Meet the Extreme Nativists Guiding Our Immigration Policy

Meet the Extreme Nativists Guiding Our Immigration Policy

Originally published by Mother Jones

It may be difficult to remember now, but there was once a time when nativism was a relatively fringe ideology. Forty years ago, a Michigan ophthalmologist turned political activist named John Tanton pioneered a movement that sought to rebrand anti-immigrant fearmongering as legitimate concern about overpopulation. Decades later, it finally worked.

Tanton’s goal was to intellectualize nativism, and to do so, he founded groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Their basic argument, inspired by Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book on overpopulation, was that immigration to the United States should be limited to avoid a strain on natural resources and protect the environment. Unchecked immigration, they said, was the cause of most social ills—pollution, high crime rates, unemployment. Immigrants should stay in developing countries instead of moving to the United States and contributing to overcrowded cities and our exorbitantly high carbon footprint.

In recent years, these groups have shifted their focus towards the economic impact of immigration, and they’re especially critical of immigrant welfare recipients. They’ve also leaned into the stereotype of immigrants as dangerous. FAIR keeps a running tally of “serious crimes by illegal aliens” going back until at least 2015. Dan Stein, the current president of FAIR, infamously told Tucker Carlson, “immigrants don’t come all church-loving, freedom-loving, God-fearing…Many of them hate America; hate everything that the United States stands for.”

FAIRdescribes itself as an organization that engages in “community outreach to inform affected communities of how national immigration policies affect their own situation, and invites them to engage in a meaningful dialogue on how to shape immigration policies for the 21st Century and beyond.” That “meaningful dialogue” often includes calls to end amnesty program for undocumented immigrants, reduce legal immigration, militarize the border and more. Sound familiar?

Tanton died in July, but his memory lives on in the White House. Since Donald Trump took office in 2017, FAIR has spent at least half a million dollars on lobbying efforts. Trump has cited studies from CIS since the early days of his presidential campaign. Most notably, the Trump administration has installed alumni from these groups—which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers hate groups—in positions that span every major immigration agency. 

“When that far right plank ascended to power in the Trump presidency, they brought FAIR and CIS with them,” says Carly Goodman, an immigration historian who is at work on a book about Tanton’s nativist legacy. “What I have been struck by is just how much a very small number of people have wielded a really outsized amount of power in shaping this debate.”

Read more:https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/08/meet-the-extreme-nativists-guiding-our-immigration-policy/

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