Hollywood stars fail to align on U.S. immigration debate

Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn protest the Iraq war. Leonardo DiCaprio has taken on global warming and "M-A-S-H"'s Mike Farrell stands vigil against the death penalty.

But when it comes to immigration reform a controversy in Hollywood's own backyard stars have largely been unseen and unheard.

Fear of career damage, confusion over a complex issue supercharged by waves of nationwide protests, and detachment from the reality of Hispanic life are among the explanations offered by industry insiders and observers.

Not that the U.S. movement has needed famous standard bearers it has been notable for its bottom-up genesis with no recognizable leaders.

Still, Hispanic rights groups contend there are no good excuses for the celebrity vacuum.

"I remember the (black) civil rights struggle, when we had people like Harry Belafonte coming forth and being at the head and knowing the subject matter really well," said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "We're missing that here."

Do famous Hispanics have a moral obligation to get involved?

"Of course," Nogales said. "This is part and parcel of being a Latino and having the responsibility to safeguard our community. The more visible ones have to take a stand. They can't always be safe."

There have been only scattered celebrity sightings at marches, with Academy Award-nominated actor Edward James Olmos of "Stand and Deliver" the best-known.

A few other prominent Hispanics, including actor-comedian George Lopez and filmmaker Gregory Nava, candidly address the public debate and the role their roles in it.

"I agree with them (Hispanic advocates) in saying we should get involved," Lopez told The Associated Press. "I think the thing that frightens Hollywood right now is it's such a powder keg they're afraid of getting burned, as public figures."

For Olmos, his involvement represents yet another chapter in a lifetime of activism. He considers the immigration issue central to the crucial debate over humane economic treatment of people worldwide.

"I think it's important (to get involved) because of the complexity of the issues that are involved," he said. "I wish there was a simple answer to this but I think both sides have to come to terms with the realities of what we're facing."

Another prominent activist of Hispanic background, Martin Sheen, was away after wrapping "The West Wing" and unavailable, his agent said. Sheen has been a highly visible supporter of immigrants rights in the past.

Sarandon, Ed Begley Jr. and Ed Asner, all known for their political outspokenness, were contacted for interviews but either were unavailable (in Sarandon's case) or did not return phone calls or e-mail requests.

Lopez, among television's best-known Hispanics as star and executive producer of ABC's comedy series "George Lopez," said that what gives him pause is the intricacy of the issue, which has stymied U.S. lawmakers as well as the average citizen.

And in an industry that has only begun to crack the door for Hispanic talent, Lopez's success can't help but seem vulnerable to fallout from political activism, reports AP.


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