Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Immigrant Rights Movement Gets Organized

(Fifth in a Border Lines' Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

The country needs an immigrant-rights movement – a movement that fights back against the many abuses suffered my immigrants on the job and as part of the immigrant crackdown. Time and again, immigrants have organized themselves to demand fair treatment and to better themselves. Immigrants have unionized, organized community development associations, marched and demonstrated to secure their rights as workers and members of U.S. society. In their struggles, immigrants haven’t been alone. 

Immigrant aid societies, legal associations like the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, churches, and labor unions have long provided critical support and credibility for immigrants, legal and illegal. Throughout U.S. history, the country has benefited from immigrant-rights movements. But what Carnegie Corporation calls the “immigration reform movement” led by immigrants is a more recent phenomenon. 

The foundation in the cover article in its Carnegie Reporter, “Immigration – The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” situates the groups and individuals that led the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) at the center of this immigration reform movement. The concept is that immigration policy reform should be driven by an immigrant-rights agenda and by immigrant-rights groups. It is a concept that has been generously embraced by liberal foundations like the Carnegie Corporation. 

What’s so striking is that this strategy – having immigrant-rights groups spearhead immigration policy reform -- remains unquestioned by immigrant-rights groups and the foundations that fund them, despite its repeated failures. 

 In keeping with their commitment to protect and empower the disadvantaged sectors, liberal foundations have since the early 1980s nurtured immigrant-rights and ethnic groups as their voice in the immigration debate. As a result, there is a national network of immigrant-rights and ethnic organizations that work on behalf of the immigrant population. 

Early in the Bush administration these immigrant-rights and ethnic groups, principally National Council of La Raza, began discussions among themselves and with the foundations about using their networks to advance the cause of comprehensive immigration reform. 

An Atlantic Philanthropies planning grant in 2003 brought together a dozen immigrant advocacy organization – “from labor, community development, ethnic identified groups, national immigration advocacy, and regional immigration coalitions” – to establish the coalition and set a common strategy. 

The result was the creation in 2004 of CCIR, which as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt entity could engage in legislative advocacy and lobbying. Atlantic Philanthropies also granted money to establish a related 501(c)(3) public-education organization called the New American Opportunity Campaign to work on “leadership development, advocacy, organizing, and base-building efforts at the national, regional, and local levels.”

Describing the initiative to other foundations in 2005, Atlantic’s Reconciliation & Human Rights Program director Rebecca Rittgers said, “To galvanize the movement, and further the human rights of all immigrants in this country, we also need to further grassroots mobilization, judicial advocacy, research and dissemination, and the key to everything is communications. And communications tools and capacity building are great vehicles for funders to work together.” 

 “What’s important to us,” said Rittgers, “is we’re trying to give a voice to those who have never had a voice. There’s no better group that fits that criterion than the undocumented people in this country.” The goal of this funding was to get CIR passed. 

As Rittgers stressed, immigration reform “needs to be comprehensive and address the issues of family reunification, enforcement, and future guest worker policy.” With its headquarters in Washington, CCIR set out to build a grassroots movement to support CIR and to mount a lobbying campaign in Congress. 

The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) was self-described as “a new collaborative developed by national and local community, immigrant, labor and policy leaders in 2004. Based in Washington, DC, the mission and central purpose of the CCIR is to pass progressive comprehensive immigration reform.” 

  CCIR had a six-person board: Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change; Cecilia Muñoz, National Council of La Raza; Frank Sharry, National Immigration Forum; Chung-Wha Hong, New York Immigration Coalition; and Eliseo Medina, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Tom Snyder, UNITE HERE

 From its beginning, CCIR was beset with tensions. As the Carnegie Reporter article recalled: “Initial meetings of what became the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform meetings brought together 150 groups to discuss strategy, and some devolved into tense sessions of finger pointing and accusations of bad faith, turf and resource hoarding and general positioning for power. 

On the other hand, meetings of small groups of people brought accusations from colleagues that these relatively few leaders, many of whom were based in Washington, D.C., were not being held accountable for their decisions by members of the coalition. 

 “In a quest to improve the situation, a decision was made in late 2006 to form a 43-member strategy council with a mandate to coordinate on fast-breaking developments and hold informational conference calls to keep others around the country in the loop. 

