizens have seen their economic prospects dimmed and personal safety put at risk because of illegal immigration.
On Facebook, Delonas appeared to take pride in being, once again, at the center of a heated controversy.
“Today, U.S. Senators and state lawmakers (all Democrats) from New Mexico took time out of their busy pay-to-play schedules to condemn me,” he wrote. “Always enjoyed upsetting politicians, makes me feel like I’m back at the NY Post.”