Anti-Immigration Organization Operating in Nebraska Branded as a 'Hate Group' by National Civil Rights Watchdog
At a February legislative hearing on a bill dealing with immigration, State Senator Bill Avery asked a pointed question of Kris Kobach, the lawyer for the legal affiliate of the ‘Federation for American Immigration Reform’ (FAIR). Did Kobach know, Avery inquired, that the ‘Southern Poverty Law Center’ had classified his umbrella group, FAIR, as a hate group?
As most of us in the audience knew, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is the organization that definitively identifies and litigates against U.S. hate and neo-Nazi groups. Its legal victories over the Klan, for instance, are legendary. Kobach replied that he was indeed aware of SPLC’s classification of FAIR as a hate group—but that it was wrong.
As NFP State Board member Mark Vasina wrote in a letter to the editor to the Fremont Tribune, however, Kobach’s remark
“…is certainly not accurate. In 1997, the founder of FAIR and still current board member, John Tanton, compared immigrants to bacteria in a culture plate, growing ‘until it finally fills the whole plate… crashes and dies.’ Dan Stein, FAIR’s current president who regards Tanton as his ‘hero,’ has characterized Hispanics and Asians as involved in ‘competitive breeding.’ Donald Mann, on FAIR’s Board of Advisors, argues we should ‘give incentives to low-income people who agree to sterilization’ and ‘make available free abortion to low-income people on demand.’
FAIR’s leaders’ fear of rapid reproduction by low-income people and persons of color comes naturally. The group’s origins lie in the eugenics movement that sought to breed superior people and control the reproduction of inferior ones. As a story by Brendan J. Kelley in the December 2, 2009 Anchorage Press notes, “According to a 21-page white paper by the SPLC’s Dr. Heidi Beirich titled ‘The Nativist Lobby’:
FAIR has long been marked by anti-Latino and anti-Catholic attitudes. It has mixed this bigotry with a fondness for eugenics, the idea of breeding better humans discredited by its Nazi associations. It has accepted $1.2 million from an infamous, racist eugenics foundation. It has employed officials in key positions who are also members of white supremacist groups. Recently, it has promoted racist conspiracy theories about Mexico’s secret designs on the American Southwest and an alternative theory alleging secret plans to merge the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Beirich paper available on line)
The Avery-Kobach exchange reflects an important change in Nebraska politics. The change is the effective appearance of outside, apparently malice-creating groups in our midst as part of an effective political network. The Klan organized anti-Catholic rallies here in the ’20s; the ’80s saw militias and hate group like the ‘Posse Comitatus.’ But the fingers of these groups did not extend very far. Nebraskans’ native prejudice, no less virulent, was for the most part local and based on local ignorance.
Now we have entered a new era. FAIR has become a visible actor in Nebraska at every level—from local communities to institutions of higher education; from local broadcasts of the “Lou Dobbs” show to state legislative and executive branch politics. Samples of FAIR’s handiwork may be found: (1) in its statement about Nebraska on its website; (2) in the work of its local Nebraska representative, Susan Smith; (3) in the efforts of its national field director, Susan Tully, to influence immigrant legislation before the Nebraska Legislature’s Judicial Committee; and (4) in Kris Kobach’s efforts to repeal Nebraska’s ‘Dream Act’ and to deny—by city ordinance in Fremont, Nebraska—harbor, employment and housing to undocumented immigrants.
For the most part these efforts do not come out, on their face, as racist statements. They appear as innocent efforts to enforce the law: “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” FAIR never uses the overt terminology of prejudice, but rather words and situations that make the person troubled by the presence of people of color feel denied or threatened.
(1) FAIR’s “Extended Immigration Data for Nebraska” site
This website is so constructed as to make one feel that people of European descent are losing ground to persons of color. The site stresses that during 2000-2007, Nebraska added only about 9,000 new citizens. However, according to FAIR’s data, in that same period nearly 4,000 immigrants were added to Nebraska’s population each year—28,000 total. Over the course of these eight years, FAIR alleges that the foreign born population increased by 38.6 percent as against a 2.1 percent increase in the native-born. The group locates many more non-English speakers in the state now than in 2000, making the burden of non-English speaking students in rural schools so heavy that in many cases students and teachers communicate only with hand signals. Further, the site says (contrary to other Nebraska research) that illegal aliens cost Nebraska a great deal of money for prison, education and medicine. Through charts, the site communicates to us that Nebraska’s foreign-born population increasingly comes from nations of color: Mexico, Vietnam, China and India. The analysis never makes overtly racist comments. Yet, anyone who reads it—without supplementary data from other sources—will feel that white folks are being increasingly overwhelmed by people of color who will not speak English and do not pay for themselves. In fact, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report, its founder, John Tanton, once said that to preserve American culture, “a European-American majority” is requisite.