This helped develop a sense of transparency and trust. In addition, the Coalition organized regular conference calls involving 100 to 200 people.” With the collapse of CIR in the Senate in mid-2007, CCIR also shut down. 

As the Carnegie Report notes, “Despite all this intense effort the coalition was unable to develop a broad and strong enough movement to prevail.” 

  Next: Immigrant-Rights Movement in Action 2003-2007

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Rise of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform -- Foundation Funding

(Fourth in a Border Lines' Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

The Carnegie Corporation’s report, “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” rightly places today’s immigrant-rights movement in the context of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR). 

The coalition was the foundation-backed movement to advance comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in the Bush’s second term. The structure, strategy, and messaging of the post-CIR immigrant-rights movement are a direct outgrowth of the now-extinct CCIR

In close consultation with their grantees – including National Immigration Forum, Immigration Policy Center (part of American Immigration Law Foundation), National Council of La Raza, and Center for Community Change, among others – most of the major liberal foundations early in the first Bush administration joined together to establish and maintain an expanded immigrant-rights movement led largely by Washington, DC. organizations. 

 The primary goal was to create the grassroots support and policy advocacy capacity needed to pass CIR, and the strategy adopted to advance this goal was to empower a national network of immigrant, community, and labor organizations united by their immigrant-rights messaging. 

While the leading coalition players were funded separately by Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, and other liberal foundations (organized into a consortium called the Four Freedoms Fund), Atlantic Philanthropies was the principal foundation behind CCIR. The story of the immigration reform movement can’t be understood apart from foundation funding. 

The CCIR was a product less of a burgeoning immigrant rights organizing than of a decision by Atlantic Philanthropies in 2003 to focus on immigration reform as one of its leading priorities. Although established in 1982, it wasn’t until 1997 that the foundation started making public grants in its name.

One of the world’s largest foundations, Atlantic Philanthropies, established by businessman Charles Feeney (who made a fortune building an empire of airport duty-free shops), decided in mid-2003 to spend down its multi-billion dollar endowment over the next 12-15 years. 

Immigration reform was one of priority funding areas of the foundation’s Reconciliation and Human Rights Program; and starting in late 2003 the foundation began working closely with immigrant-rights organizations to launch a coalition movement that would serve as the public spearhead for comprehensive immigration reform. 

 The foundation was determined “to ensure that something would be left when we were no longer here.” 

According to Rebecaa Rittgers, executive director of the foundation's Reconciliation and Human Rights Program, 

“The decision was made with the caveat that we would spend it out in a way that would leave a tangible impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.” Under its human rights program, immigration reform was selected as one of the three funding priorities.” 

 The foundation’s desire to serve the most vulnerable and disadvantaged found a perfect match in immigrant-rights organizations, which could credibly claim that they represented the interests of then 12-plus illegal immigrants. 

It was a perfect match, and the foundation initiated a strategy process that birthed CCIR in 2004. The foundation tells the CCIR story this way:

“Atlantic has made three grants to date in support of this effort: a planning grant in the amount of $100,000, and two core support grants, one in 2004 which was renewed in 2005, totaling $7million.The initial planning grant enabled these twelve advocate groups – from labor, community development, ethnic identified groups, national immigration advocacy, and regional immigration coalitions – to come together at a common table and set a coordinated agenda and strategy. The two core support grants enacted this strategy – through advocacy, lobbying, communications, message and media development, grassroots mobilization and education efforts. To widen the reach and coordination of this ‘inside/outside’ strategy, a sister 501(c)(3) coalition, the New American Opportunity Campaign, was created by the CCIR.”

CCIR was established as a 501(c) (4) nonprofit organization -- allowing it to lobby extensively for congressional bills. The New American Opportunity Campaign, which effectively became CCIR, was established as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that has more restrictive lobbying regulations. The creation of the New American Opportunity Campaign opened up new funding opportunities for CCIR since many donors prefer granting to 501(c) (3) organizations. 

 According to Atlantic Philanthropies, CCIR was a “a joint legislative advocacy and grassroots mobilization initiative begun in 2003 with the mission to enact rights-centered comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the United States. 

