Today’s New York Times has a profile of John Tanton, founder of [un]FAIR and other anti-immigrant, pseudo-intellectual “think tanks.” FAIR is the organization that is most responsible for the scores of anti-American pieces of legislation to be run through state legislatures in the last year. Arizona was the first with SB1070 while Georgia is the most recent state to pass draconian legislation that attacks undocumented people (and those who look like they might be undocumented). Nearly every piece of anti-immigrant state legislation has been the work of FAIR or one of its partner entities.
The NYTimes article today is an in-depth exploration of John Tanton’s ideological background that uses his archival papers as the basis for the piece. According to the Times, Tanton donated his collected papers to the University of Michigan in an attempt to dispel growing criticism of his groups as being racially motivated if not completely racist in their motivations. The Southern Poverty Law Center has even labeled FAIR a hate group. Times writer Jason DeParle says that Tanton began his anti-immigrant crusades in the 1970s, and attempted to deny any racist motivations by appealing to the more nativist sentiments of liberals and African Americans.
“Then, as today, there were serious liberal arguments for lower immigration. FAIR hoped to enlist unions concerned about wage erosion, environmentalists concerned about pollution and sprawl, and blacks concerned about competition for housing, jobs and schools.”
Union & African American support for anti-immigrant policies was a logical step for someone like Tanton who realized in a very Nixonian Southern Strategy way that overt racism would only play into his opponent’s hands. The subtle and very postmodern tactics would give him and his nascent FAIR organization the political and racial cover to attack immigrants on all fronts. To the credit of Civil & Human Rights minded people in both liberal and Democratic camps, that didn’t work as well as he hoped.
But accusations of bigotry could alienate moderates the immigrant rights groups need. Allies of Dr. Tanton say their accusers are discrediting themselves with a guilt-by-association campaign that twists his ideas and projects them onto groups where, they say, his influence long ago waned. Still, few of those allies are willing to defend all the views he expresses in his files.
Even though Tanton and his groups denied their ideologies as being racially motivated, they pushed for overtly racialized policies and used clearly racist demagoguery to have them passed – a hard fact to ignore.
“One of my prime concerns,” he wrote to a large donor, “is about the decline of folks who look like you and me.” He warned a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
One of the key things to take from the NYTimes article is the clearly racist and fallacious foundation that the current immigration battle is being waged upon. Tanton’s groups have, for years, tried to associate the influx of immigrants to the United States with population increases in public schools, strains on local and federal government, and even the environmental problems our country is facing.
A folksy entrant to a fiery debate, Mr. Beck appeared to share little with the white nationalist element in Dr. Tanton’s broad circle. He calls himself a racial liberal and argues that lower immigration would raise the wages of native-born blacks. He put a picture of Barbara Jordan, a black civil rights leader and politician he considered an ally, on the Numbers USA Web site.
Like Nixon in 1968, Tanton seeks to divide and conquer. The goal being to pit eco-friendly liberals and self-preserving African Americans against immigrants by blaming immigrants, documented and undocumented, for the problems these constituencies see as the most pressing. For the most part it has worked. Liberals are too afraid to call out Tanton and his groups as racist or even racially motivated, and some African Americans have bought into the “they’re taking our jobs/schools/resources,” argument. Even the New York Times calls Tanton’s claims, “serious liberal arguments for lower immigration,” while not at all saying that everyone of the problems Tanton and his groups attribute to immigrants are actually rooted in the white male dominated economic and political power structures governing our country. It is just too easy for some to accept Tanton and FAIR’s arguments against immigration while at the very moment criticizing his motives.
Why is John Tanton, “the most influential unknown man in America,” as former aide to Ronald Reagan Linda Chavez says? He is so influential because so many people in the United States, “liberal” and conservative, think the way he does. Democrats in Congress are too afraid of upsetting their affluent white constituency to label this man for what he is… a eugenics believing, white supremacist. Add to that the racist undertones of liberal-white America, and it becomes hard to muster the support in public for the DREAM Act or any kind of Comprehensive Immigration Reform that does not create an entire class of indentured servants.
One of the reasons Democrats and non-nativist African Americans have rejected FAIR’s characterization of immigrants is the reality that this issue has MAJOR political consequences. Latinos are now more than 16% of the American population – the largest minority group in the country; and that number is much larger in some individual congressional districts. To cast off the Civil & Human Rights struggles of immigrants is political suicide – especially in an election year. Unfortunately, FAIR and Tanton’s other organizations have built a very strong network of xenophobic contributors and activists. They were able to kill the DREAM Act and have been successful at pushing through harsh anti-immigrant legislation in state houses across the country.
What I want to know, now that this article has been published on the Front Page of the New York Times, will liberal Democrats and liberal-progressives continue to play into John Tanton’s hand? Will Democrats continue to espouse their “enforcement first” solutions to the so-called immigration problem?
Will Democrats call out the clearly racist underpinnings of anti-immigrant groups? Will Democrats spend the money it takes to build the grassroots support among Latinos and immigrant solidarity groups? I guess that depends on whether or not the Democratic Party wants to lose up and down the 2012 ticket.