In September, Travis Childers, Mississippi's Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, completed a survey about immigration. Childers' stance has consistently been anti-immigration, so his opposing amnesty for "dreamers," young people whose parents brought them into this country without authorization when they were too young to object, is no surprise.
What angers Democrats is the questionnaire's source: The Federation for American Immigration Reform, known as FAIR. The questions are: 1. Will you oppose or support legislation that would grant any form of work authorization to illegal aliens? 2. Will you oppose or support legislation that would increase the overall number of immigrants (legal permanent residents/green card holders) admitted each year to the U.S.? 3. Will you oppose or support legislation that would increase the overall number of guest workers admitted each year to the U.S.?
Childers opposed each one, and FAIR is crowing about its first Democratic "pledge signer." Despite its name, FAIR has no interest in immigration "reform"; it seeks "to end illegal immigration through enforcement of existing immigration laws as well as the application of new technology" and "to set legal immigration at the lowest feasible levels consistent with the national security, economic, demographic, environmental and socio-cultural interests of the present and future."
The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, both of which fight anti-Semitism and other organized hate efforts, have linked FAIR to white-supremacist racism, a charge richly supported by statements of the organizations leaders and its funding connections. In the ADL's 2000 paper "Is FAIR Unfair?" the authors include FAIR among "individuals and organizations whose anti-immigration position is marked by mean-spirited distortions, nativist bias, anti-foreigner fear-mongering, and even overt racism. These groups foment an atmosphere chilling to the notion of an open, tolerant America that respects all persons, regardless of origin."
Among FAIR's shadier dealings, the ADL outlined its acceptance of grants from eugenics research organization Pioneer Fund, "which has sponsored projects based on the notion that Blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites." John Tanton, who founded FAIR in 1997 and still sits on its board of directors, has compared immigrants to bacteria. In an ad opposing Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., whose ancestry is Lebanese, FAIR "suggested that the senator's position would cause Americans to be '... exposed to the threat of terrorism from criminals like Osama bin Laden.'"
Beginning in the late 2000s, FAIR became increasingly "active in pushing anti-immigrant laws at the state and local level," reports the SPLC. "Attorney Kris Kobach, who works for FAIR's legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, helped to write Arizona Senate Bill 1070. The bill, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, forces police officers to detain individuals who they suspect to be illegal immigrants and makes it a misdemeanor under state law for non-citizen immigrants to fail to carry their immigration papers." The United States Supreme Court ruled largely against the law in 2012.
In 2007, the SPLC discovered 17 boxes of Tanton's private papers at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. Those papers revealed that his prejudice includes Catholics and Jews, and confirm relationships with Holocaust deniers and white supremacists. The SPLC designated FAIR a hate group in 2007. In Tanton's world view, the SPLC wrote, "Nations and their cultures ... are largely determined by biology—race." Blaming immigrants for unemployment, as FAIR does, is like blaming poor people's poverty on their "character flaws." The tropes are untrue but make us blame some monolithic, anonymous group for our misfortunes.
Whether it's agriculture, mining, building railroads or settling a frontier, immigrants historically take on the dangerous, backbreaking work that a comfortable citizenry will not. Nearly every group—Germans, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican—begins at the bottom of the economy and works their way up while contributing enormously to the America's prosperity. Unfortunately, as they assimilate, they also climb on the anti-immigrant bandwagon for subsequent groups with the same tired rallying cry: "Immigrants take our jobs!"
It's not that simple. Unemployment is largely the result of policies that reward off-shoring, outsourcing and public-service profitization while decimating workers' rights, public-sector jobs and fair wages. That Travis Childers aligns himself with FAIR shows that he's not ready for prime time.
Ronni Mott is an award-winning writer and a yoga teacher, just stumbling and fumbling toward bliss like everyone else.