Leaders of anti-immigration groups aren’t exactly conservative

Soren Dayton Senior Vice President, Prism Public Affairs
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In 2007, I met a field organizer who had worked against immigration reform. He was not who you might imagine. His background was in the labor and environmental movements that so many conservatives deplore.

He wanted to stop immigration reform because he believed that human beings were destroying the planet and that an increase in the U.S. population would exacerbate the environmental injustices he perceived to be occurring already.

That was my first experience with the anti-immigration reform movement’s real radicalism, but it has hardly been the last. Even though the activist was working for an immigration restrictionist group that many people instinctively think of as “conservative,” the truth is that he, like many other immigration opponents, was not conservative. He was a union-promoting environmentalist, just like many of the figures involved in the formation and funding of groups that will voice strong opposition to the new immigration reform bill this week by claiming, inaccurately, that it is not “conservative” enough.

The reality is, their problem with immigration has nothing to do with border security or the fear that immigrants will become public charges — both concerns that are dealt with robustly and effectively by the Gang of Eight’s legislation, which is vastly more conservative than the immigration reform proposed in 2006 and 2007. Their concern is with “saving the planet” from the supposed grave menace of human beings, with many prominent figures associated with anti-immigration causes and organizations having advocated for population control, abortion and sterilization.

To the extent that my acquaintance was concerned about human dignity, he viewed an increase in the population of humans as the greatest challenge to that dignity. This is something that he shared with Margaret Sanger and the founders of Planned Parenthood. That’s why Planned Parenthood supported contraception and abortion for certain elements of society. This is the real face of so many leaders of anti-immigration organizations who, when they talk to conservatives and Christians, present themselves as conservative.

As the evangelical publication World Magazine noted recently, Dr. John Tanton, an environmentalist who served as national president of Zero Population Growth, helped “found FAIR (1979), CIS (1985) and NumbersUSA (1997), groups that separately engage the public, produce research and lobby Congress for the same thing: lower immigration.”

The Wall Street Journal reported a few years back that “CIS, FAIR, NumbersUSA, Project-USA — and more than a half-dozen similar groups that Republicans have become disturbingly comfy with — were founded or funded (or both) by John Tanton, a retired doctor in Michigan. In addition to trying to stop immigration to the U.S., appropriate population-control measures for Dr. Tanton and his network include promoting China’s one-child policy, sterilizing Third World women and wider use of RU-486.”

As the New York Times reported, Tanton also founded Planned Parenthood and Sierra Club chapters. He formed FAIR in 1979; the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which can be expected to oppose immigration reform loudly, was established as a spin-off of FAIR in 1985.

FAIR is currently headed by Dan Stein, who has reportedly described China’s one-child policy using the benign terminology “international family planning program” (as opposed to, say, “forced abortion diktat”).

Roy Beck, the former editor of Dr. Tanton’s journal, founded NumbersUSA, reportedly with fundraising assistance from Tanton. Today Beck heads NumbersUSA, which can also be expected to criticize the bill. NumbersUSA’s YouTube page features a video of the founder of Earth Day touting Beck’s work on population matters, and this video linking environmental concerns to population and immigration restrictionism.

According to a recent report detailing the origins of the anti-immigration movement, other figures involved with FAIR — including Sarah Epstein, J. Bayard Boyle, Dorothy Blair and Janet Harte — have worked for or with Planned Parenthood. Epstein and other figures associated with FAIR have reportedly advocated for the use of quinacrine to sterilize women, even in cases where women don’t want to be sterilized. Epstein reportedly called China’s one-child policy “compassionate and fair” — a viewpoint that should automatically make her and the organizations to which she is linked suspect even to more socially moderate individuals, let alone strong social conservatives.

Yet, in the coming days we can expect to hear FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA criticize the immigration reform bill on conservative grounds. Christian conservatives and pro-life leaders in elected office should beware. When we listen to these organizations, we should ask ourselves what value they actually place on human life and human dignity.

It is worth noting in this context that countless Christian conservative leaders and organizations in fact support immigration reform, including Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals and members of the Evangelical Immigration Table.

An estimated 300 evangelical leaders met this week in Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to reform America’s immigration laws.

These are leaders and organizations whose flocks man the phones and knock on doors to elect socially conservative Republicans when election time draws near. Hardcore environmentalists aren’t out there electing pro-life Republican congressmen.

People like Dr. Richard Land lean toward immigration reform on the basis of Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

These are socially conservative Republicans’ best, and most natural, allies. The same can’t be said for organizations tainted by the stain of consistently siding against human life and human dignity and arguing that more life is itself a grave menace to creation. Coalitions are good, but some bedfellows should be resisted.

Soren Dayton is a senior vice president at Prism Public Affairs and worked on John McCain’s campaign.