Thursday, December 4, 2008
Attacking the Messengers, Not the Anti-Immigration Message
It didn’t work for John McCain and Sarah Palin. But the immigrant-rights groups apparently believe that a campaign of character assassination and misinformation about the leading anti-immigration groups is the best way to take on their opposition in Washington, DC.
Are NumbersUSA, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and the Center for Immigration Studies conservative organizations that scapegoat immigration for the many of the country’s crises (financial meltdown, urban sprawl, climate change, rising unemployment, social services shortfalls, etc.)?
Do they oppose guest worker programs, legalization (or "amnesty") for illegal immigrants, and most family-reunification and refugee visas? Do they all have ties to John Tanton, a prominent zero-population-growth and environmental activist who in the 1970s turned his focus to “mass immigration” and founded numerous organizations that opposed “mass immigration” including FAIR and Social Contract Press and who is labeled as a white supremacist and nativist by immigrant-rights groups?
Yes, to all of the above. But does that mean that these groups are “nativists,” “racists,” "hate groups," “extremists,” “immigrant bashing,” “white supremacist,” and “illegitimate.” Or that their executive directors – Roy Beck and Dan Stein – are “suspect spokespeople” – the label used by the National Council of La Raza (in collaboration with the Southern Poverty Law Center)?
Yes, according to immigrant advocacy groups that seek to counter the growing influence of these restrictionist organization in the public and policy debate. But no, if you attempt to find hate talk, extremism, or immigrant bashing in their publications or on their websites. (In fact, they all explicitly declare that while advocating dramatically lower immigration levels they are not anti-immigrant. See for example, NumbersUSA.)
No, if they are judged by what they write and what they do. Rather than challenging the restrictionist policy institutes and their leaders on the validity of their policy agendas, many immigrant-rights organizations seek to discredit them because of their purported motives, associations, or funding sources.
There is no doubt that FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS believe that what they call "mass immigration" constitutes a threat to the United States and that they believe that the country’s large numbers of immigrants are a causal factor in many of the country’s social, cultural, and economic crises.
It is certainly true that the policy measures they support adversely affect the welfare of millions of immigrant familes. But is seeking to undermine the influence of these groups in the media and on Capitol Hill by throwing in the same lot as the Ku Klux Klan and National Socialist Aryan Order really be considered an effective and principled political strategy?
Will smearing the restrictionist policy institutes and their leaders in campaigns of character assassination bolster the possibilities of passing a liberal immigration reform bill?
Alarmed by the growing backlash in U.S. against new immigrants and the increasing success of the Washington, DC restrictionist institutes to frame the immigration debate, a network of immigrant-rights groups inside and outside Washington, DC began a campaign to delegimitize the restrictionist institutes.
This response to the DC institutes began in earnest in mid-2007 after the defeat of the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate. Restrictionist forces, led by NumbersUSA and FAIR, had mobilized massive grassroots opposition to the proposed bill and were a major factor in its defeat. In the aftermath, immigrant-rights and other progressive groups -- funded in concert by the major liberal foundations -- mounted a strategy to replicate the communications infrastructure of the restrictionist institutes while at the same time they sought to delegitimize them.
Nothing's wrong, of course, with modeling progressive communications and outreach campaigns after successful conservative ones. But to match the successes, the groups that support immigration and advocate for immigrants will need to fashion their own message about the benefits of immigration to the American people.
Trying to stick a label of "extremism" on institutes that have massive memberships, good relations with the media, and good standing on the Hill is a measure of how desperate and isolated the pro-immigration forces that have embraced this strategy really are.
The designation of FAIR as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in late 2007 provided highly explosive ammunition for the character assassination campaign.
Rather than counter the arguments and policy proposals of FAIR and the other institutes with convincing counterarguments and substantive counterproposals, the common response -- from such groups as America’s Voice, Center for New Community, National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and Center for Community Change (and its sponsored Fair Immigration Reform Movement) -- is to dismiss these restrictionist groups, asserting they are racist and illegitimate.
At a time when FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS are increasingly framing their anti-immigration message within the context of the economic crisis and massive unemployment, the leading immigrant-rights groups focus almost exclusively on the character of the messengers rather than on the substance of their message.
See related articles:
“It’s Time to Fight FAIR”
“New Immigration Ads Stir the Melting Pot,” Washington Post http://voices.washingtonpost.com/sleuth/2008/09/new_immigration_ads_stir_the_m.html
“When Did Extreme Become Mainstream?” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/documents/SEIU_ad.pdf
FAIR, “Who’s Inciting Hate?” http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=media_release992008
Southern Poverty Law Center, “Crossing the Rubicon of Hate” http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2007/12/11/fair-crossing-the-rubicon-of-hate/
“FAIR Added to Hate Group List,” Scripps News Service http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/29303