Friday, December 5, 2008

Real and Hidden Agendas of Restrictionists

Following the listing of FAIR as a “hate group” in December 2007 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there emerged within the progressive community a closely coordinated campaign to discredit the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is the nation's oldest and largest anti-immigration policy institute.

The defeat of a compromise comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), which most of the immigrant-rights and Latino organizations had supported, was a sharp blow to the pro-immigration community, and a major victory for restrictionist groups like FAIR.

Over the past couple of years, these groups had organized massive demonstrations throughout the United States in support of immigrant rights and legalization. They had worked hard to win bipartisan support for a CIR bill on Capitol Hill, and had won support from the most influential print media.

But the compromises included in the propose bill included onerous preconditions for legalization, thereby sapping much grassroots and institutional enthusiasm for the Senate bill. These compromises, which were included largely to win the support of senators under pressure from anti-immigration forces, did nothing to dampen the opposition of the restrictionist movement, which organized a massive call-in, write-in, and speak-out campaign against the bill, persuading many in Congress that there was little political will for CIR
Since 2005 the pro-immigration lobby had worked with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But each year, support for legalization diminished while anti-immigration congressional members -- working closely with the restrictionist policy institutes (mainly FAIR and NumbersUSA) -- succeeded in passing new bipartisan bills to increase border security and immigration law enforcement.

Beaten down over three years, the pro-immigration lobby in Washington and the main immigrant-rights activist groups have regrouped and organized new fight-back strategies. These strategies include increasing the Latino/immigrant voting bloc, creating a new communications infrastructure, and mounting an initiative to discredit the restrictionist institutes. Signs of this campaign were quickly evident.

After 28 years of working against liberal immigration policies, FAIR was in late 2007 designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The National Council of La Raza launched its “We Can Stop the Hate” campaign, which educates about hate crimes while at the same time identifying FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies as “hate and extremist” groups.

On its site, NCLR identifies FAIR and NumbersUSA as the core “fanatical factions,” along with two vigilante organizations (Minuteman Project and American Border Patrol) and two virulently anti-immigrant groups (Save Our State and California Coalition for Immigration Reform).

In September 2008 a grouping of allied organizations published a full-page ad in Capitol Hill newspapers attacking FAIR as a “hate group” at the same time that FAIR was conducting its annual congressional outreach campaign. Referring to FAIR, the ad asked: “When Did Extreme Become Mainstream?” 

The organizations paying for the aid were: America’s Voice (a new post-CIR defeat creation), Center for New Community, Fair Immigration Reform Movement (creation of Center for Community Change), and the national union SEIU. NCLR’s “We Can Stop the Hate” campaign was a central feature of the aid.

Over the past year and a half, these and other groups have mounted an education and communications campaign in an attempt to discredit FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies because of their purported extremist, nativist, fanatical, and hateful views.

But aside from a few snippets of provocative commentary by the principals of these groups and poorly substantiated charges that they are front groups for a white-supremacist conspiracy, there is little in their volumes of analysis, propaganda, and videos to peg them as being extremist – unless being against “mass immigration,” as they call it, is regarded as too extreme for U.S. polity.

There is also no public evidence that FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS stoke or support hate crimes, which is implied and sometimes stated by this grouping of immigrant-rights critics.

Assessed as a strategy, the campaign of character assassination presents risks for all those favoring liberal immigration policies. One is that it damages the credibility of the critics. Another is that blinds the opponents of restrictionism. They start believing themselves that these groups have no legitimacy and thereby don’t bother to respond to what they are saying.

This was quickly evident after SPLC made its “hate group” designation in December 2007 when there arose a chorus of progressives dismissing FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA as hate groups. Immediately after the SPLC designation, Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of the Center for Community Change in Washington, DC, told a reporter: "[FAIR] is an organization that clearly has an agenda. There’s no difference between putting a member of FAIR on TV to talk about immigration and putting a member of the Ku Klux Klan to talk about race relations."

NCLR apparently feels the same way, having designated FAIR’s Dan Stein and NumberUSA’s Roy Beck as “suspect spokespeople” and lumping together the three institutes in the category of “extremist and hate” groups. One wonders just whom the media is supposed to talk to about the restrictionist cause if reporters are to reject these three influential institutes as illegitimate.

Within the wide-ranging restrictionist movement, these institutes are regarded as weak-kneed moderates and branches of the liberal elite by the truly extreme anti-immigration groups. But for a klatch of liberal critics, the institutes are commonly regarded as being extremist purveyors of hate.

Rather than considering and responding to the published anti-immigration agendas of FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS, they insist that the public, media, and policy community evaluate these groups by their alleged hidden agenda – an agenda that’s purportedly the same as the one that guides the KKK and other racist organizations.

The Center for the New Community has targeted FAIR as part of its “nativism watch” project, which was launched in 2006. Its research details the extent of FAIR’s reach through what the center calls “front groups” and its close connections with the controversial founder of FAIR and current board member, John Tanton.

Pointing to FAIR’s agenda for the 111th Congress, CNC notes that FAIR has been “named a hate organization alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” while noting that “while attempting to portray itself as a mainstream organization, FAIR maintains relationships with political extremists including white nationalists.”

While it is certainly true that FAIR in its near-three decades history has associated with organizations and individuals who have had vile views about race, does that mean that the organization itself is a nativist group or that it is part of “organized racism,” as CNC charges?

Nothing in its policy statements, including the latest congressional agenda, supports that. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to challenge FAIR over its policy agenda, or to formulate a pro-immigration policy agenda that is as detailed and comprehensive (and hopefully more persuasive) than to engage in a name-calling campaign over an alleged hidden agenda?

Photo: FAIR's Dan Stein

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