(2) FAIR’s local representative, Susan Smith
According to the national FAIR site, Smith heads two local organizations. The ‘Nebraskans Advisory Group’ is comprised of Nebraskans concerned about illegal immigration from Mexico (NAG says 93 percent of “illegals” are from Mexico). Among the “reputable [web] sites” that the advisory group recommends are the ‘Alipac site’ that tells us that Mexican-American drug gangs growing marijuana are taking over U.S. public lands; the ‘NumbersUSA site’ that opposes almost all illegal and legal immigration; and Susan Smith’s ‘Nebraska Taxpayers For Freedom (NTF) site,’ sponsored by a Nebraska anti-tax group that has affiliations with the ‘tea party movement.’ The Nebraska Advisory Group’s website contains almost nothing but notices that would make one fear or hate undocumented immigrants who are persons of color and seemingly makes an effort to conflate terrorists and illegal aliens with legal aliens (as terrorists and illegal aliens are sometimes conflated and often the data offered concerns legal and illegal aliens as a collective group).
(3) The Susan Tully testimony
The general philosophical thrust found in Susan Smith’s organizations—demonizing persons of color, conflating illegal aliens and terrorists and promoting fear—formed part of the testimony of Susan Tully, the national field director for FAIR, when she appeared before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee study group on December 12, 2008. Tully predictably encouraged the Legislature to adopt the ‘E-Verify’ program, saying that it is 99.4 percent accurate. (She later contradicted herself in the same hearing by saying that E-Verify is not accurate in that “illegals” can use identity theft to get through it easily. UNL Economics Professor and NFP State Board member Hank van den Berg gave testimony of a very different picture on the inaccuracy of E-Verify and the reasons for it). Tully also encouraged all local communities to give law enforcement officials ‘287G’ training. ‘287G’ is a program that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered reviewed and the GAO has condemned because it allows local officials use minor immigrant offenses to deport undocumented individuals, which tends to victimize women in particular and lead to local racial profiling. At the same time, 287G (with its emphasis on the petty offender, appears often to be impotent in training officials to find big criminal fish in the immigrant community (Washington Post Wednesday, March 4, 2009).
Smith moved from 287G to the heart of her spiel, saying of undocumenteds that, though there are “millions of people who are here simply to have jobs,” there are also “hundreds of thousands of terrorists in this country illegally who want to hurt us.” Further she asserted that the country will probably face a “biological or nuclear attack” from one such person in the next five years. She of course provided no documentation for either these allegations. Undocumented workers, in her view, are responsible for “drug trafficking, drug cartels, the crime, the kidnapping, the murder, the sex trafficking and the human smuggling.” In fact, she argued that Mexico (which to her is nearly a narco-state), has criminals setting up cells all over this country. How legal residents are supposed to be able to tell brown-faced workers from the brown-faced terrorists (who apparently are everywhere) is never explained.
Tully’s testimony was characteristic. In 2006, when a Tennessee talk show host suggested that all undocumented people trying to get across the border be shot, Ms. Tully chuckled (Building Democracy Initiative, April 28, 2006). In 2004, she said, “[Muslims] are not coming here to become Americans… [They are] promoting colonization of their own religion, of their own culture in towns and taking them over.” In 2004 as well, she said, “I have a secret plan to destroy America… We must first make America a bilingual-bicultural country… I would then invent ‘multiculturalism’ and encourage immigrants to maintain their own culture… Having made America a bilingual-bi-cultural country, having established multiculturalism, having the large foundations fund the doctrine of ‘victimology,’ I would next make it impossible to enforce our immigration laws.”
(4) Kris Kobach’s work
FAIR’s two two legal initiatives in Nebraska—repeal of the Dream Act and the draconian city ordinance proposed for Fremont—are so closely connected to the career of Kris Kobach as to require a little background of his general work. Kobach claims to be an immigration law expert at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and a distinguished counsel to John Ashcroft as attorney general of the United States—a picture of Kobach to which Nebraska newspapers have largely subscribed. However, when Kobach ran for Congress in a largely Republican Kansas district in 2004, “One reason he lost, according to The Road to Congress 2004 was because, ‘in general, Kobach was accused of taking money from a white supremacist organization, and the charge stuck.’” (Phoenix New Times, 2/10/2010). In 2009, at a Leavenworth County, Kansas Republican event, Kobach “asked what Obama and God had in common” and answered that, “Neither had a birth certificate.” He later said that this was a joke and that he is no ‘birther.’ The ‘Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith’ has condemned Kobach’s employment by an Arizona sheriff to train persons working on illegal immigration issues, calling it “outrageous” that a man “who works on behalf of an anti-immigrant group” should “conduct training on immigration law and ethnic profiling” and describing his hiring “an affront to the federal government, the community at large and certainly the Hispanic community.”