This coalition effort is guided by a core set of rights-based immigration principles and priorities.” Briefing other funders in 2005, Atlantic's Rittgers explained her program's strategy with regard to the role of immigrant-rights in immigration reform:
"What we’re trying is to take it to the next level, to play upon the investments that have been made to date, to bring all the key players together. To us, this mechanism of a coalition is the best bet."
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Rights Movement Gets Organized

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dueling Immigration Strategies

(Third in a Border Lines' Series on Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

For the past three decades, pro- and anti-immigration institutes in Washington, DC have battled for their policy positions. Although it was the restrictionists that first set up camp in Washington – with the establishment of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1979 – the pro-immigration forces generally had more success in gaining a hearing in Congress and in the media. 

Today, it’s the restrictionists who clearly dominate the policy debate, while the pro-immigration groups struggle to have their voices heard over the restrictionist din about border security, respect for the law, and the broken immigration system. 

It has been a variation of a left-right confrontation from the beginning – with the conservative foundations like Scaife and Smith Richardson historically funding the restrictionists and the liberal foundations like Carnegie and Ford funding the pro-immigration groups like National Immigration Forum. 

As the restrictionist institutes – FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies – have expanded their influence, they broadened their funding base, drawing in wealthy private donors and hundreds of thousands of members. 

Meanwhile, the pro-immigration institutes continue to rely almost exclusively on a small set of liberal foundations. There are dueling ideologies at play. On the restrictionist side, the institutes are guided by a zero-population growth ethic, while on the pro-immigration side the ideological drivers of the leading NGOs are respect for human rights, internationalism, and humanitarianism. 

The pro-immigration organizations went into 21st century buoyed by a burst of immigrant organizing and a confidence buoyed by the rapid increase in the immigrant and Latino population in America.

Immigrants organized Hometown Clubs that helped new immigrants from the same towns in Mexico, banks started offering mortgages and other loans to illegal immigrants, day labor centers were established, and liberal foundations and academics popularized the notion of “transborder communities” that spanned national borders in this age of globalization. 

There arose a new sense of entitlement among the growing numbers of illegal immigrants that to a large decree merged with a deepening realization of the power – voting, economic, cultural, political – of Latinos. 

In recognition of the growing numbers of undocumented immigrants and in response to immigrant demands, many local governments and economic institutions adopted new practices that facilitated illegal-immigrant integration into U.S. life. While the anti-immigration institutes were established with the clear goal of dramatically reducing immigration levels, their counterparts are less about making a case for immigration than they are about representing the interests of immigrants.

This has been their central strength and central failing as advocates for immigration policy reform – a strength the immigrant-rights message creates a base among immigrants and immigrant advocates throughout the country, and a failing because the immigrant-centered framing of immigration reform identifies these immigration reform advocates as a special interest lobby rather than as a more widely based citizens’ pro-immigration movement. 

The “immigrant rights” identification is one that the leading pro-immigration organizations pin on themselves. The National Immigration Forum, for example, describes itself in these terms:

"Established in 1982, the National Immigration Forum is the nation’s premier immigrant rights organization. The Forum is dedicated to embracing and upholding America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and are fair to and supportive of newcomers to our country."

In the aftermath of the mid-2007 defeat of CIR, the pro-immigration groups, aided by their foundation sponsors, began readying themselves for next congressional discussion of a CIR proposal. 

“Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” the cover article in the Fall 2008 issue of the Carnegie Reporter, examines the reconstruction of the liberal immigration reform movement in the aftermath of the failure of the last CIR campaign. 

The Carnegie article rightly notes that the “seeds of the pro-immigration movement are in the tradition of coalition relationships that began when the immigration reform debate started in the early 1980s.” From the beginning, the pro-immigration groups that formed to promote legalization of undocumented immigrants and refugees came to the immigration debate with an immigrant rights message. 

Many of the main figures in the movement were closely associated with the Central American and Caribbean (mainly Haiti) solidarity and sanctuary movements. 

As such, their primary focus was to protect the rights of immigrants fleeing wars and political persecution. To further these goals, alliances were established with business, labor, ethnic, attorney, and church organizations that each for their own reasons supported liberal immigration policies. The immigrant-rights movement surged early in the Bush administration –in response both to the deepening anti-immigration sentiment in the country (especially after Sept. 11) and to a major influx of foundation funding for immigrant-rights organizing. 

The surge in immigrant organizing was also in response to a surge of illegal immigrants who crossed the southern border to work in the booming constructions and service industries.

