Immigrants Targeted: Extremist Rhetoric Moves into the Mainstream
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – Washington D.C.
Download ADL’s fact sheet:
Pulling the Curtain Back
(.pdf printable version, 23KB)
The Washington D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) founded in 1979, claims to work to “improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest.” Headquartered in the “heart of Capitol Hill,” FAIR tempers its language so as to appear as a mainstream group in front of the media and government agencies. Possibly due to its large size (it claims over 250,000 members and supporters), D.C. location, and exposure, elected officials look to the organization for input. To that end, FAIR boasts that it “has been called to testify on immigration bills before Congress more than any organization in America.”
Nuanced in its approach
Like many other anti-immigrant groups, FAIR opposes legal immigration as well as illegal immigration. Unlike many other anti-immigrant groups, however, FAIR is much more explicit about this opposition. It has consistently supported a moratorium on legal immigration to the United States, suggesting that only spouses and young children of U.S. citizens and “some” legitimate refugees should be allowed into the country.
FAIR is more nuanced in its use of language than other anti-immigrant groups and it has been used as a resource by officials, the media and within anti-immigration policy circles. However, a close look reveals a pattern of extremist affiliations and a strategy of founding and empowering smaller groups that promote xenophobia.
History of extremist ties
Controversy over FAIR’s extremist ties dates back to its founder, John Tanton, a pioneer of the anti-immigrant movement. In 1997, he told the Detroit Free Press that if the borders are not secured, America will be overrun by people “defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs.”
Tanton founded several other organizations, including U.S. English, a group that seeks to make English the official language of the United States. He also publishes The Social Contract, an anti-immigration journal whose Website links to a number of extremist sites, including VDare, a Website that publishes racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant articles. In fact, the Spring 2008 issue of The Social Contract is devoted entirely to reprinting material that originally appeared on VDare. An article in the Spring 2007 issue of the journal lauds Sam Francis, a deceased white supremacist, as a “formidable and articulate champion.”
The Social Contract also links to American Border Patrol, the virulently anti-Hispanic border vigilante group whose leader, Glenn Spencer, claimed that the Mexican government is “sponsoring the invasion of the United States with hostile intent,” and the Minutemen, a loose network of local chapters around the country, whose primary goal is to keep undocumented immigrants from Mexico out of the United States. The more extreme Minutemen chapters advocate patrols of the Mexican-American border by armed volunteers.
Despite these extremist ties, Tanton remains on the FAIR Board of Directors. Furthermore, FAIR reportedly accepted over $1 million in the 1980s and 1990s from The Pioneer Fund, a foundation that promotes the study of eugenics. Racist scholar J. Philippe Rushton, The Pioneer Fund’s current president, spoke at a 2006 conference organized by American Renaissance, a white supremacist publication and Website.
In June 2008, as part of its strategy to create a larger movement and to mainstream its anti-immigrant views to a wider audience, FAIR joined with four other anti-immigrant groups to found America's Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning (“Leadership Team”). In August 2008, the Leadership Team sponsored a national ad campaign “to raise America's awareness of the role population growth plays in the demand for energy.” As part of the campaign, the Leadership Team took out an ad in the New York Times which argued that the use of alternative energy sources, combined with a reduction of immigration into the United States, will “reduce the threat” of rising prices of fuel and other resources. Another ad published in September 2008 warned America’s “progressive thinkers” that the natural resources and future of the United States are in jeopardy if the country allows continued immigration.
In June 2008, the Leadership Team sponsored a similar campaign, which included ads that appeared in the New York Times and The Nation that month. The ads, which pictured a bulldozer knocking down trees and heavy traffic congestion, argued that high immigration levels will cause environmental damage, traffic congestion, higher taxes, and severe strains on schools, emergency rooms, and public infrastructure.
In addition to having a direct role in an anti-immigrant coalition, FAIR employs and empowers other anti-immigrant activists. For example, in March 2008, FAIR announced that Rosanna Pulido, an Illinois-based anti-immigrant activist would be one of its newest field representatives. FAIR’s announcement omitted any references to Pulido’s former position as the state director of the Illinois Minuteman Project, which, at one point, existed as a subgroup of Chris Simcox’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a border vigilante group. Pulido was, in her words, “one of the original Minutemen on the border in April 2005.” She has also served as the Illinois spokesperson for You Don’t Speak for Me, a FAIR offshoot created to promote an anti-immigrant message from within the Hispanic community. Joe Turner, another anti-immigrant activist and leader of the California group Save Our State, briefly served as FAIR’s Western Field Representative in 2007.
Rick Oltman, while acting as FAIR’s Western Field Director, spoke at a Minuteman rally in Arizona in April 2006; he also presented the Minuteman group with a lantern to signify that the immigrants are coming “by land.” A May 2006 Los Angeles Times article discussed a meeting between Oltman, Mothers Against Illegal Aliens president Michelle Dallacroce, and Rusty Childress, leader of United for Sovereign America, an anti-immigrant group that attracts extremists to its events.
Attracting media attention
FAIR also attempts to bring together various strands of the anti-immigrant movement in events that are geared to attract media attention and broadcast an anti-immigrant message. From December 27-28, 2007, FAIR’s Congressional Task Force hosted a “Talk Radio Row” at a Des Moines, Iowa hotel.
The mainstream media covered the Talk Radio Row and a number of politicians attended and participated in the event. Participants and attendees included Minuteman Project leader Jim Gilchrist and Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio has gained national publicity by engaging in divisive anti-immigrant practices, including implementing 'crime suppression sweeps,’ which allegedly resulted in discrimination and profiling in areas populated mainly by Latinos.
FAIR also received a lot of mainstream media coverage in April 2007 by co-sponsoring “Hold Their Feet to the Fire,” a series of anti-immigrant events in Washington, D.C., that brought together several members of Congress, anti-immigration groups, media figures, border vigilante groups, and citizen activists from around the country. Through press conferences, continuous radio broadcasting from over 35 hosts, lobbying training and demonstrations, participants voiced their opposition to then pending immigration legislation in the 110th Congress and heard from many of the figures who have injected ugly stereotypes into the national immigration debate.
Testifying before government committees
Despite a problematic background, FAIR often voices its views in front of legislative and political committees. In February 2008, FAIR President Dan Stein testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law. In October 2007, FAIR Special Projects Director Jack Martin testified at a Pennsylvania hearing of the House Republican Policy Committee. That same month, Dan Stein made a presentation to the New York Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs and the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation. In their testimony, Stein and Martin argued that the United States government is not doing its job in enforcing immigration law. FAIR’s testimony also included support for legislation that empowers local law enforcement to initiate deportation proceedings. They contended that undocumented immigration places a “fiscal burden” on taxpayers, who, they alleged, are funding the education, medical care, and prosecution costs of undocumented immigrants.