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Know Your Rights
Source: Fox News Latino
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

As Immigration Debate Heats Up, Keep Out the Extremists

The nation is abuzz with talk of immigration reform. Following an election in  which Latino voters played a critical role, members of Congress from both  parties, the president and even certain conservative pundits have called for  reform. 

Not everyone, of course, is thrilled. But, as the immigration debate heats  up, we must be mindful of who participates in the discussion. And media outlets,  their audience and elected officials must not allow extremists to drive the  conversation; hate groups and their allies, who have harmed our nation, should  not receive a platform.

After years when Republican intransigence made immigration reform politically  impossible, a bipartisan group of senators released principles last month,  including a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The  president followed with a speech endorsing reform.

Public reactions have been diverse

Immigrant rights organizations  and unions have applauded that progress is  being made, while expressing alarm that the proposed path to citizenship would  be contingent upon further border security.

Business leaders, who typically embrace immigration reform as good for the  bottom line, also seem pleased. Still, some sectors, including agriculture, have  expressed concern over workplace electronic verification of immigration status,  due to the potential for costly errors.

Meanwhile, those traditionally opposed to any legalization, including House  Republicans like Lamar Smith, denounced the released principles as “amnesty”  that “rewards lawbreakers.”

Fueling the restrictionist chorus are three organizations: the Federation for  American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and  Numbers USA, who have long opposed legalization measures.

These groups are frequently quoted in major media outlets, but their views  are far from mainstream. Instead, as the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center  (SPLC) has found, FAIR is a hate group, while Numbers USA and CIS are closely  aligned to it through the network of well-known bigot John Tanton.

Tanton formed FAIR in 1979 because of fears that immigration fuels  overpopulation. His goal: to limit immigration by any means necessary. In the  meantime, he and FAIR president Dan Stein were quoted as variously opposing a  “Latino onslaught” (Tanton), supporting the need for “a European-American  majority” (Tanton) and decrying many Central Americans as “hating America”  (Stein). Tanton once wrote: “Can homo contraceptivus [meaning whites] compete  with homo progenitiva [meaning Latinos] if borders aren’t controlled?”

These ideological roots, coupled with Tanton, Stein and FAIR’s associations  with eugenicists and extremist groups, led the SPLC to identify it as a hate  group.

Tanton sought greater legitimacy for his fringe views by creating CIS,  arguing that “We need to get CIS fully-funded and entrenched as a major  Washington think tank, one that can venture into issues which FAIR is not yet  ready to raise.”

CIS, like FAIR, has gained a wide audience for its half-baked research, which  inevitably concludes that immigration should be radically limited and that  undocumented immigrants should be rounded up and deported, irrespective of human  and economic costs.

The story is similar for Numbers USA. Led by Roy Beck, long-standing Tanton  ally and former editor of Tanton’s racist journal, Numbers USA was also  incubated by FAIR and Tanton.

The Tanton network has heavily influenced the immigration debate. Having  learned to avoid publicly espousing the racist views behind their formation,  these groups use less racialized messages to gain traction and have built a  national network of supporters capable of action. For instance, Numbers USA’s  widespread mobilization of calls and faxes into Congress helped thwart  comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. And FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration  Reform Law Institute (IRLI), has been behind many legislative efforts to crack  down on immigrants in states like Arizona and Alabama.

Tanton’s network has had dire consequences. In Suffolk County, New York,  where my organization works to increase civic participation among immigrants,  FAIR provided organizing support to anti-immigrant efforts that created a  climate of fear in which hate crimes became rampant. This culminated in the hate  murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero.

We cannot let Tanton’s network divert public debate again. While we must  respect freedom of speech, journalists and policymakers examining immigration do  not have to ask for these organizations’ opinions. Debate should not be hijacked  by those embracing debunked race science and peddling fear of demographic change  under the guise of impartial policy analysis.

Reasonable people disagree on much about immigration reform: How should we  determine how many future immigrants to accept? What is the right balance  between family- and employment-based visas? How much enforcement is enough given  scarce resources?

These tough questions require vigorous debate about values and economics, but  not input from groups driven by a thinly veiled agenda of hate and fear. It’s  time that we stop inviting the Tanton network to the table.

Daniel Altschuler [organizer at Make the Road New York], is the Coordinator of the Long Island Civic  Engagement Table, a coalition to increase civic participation among  working-class communities of color and immigrants.

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