An American-Arab civil-rights group is calling for congressional candidate Gabriela Saucedo Mercer to apologize for saying Middle Eastern immigrants' "only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States."
Saucedo Mercer, the Republican nominee in Congressional District 3, also said during a June 2011 interview with an online news agency that Middle Eastern immigrants, legal or not, are not wanted in the U.S.
The Washington, D.C.-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said her comments are "rooted in xenophobia and have no place in politics or our national discourse."
Her opponent, Democratic incumbent Rep. Raúl Grijalva, released a compilation of the comments in a YouTube video Tuesday.
While Grijalva says her comments amount to hate speech, Saucedo Mercer says they were taken out of context.
The fight between the two candidates played out on social media sites, with Saucedo Mercer posting "Is this all they have? Bring it on!" on her own Facebook page.
In the video compilation, titled "The Real Gabriela Mercer," Saucedo Mercer tells an interviewer authorities apprehended 25,000 illegal immigrants who were not Mexican nationals last year, including people from Middle East countries.
"If you know Middle Easterners, they look Mexican or like a lot of people in South America, dark skin, dark hair, brown eyes, and they mix in," she says. "And those people, their only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States, so why do we want them here, either legally or illegally?"
According to Border Patrol statistics, Tucson Sector agents apprehended 11,311 people from countries other than Mexico in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2011.
Saucedo Mercer said the video was edited to be misleading and it took comments out of context.
In the full version of the interview, Saucedo Mercer is responding to a specific question about "other than Mexican" immigrants and whether they concern her. After making the comments excerpted in the Grijalva campaign video, Saucedo Mercer continues by describing border violence.
"When they come across the border," she says, "besides the trash that they leave behind, the drug smuggling, the killings, the beheadings, you're seeing stuff, it's a war out there."
She made the comments to the online news site the Western Free Press last year. Gov. Jan Brewer also made comments about beheadings related to border violence in 2010.
At the time, there had been no known border beheadings in Arizona. One beheaded body was found this year northwest of Tucson.
The comment about beheadings was not used in the Grijalva campaign's compilation.
Saucedo Mercer responded to the YouTube video by questioning Grijalva's campaign tactics.
"He must be scared or something," Saucedo Mercer said at a primary-election party Tuesday night.
"The tactics he's using to smear me as a racist are unconscionable."
Saucedo Mercer is herself a legal immigrant from Mexico.
"They took a bunch of things I said, put them in a video, and they're all out of context. I am not a racist. I am not against Muslims and I am not against immigrants. Legal immigration is good. We are a country of immigrants."
In the full version of the 30-minute interview with the Western Free Press, Saucedo Mercer talks about the five-year process of becoming a naturalized citizen.
"This is a sovereign country … we have a process to immigrate legally," she says in the video, which is available in two parts on YouTube.
She also calls illegal immigration an "unfortunate" situation and goes on to say no immigration reforms will be effective until the border is secured.
She cites the double-layer fence in San Diego County as a success story and criticizes humanitarian efforts to leave water in the desert.
Star reporters Kim Smith and Tim Steller contributed to this article. Contact reporter Becky Pallack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346. On Twitter: @BeckyPallack