Anti-Immigrant Group’s Comments Following Arizona Tragedy Are Shockingly Insensitive
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For years, anti-immigrant groups have had a field day in Arizona; using the state to test out the viability of racist legislation like SB 1070.
Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its legal arm Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) have been at the forefront of these efforts for nearly a decade – most recently unveiling plans at a January 5 press conference in Washington DC to introduce state legislation to dismantle the 14th Amendment.
The effort is fronted by Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, who is best known for working with FAIR to introduce SB 1070. Kris Kobach and Mike Hethmon, both attorneys with IRLI, were featured speakers at the event.
SB 1070 wasn’t the first acrimonious political battle FAIR helped to create in Arizona. In 2004, FAIR funded efforts to introduce and pass Proposition 200. The initiative required individuals to produce proof of citizenship before they could register to vote or apply for public benefits in Arizona.
The proposition also made it a misdemeanor for public officials to fail to report persons unable to produce documentation, and allowed citizens who believed that public officials had given undocumented persons benefits to sue for remedies.
Proposition 200 was the crack in the dam that led to a flood of anti-immigrant laws meant to dehumanize Arizona’s immigrant population and publicize FAIR’s anti-immigrant agenda.
FAIR has been criticized for its meddling in Arizona. The group has even lied about its involvement in order to deflect concerns about its credibility.
Just last April, The Rachel Maddow Show featured FAIR in several segmentsand follow-up articles. FAIR’s president, Dan Stein, appeared on the program to defend his organization and ended up in a heated argument with its host. The program’s post-show fact checking found that Dan Stein lied to viewers about the group’s involvement with Prop 200 and ties to self-described white separatist Virginia Abernethy.
Based on the controversy the group has caused in Arizona, one would think its spokespersons would have remained respectfully quiet in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on January 8.
Instead, FAIR trotted out its Media Director, Ira Mehlman, to talk about the group’s sterling record when it comes to civil debate.
A KPCC article reported, “Mehlman says his group always works to keep the tone of its message respectful.”
The same article quoted Mehlman as saying, “Immigrants are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. With or without any tragedy such as the one that occurred on Saturday, this is something that we have consistently tried to do because it is important just to have a civil debate in this country.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but just not true.
There are several examples of FAIR and IRLI leaders saying and doing things that are the very antithesis of civil debate.
House Immigration Reform Caucus member Steve King (R-Iowa), during a 2010 conference panel, said that he empathized with the man who crashed a plane into an IRS building. King further clarified his comments by saying that he would hold a fundraiser to help others “implode” IRS offices. The House Immigration Reform Caucus is led by former FAIR lobbyist Brian Bilbray, andRep. King is supported by FAIR in his efforts to introduce anti-immigrant legislation in Iowa.
In a Wall Street Journal article about efforts to dismantle the 14th Amendment – the cornerstone of equal rights in the wake of the Civil War, FAIR’s president, Dan Stein, tastelessly stated, “We should not allow language from 1868 to enslave our thinking…in the 21st century.”
But these are not just a few recent slip-ups on the part of FAIR leaders. The group’s founder and current board member John Tanton has quite a history of expressing politically extreme opinions about immigrants, Jews, and people of color.
In 1997, John Tanton told the Detroit Free Press that America will soon be overrun by illegal immigrants “defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs.”
In a 1995 memo, Tanton wrote about his thoughts on European hate crimes laws, stating, “These have generally been pushed by Jewish interests who are offended by those who have challenged the received version of the Holocaust.”
In his publication The Case for Passive Eugenics, Tanton wrote, “Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany did little to advance the discussion of eugenics among sensitive persons.”
In 1990, Tanton wrote a letter to Jared Taylor of the white supremacist group Council of Conservative Citizens: “Thanks for sending me the first five pages of the rough typeset of your newsletter. You are saying a lot of things that need to be said, but I anticipate it will be very tough sledding”
It’s clear that anti-immigrant groups, no matter how extreme or divisive their agenda, will continue to position themselves as mainstream voices.
And they apparently have no shame in doing so on the backs of communities made vulnerable by political violence.