Just as he and FAIR have done in many other states, Kobach pushed the Nebraska Legislature (in Sen. Charlie Janssen’s LB 1001 effort) to repeal the Dream Act granting in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who have been living in Nebraska and graduated from Nebraska high schools. Only a handful of such students exist, and at least some of them are on the way to documented status—as the testimony of one student who had gone to college as undocumented and has now achieved legal status illustrated.
Kobach and his entourage argued that denying the Dream Act (and the ‘American dream’ to undocumented residents) is a matter of saving state taxes and enforcing law and order. They said the Dream Act should be repealed and the Mexican-American undocumented students should be sent home to Mexico where they could properly start the process of seeking American citizenship, or go to school in Mexico. When one senator asked where ‘home’ in Mexico is for students who, in childhood, were brought here by their parents, Kobach and company had little in the way of a satisfactory answer to offer.
In the hearing on LB 1001, Nebraska’s seven most powerful educational leaders replied to Kobach with solid analysis—analysis contained in a letter delivered to the Legislature’s Education Committee by UNL President Milliken, that argued that denying this tuition opportunity to undocumented students would further lower Nebraska high school graduation rate and destroy the opportunity for Nebraskans to create a “better educated, more productive” society. The bill to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition will probably not get out of committee. If it doesn’t, chalk one up to the principled conduct of our educational leaders and the Legislature’s Education Committee members.
The final visible effort of FAIR and Kobach in Nebraska is the Fremont ordinance that would prevent Fremont citizens from harboring, hiring or employing undocumented immigrants. This ordinance, written by Kobach, has been attempted in substantially the same form in Hazleton, Pennsylvania; Farmer’s Branch, Texas;, Valley Park, Missouri; Riverside, New Jersey; and Escondido, California. Litigation costs associated with the ordinance in other cities have cost them millions of dollars. The ordinances were generally found illegal on appeal by the superior courts.
The Fremont version was presented to the City Council by Councilmember Bob Warner in July 2008. It was defeated by a 4-4 vote with the mayor of Fremont vetoing the measure. In March, 2009, a ‘citizen’s petition’ with 1900 signatures asking that the issue be put on the ballot, was filed successfully. In response, the City of Fremont filed in the District Court asking that the proposal not be placed on the ballot because it deemed the proposal “unconstitutional” and violative of the “single subject” rule. The District Court upheld the voter’s right to vote on the issue because it ruled that a substantive challenge could not be made until the petition’s ordinance had become law. The City of Fremont appealed this ruling to the Nebraska Supreme Court which heard the argument in January, 2010. We are still awaiting its ruling on FAIR’s and Kobach’s brain child. Meanwhile, people of color in Fremont feel that they are experiencing considerable suspicion and anger, whether they are legal or undocumented, and those whites who wish to better race relations in the community are finding themselves marginalized.
Since the Fremont-style ordinances have been found illegal on appeal in a variety of venues, FAIR’s legal strategy is probably seeking to do two things: (1) stir up suspicion of all Mexican-American persons in Fremont and Nebraska since—according to most statistics—40-80 percent of Mexican-American families are made up of a mixture of documented and undocumented folks; (2) create litigation histories for this sort of ordinance until it is upheld somewhere in the country and ultimately becomes the law of the land. The cost of this litigation is born by the municipalities.
John Tanton, FAIR’s founder and still active member of the board, has also founded four other nativist groups, including ‘U.S.English’—an organization committed to making English the required language of public discourse in this country. In a memo for that organization, he asked,
“Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?”, “What are the differences in educability between Hispanics (with their 50% dropout rate) and Asiatics (with their excellent school records and long tradition of scholarship)?”, “On the demographic point: perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!”
When the memo was published, Walter Cronkite and conservative commentator, Linda Chavez, resigned from the board of ‘U.S.English.’ Their actions provide a principled example that Nebraskans should emulate—particularly now when we are facing outside manipulation of sentiment against our neighbors and fellow human beings.
Nebraska does have real immigration problems. The destruction of rural Mexico by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has created a large body of needy people—many of whom are fleeing to the U.S. The route to citizenship for undocumenteds, though, is a ‘Catch 22.’ Border enforcement is selective, depending on the political strength of workers and unions in the United States and corporate demand for laborers to fill agricultural and unpleasant industrial jobs. All of these problems, however, demand federal solutions—not punitive state-based ones. And if we in Nebraska are serious about tackling the immigration issue, we will seek them. We have had enough outside stirring of the fires of hatred and it’s high time we speak up.