Finding themselves exploited and abused, immigrants organized themselves to demand decent wages and working conditions. Labor unions, notably the SEIU and Unite Here, not only made new commitments to organize immigrants but also likened their struggles to the civil rights battles of the 1960s -- organizing in 2003 the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride across the nation.

The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) coordinated the NGO drive to pass CIR. Established in 2003 and closed down in the aftermath of CIR’s defeat, CCIR was an immigrant rights initiative launched and sustained with financial support of Atlantic Philanthropies.

Three successive grants from Atlantic Philanthropies for a total of $10 million underwrote what Atlantic called a “joint legislative advocacy and grassroots mobilization initiative with the mission to enact rights-centered comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the U.S. 

This coalition effort is guided by a core set of rights-based immigration principles and priorities, including: a path to permanency for the undocumented, family re-unification and labor protection for future flows.”

Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform – Foundation Funding

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Failure of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

(Second in a Border Lines' series on the Movement for Comprhensive Immigration Reform.)

The NGO campaign to pass comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in the second George W. Bush administration failed miserably. Even with a Democratic majority in both Houses and with the stated support of the president, CIR proponents repeatedly failed to advance liberal immigration reform in 2005-2007. 

In contrast, those advancing a restrictionist reform agenda experienced numerous victories in Congress in the form of increased budget allocations for immigration enforcement and authorizations for new border security, employee verification, and immigrant detention measures. 

A massive response by the restrictionist forces in May-June 2007 far surpassed the grassroots organizing and advocacy efforts of the pro-immigration groups, and CIR supporters in the U.S. Senate failed to move the CIR bill forward to a vote. Numerous factors contributed to the failure of CIR. (For a discussion of CIR, see Contradictions of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.) 

While President Bush supported CIR, he made little effort to corral Republican support, while at the same time he increasingly unleashed the Department of Homeland Security to pursue its immigrant crackdown campaign. 

A larger problem, though, was the diminishing bipartisan support for liberal immigration policies. An immigration backlash movement started building in the mid-1990s, and after Sept. 11 the restrictionist movement accumulated new supporters with the merging of national security, border security, and homeland security policies. 

The expanding constituency of grassroots restrictionists persuaded the Republican Party to abandon its traditional pro-business position with respect to immigration and to embrace restrictionism. Awareness of the growth of restrictionist sentiment also moved the Democratic Party from the left to the center on immigration policy, and many moderate and conservative Democrats increasingly espoused positions promoted by the restrictionist policy institutes in Washington. 

 Both parties have in the past several years found common ground in supporting tougher border control and in targeting immigrants as lawbreakers. And both parties are split between business supporters of guestworker and temporary workers programs and opponents (from immigration restrictionists to worker advocates) of these programs that primarily serve business demands for skilled and unskilled foreign labor. 

Included in the CIR proposals, the guestworker provisions roiled the ranks of the Democratic Party. The common wisdom has been that any CIR bill needs to satisfy business demands for temporary workers if it is to count on business support. 

But business support for CIR has been more rhetorical that real – not pulling its share in terms of educational, advocacy, and lobbying work. 

The failure of business to pull its weight at part of the traditional coalition – business, labor, immigrant rights groups, churches (mainline Protestant and Catholic), and immigration lawyers -- that supports liberal immigration policy has given more weight to those in the coalition that oppose or are highly critical of guestworker programs. 

As a result, some coalition members demanded new labor regulations for guestworker programs, angering business supporters, while the inclusion of guestworker programs caused some former labor backers of CIR to drop their support. 

Another factor in eroding the support for CIR was the addition of punitive conditions for those immigrants hoping to legalize their presence. High fees and touch-back provisions caused some in the immigrant-rights forces to abandon their support. 

But it is commonly accepted that the rapid growth of restrictionist forces that was the major factor in stopping CIR during the Bush administration. 

  Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Dueling Strategies

Friday, December 26, 2008

Carnegie Corporation's Inside Look at Immigration Reform

First in a Border Lines Series on the Movement Comprehensive Immigration Reform)

“Immigration – The Reform Movement Rebuilds” is the title of the cover story of the new Carnegie Reporter, the quarterly publication of the Carnegie Corporation. 

This article, an inside story from the New York City foundation that since 2001 awarded $35 million “in support of immigrant civic integration” is a good starting point to look at the fate and fortunes of the immigrant-rights movement in the United States. 

