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Mark Potok

Mark Potok

Posted February 4, 2009 | 02:35 PM (EST)

The Dirty Secret Behind the Nativist Lobby


At some point, probably later this year, Congress will once again grapple with legislation to reform our broken immigration system. During the campaign, President Obama promised to make this a "top priority in my first year."

Standing firmly in the path, however, will be the same triumvirate of Washington, D.C.-based organizations that were most responsible for blocking comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.

These supposedly independent groups - the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA - enjoy a great degree of credibility among the media and many prominent members of Congress. They shouldn't.

In reality, they are part of a network conceived by John Tanton, a man who has been at the heart of the white nationalist movement for decades.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a new report that examines the roots of these organizations and their longstanding ties to racist extremists.

Our report, The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance, describes how FAIR, NumbersUSA and CIS were founded and funded by Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who operates a racist publishing company and has written that to maintain American culture, "a European-American majority" is required.

These groups have never strayed far from their roots. In fact, they are fundamentally linked and driven by their founder's vision that non-white immigration is a threat to white America.

Tanton, who still sits on FAIR's board of directors, founded the racist Social Contract Press and has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, white nationalist intellectuals and Klan lawyers for decades - correspondence documented by his own writings stored at a University of Michigan library.

FAIR - whose members have testified frequently before Congress - has been aware of his views and activities for years.

The group has hired as key officials men who also joined white supremacist groups. It has promoted racist conspiracy theories. And it has accepted more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation devoted to proving a connection between race and intelligence, our report found.
Not surprisingly, such a track record has led the SPLC to designate FAIR as a hate group.

Tanton's Center for Immigration Studies - which bills itself as a scholarly think tank and has been widely quoted in the media - began its life as a FAIR program and continues to produce dubious studies furthering FAIR's anti-immigration agenda. It's a vision described by Tanton in a 1985 letter in which he wrote that CIS would produce reports "for later passage to FAIR, the activist organization, to remedy."

Similarly, NumbersUSA began its life as a Tanton foundation program. NumbersUSA Executive Director Roy Beck has been described by Tanton as his "heir apparent." Beck edited The Immigration Invasion, a book by Tanton and a colleague that was so fierce in its immigrant bashing that Canadian border authorities have banned it as hate literature.

It's an unsavory history that can't be dismissed, though these groups vociferously deny their advocacy has anything to do with racism or the ethnicity of immigrants.

When the immigration debate resumes in this country, Tanton and his network do not deserve a place at the table. The American public deserves an immigration policy that works, but Tanton's network isn't about real reform.

It is about sowing discord and division at a time when most Americans want real solutions.