Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hate Groups Hijack Immigration Debate

Hate Groups Hijack Immigration Debate
by Mark Potok, New America Media,
Posted: Dec 13, 2007

Mark Potok is the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which investigates hate groups, and the editor of the "SPLC's Intelligence Report".


When it comes to debating immigration, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has a knack for finding a place at the table to pitch its position.

In the past six years, FAIR officials have testified at least 30 times before Congress, and they have been quoted by the mainstream media more than 500 times so far in 2007. Earlier this year, the group played a key role in defeating bipartisan immigration reform legislation in Congress. In short, FAIR is taken seriously as a legitimate commentator.

It shouldn't be.

Despite its frequent turns in the media spotlight, FAIR has a 20-year track record of bigotry and extremism that has led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to classify the organization as a hate group. The latest issue of the SPLC's quarterly Intelligence Report delves into FAIR's history of bigotry and white supremacy. These are some of the findings:

* FAIR was founded in 1979 by John Tanton, who has compared immigrants to "bacteria" and warned that high birthrates will allow Latinos to "take over" America. Still a member of FAIR's board, Tanton also operates The Social Contract Press, listed as a hate group for many years by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its white supremacist writings.

* FAIR has accepted more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation devoted to eugenics and to proving a connection between race and IQ. While others have returned the fund's money after learning of their background, FAIR President Dan Stein had no qualms about it, telling a reporter in 1993, "My job is to get every dime of Pioneer's money."

* Key staff members at FAIR have ties to white supremacist groups. For example, Joseph Turner, who was hired by FAIR in late 2006 as its western field representative, led a nativist hate group called Save Our State. Turner also defended white separatism on Save Our State's electronic bulletin board.

* FAIR has successfully spread racist conspiracy theories, including the bogus claim that Mexico has set its sights on "reconquering" the Southwest and the notion of a secret plot to merge the United States, Canada and Mexico.

While much of this information has been available for years, it has not affected FAIR's standing in the media. However, FAIR left little doubt about the way it does business this past February when a top official met with the leaders of Vlaams Belang, a Belgian political party that under its previous name, Vlaams Blok, was officially banned by the Belgian Supreme Court as a racist and xenophobic group. The meeting was held to seek the Europeans' "advice" on immigration.

This meeting led the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate group activity, to take another look at FAIR. Upon completing the investigation, it was obvious that FAIR qualified as a hate group. Early next year, when the SPLC's annual hate group list is published, FAIR will be on the list.

The listing of FAIR as a hate group is significant because FAIR is the hub of the American nativist movement. Its position on immigration is rooted more in its anti-Latino and anti-Catholic beliefs than in policy concerns.

Remarkably, FAIR has infiltrated the mainstream and shaped the immigration debate in this country. This group, more than any other, has contributed to the rancid turn the national immigration discussion has taken. With FAIR fanning the flames of xenophobic intolerance, hate groups and hate crimes directed at Latinos continue to rise in America.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a 40 percent increase in the number of hate groups since 2000, an increase that SPLC analysts attribute to the anti-immigrant fervor that is sweeping the country. The FBI recently released statistics showing a 35 percent rise in hate crimes against Latinos since 2003.

This country deserves an open and honest immigration debate. However, the debate has proven to be a fertile ground for hate groups looking to spread their racist beliefs under the guise of immigration reform. That is why it is crucial for the American public to understand the background and motives of the groups shaping this debate, such as FAIR. The nation's immigration debate is simply too important to be poisoned by a bigoted group manipulating it for its own xenophobic reasons.

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