As the article’s title suggests, the pro-immigration reform movement was dealt a serious blow by the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in mid-2007. 

But the 9-page article in the Carnegie Reporter is not an examination of the reasons and factors that may explain the failures of the movement and of CIR. 

Rather it’s an uncritical profile of the “immigration reform movement” that the foundation has generously funded at least since the early 1990s and that it is now currently helping to rebuild. Nevertheless, the puff piece about the foundation’s funding of immigrant-rights groups that lead the NGO effort to pass liberal immigration reform is a good starting point to examine the history and current directions of this movement. 

Interviewed for the Carnegie article were the leaders of this movement – all of whom being the principals of organizations funded by Carnegie. In some cases, the funding from the foundation to these organizations dates back a few decades. 

 Primarily these are the National Immigration Forum, Immigration Policy Center (part of the American Immigration Law Foundation), and the newly established America’s Voice. Two other lead organizations in this network are the National Council of La Raza and Center for Community Change. Geri Mannion, who leads the U.S. Democracy Program and the Special Opportunities Fund of Carnegie Corporation, set the upbeat tone of the article. 

“This is an exciting time,” said Geri Mannion, “Despite their problems, issues, conflicts and disappointment about the bill failing, these advocates have come together to rethink the next phase of immigration reform and hopefully are stronger for what they have gone through.” 

  Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: The Failure of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Prisons are Safe Havens -- For Investors

For those of you who are concerned about the growth of the prison-industrial complex, a recent article in Forbes titled “Hiding Out in Prison Bonds” points to the private prison industry as a growth sector. One way to benefit is to invest in the stock of prison firms like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group (Wackenhut). But another investment option is through public bonds. Since the early 1980s most of the new prisons in the United States have been designed, built, and operated by private firms. It’s a highly profitable business. But where do they get most of their money to build new prisons? Not from their own stockholders, but from bonds issued by states and counties. Not general obligation bonds that are approved by voters, but rather from revenue bonds that are issued often with little public notice or input. Prison bonds issued by states and counties return higher interest rates to investors than bonds approved by community and state taxpayers. That’s because the revenue to pay investors comes not from taxpayers but from the per diem payments provided by governments. Hence, the name “revenue bonds.” These bonds are not backed up by county or state general funds but rather count on the revenue stream of the bond-financed project – in this case, a private prison. But Forbes says that prison bonds are a good place for investors to find safe haven in troubled times. Its Oct. 10 article argues:
“Prison systems incarcerate offenders. Any state that would stop making lease payments on its correctional facility bonds and set incarcerated offenders out on the streets would have some explaining to do. The stakes are too high for society to permit such default. We think the risk is minimal for prison bonds.”
In some cases, states use revenue bonds to finance prisons that it builds and operates itself. California, for example, is funding a 55,000 bed expansion of its prison system through revenue bonds. Investors are attracted because the bonds earn interest at 1-2% higher than other public bonds, and they are also tax-free.
It works like this: the state issues bonds for which taxpayers are not liable that are bought by private investors attracted by high interest rates and tax exemptions derived from the public character of the financed project. State or county annual appropriations provide the revenue to pay investors, and private prison companies often run these “facilities.”
Since the mid-1990s the ever-mounting trend to criminalize immigrants has proved a boon to the prison bond business.
Throughout the country – but particularly in the South and Southwest – private prison firms have enticed county and state governments to build speculative prisons financed by revenue bonds.
The county – through a newly created trust or public facility corporation – issues prison bonds in collaboration with private prison firms that design, build, and operate the resulting prison for immigrants. Betting that the immigrant crackdown will continue for two decades (bonds of 15-22 years), investors scarf up high-interest, tax-free bonds.
The revenue to pay the bonds – and the private prison firm – comes from per-diem payments made for each immigrant detained or imprisoned.
At a time when immigration restrictionists like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are stoking an anti-immigration backlash movement that charges that immigrants aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, bond investors and private prison firms are enjoying the tax-free benefits of imprisoning these immigrants for profit.

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

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

 “When Did Extreme Become Mainstream?”

 FAIR, “Who’s Inciting Hate?”

 Southern Poverty Law Center, “Crossing the Rubicon of Hate”

 “FAIR Added to Hate Group List,” Scripps News Service