Talking Up a Storm

Radio host Joyce Kaufman wins fans by flaying a new enemy: undocumented immigrants

If it were up to Derek, he'd "grant the existing illegals asylum and allow them to stay in this country rather than sending them back — make them productive members of society."

Joyce wants them to go home. However humble or kind they may be, they became lawbreakers the instant they entered the country, she says. Do the citizens of the United States want to recruit lawbreakers? If employers stop hiring migrants who aren't authorized to work in the country, she says, they'd leave — "attrition through enforcement."

(After congressional efforts to overhaul immigration policy fell apart in June, the Department of Homeland Security announced a plan that would require employers to lay off workers whose identities don't match Social Security records, but a federal judge in California has blocked the rule, saying it could snare legitimate workers.)

Joyce Kaufman, on the air, live and local.
Joyce Kaufman, on the air, live and local.
Supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants protest in Los Angeles in August.
UPI Photo/Jim Ruymen/Newscom
Supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants protest in Los Angeles in August.

Kaufman insists that her position on immigration is based on a need for fairness, secure borders, the rule of law, assimilation, and pragmatism.

"Do I believe that the majority of people come here to work and make a better life for themselves? Absolutely," she says. "But there are millions — actually billions — of people in India and China and South Vietnam and Korea and all parts of the world who would like to do the same thing. At what point do we decide that we cannot accommodate every person who's looking for a better life?"

She agrees with her son's assessment about her off-the-air personality, though. She thinks of herself as a mild-mannered, giving person — the sort of restaurant patron who never sends food back to the kitchen, she says, and always leaves a fat tip.

Joyce Kaufman is standing barefoot outside her mother's apartment in Coconut Creek, taking quick drags off a cigarette. Her hair is piled messily on top of her head, secured with a large plastic clip. She looks as though she's dressed for a slumber party, in navy sweatpants and a gray T-shirt with the neck cut out. She barely slept the night before, she says, because her mother, Aida, was raging all night. "All night long and this morning, she told me that her mother was here and I was her sister and that Mom was mad at us — that kind of stuff. So she was in a totally different place."

Aida has Alzheimer's. Kaufman moved in four months ago to help care for the 84-year-old.

Inside the apartment, Aida is in good spirits, sitting in a black recliner. She looks tiny. Vulnerable. Kaufman tucks a baby-blue blanket across Aida's lap. On this particular morning, Aida recognizes her daughter, whom she stares at with wide, childlike eyes. "I'm very proud of her," Aida says, her voice practically a whisper. "That's my baby. She's the greatest." Then Aida blows her daughter a kiss.

Kaufman asks Aida if she remembers seeing her on CNN the night before.

Aida says it was interesting, but what was the topic?

Speaking Spanish, Kaufman prods, "Why don't they speak English?"

"They're going to throw tomatoes on you," Aida says. Then she reminds her daughter: "Don't forget I'm Spanish."

"I don't forget," Kaufman says. "If you're Spanish, what am I?"

"You're a Jew," Aida says. "Jew-Spanish. Jew-Rican."

They both laugh. Kaufman decides, aloud, that she's "just a little bit of Jew and a lot of Rican."

"You're baaaaad," Aida says.

Kaufman flips through channels on a television set that's suspended from the ceiling in her mother's bedroom. She stops at a Spanish-language talk show on Telemundo, the station her mother wants to watch, and turns up the volume.

Then she walks into her own bedroom. Across from the bed, there's a shelf decorated like an altar. A ceramic cross is surrounded by votive candles and framed pictures of family members. There's her grandfather in his rabbinical robes, her father, a half-sister, an aunt, a brother...

It's all so personal. This makes Kaufman uneasy. On the air, she drops just enough clues about herself so her audience can relate. One listener might want her to be agnostic while another wants her to be an observant Jew. The perceptive ones will notice that she quotes Bible verses and says words like amen and hallelujah. She is, in the listener's mind, whatever the listener wants her to be.

Many of them have no idea what Kaufman looks like. If they check her website, www.joyce­, they'll see some sultry photos. In one, she appears to be naked, sitting with her arms wrapped around a knee and a come-hither look in her eyes. In another, she's dressed like a sexy border-patrol agent toting binoculars. She hits on many of her male callers, especially if she agrees with their opinions. She asks if they're single. She tells them they'd have made beautiful children. But she isn't really looking for a date, she says; flirting, she thinks, makes her seem softer on the air.

"I paint pictures with words," she says. "You can think I look like anything. I could be professorial; I could be a slut. Whatever you need me to be, that day, that's what I am. Like guys who drive in their cars want to think I'm hot. And women who drive in their cars want to think I'm just like them — struggling to get home and take care of the family. I mean, they don't want me to be sexy. So, that's the beauty of it. I'm just this radio person."

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