Flags of Convenience
n many cases, the immigration reform movement's environmental arguments are plausible, reasonable, and similar to those of mainstream environmental groups. But critics charge that the seeming concern for the environment is a sham.
Mitra Rastegar of Political Research Associates, a liberal Massachusetts watchdog group, observes that "the whole 'population control' framework is designed to try and win over more politically moderate people -- to get those people who are not comfortable with blaming immigrants for changing American culture."
Patrick Burns of the National Audubon Society, who has followed immigration and population issues closely for more than twenty years, notes that, although there are people in the immigration reform movement with "bedrock, unassailable environmental credentials," the movement is "an opportunistic fighter." Says Burns, "When unemployment was high the immigration reform movement tended to talk about immigration reform as a jobs issue. If sprawl becomes a concern, they pick that up as their topic. So a lot of the rationales for immigration reform -- [whether] illegitimate or legitimate -- are flags of convenience. Because this is the quickest way to sell it."
To understand just how cynical is the claim of some immigration reform organizations that they are driven by concern for the environment, one need only review their materials, their history, and their actions. FAIR, at 70,000 members the country's biggest anti-immigration group, provides a case study.
Staudenraus is a charming man who lives on Shelter Island, New York, likes cats, and gladly shares frequent flier travel tips. According to Patrick Burns, FAIR's board represents a wide range of political views and includes among its principal donors individuals with strong credentials in family planning. But Staudenraus smiles through too much of the bigoted chitchat at meals in Greenville. And, whatever his personal beliefs, it turns out he works for an unsavory organization.
FAIR was founded in 1979 by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist who is still on its board. Tanton once told a reporter for the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service that immigration adds millions of people "defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs." He resigned as chair in 1988 when a memo of his, fretting that California's Anglo population might eventually be outnumbered by Latinos, was made public. "Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?" he wrote. Also on FAIR's board is celebrated University of California human ecologist Garrett Hardin, whose essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" is beloved by many environmentalists. But Hardin, according to many published reports, is an ardent supporter of eugenics. In a 1992 article, he wrote that "sending food to Ethiopia does more harm than good" because it "encourage(s) population growth."
There's also the Pioneer Fund, FAIR's most notorious funder (now ex-funder). Located in New York City, the fund was created in 1937 to finance research in hereditary intelligence, eugenics, and "race betterment." One of its grantees was a Canadian professor who theorized that whites have larger brains and therefore greater intelligence than blacks. Between 1985 and 1994, FAIR received $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund.
FAIR flies many different flags of convenience besides that of the environment -- because there are very few areas of American life that FAIR thinks are not being worsened by immigration and immigrants. One gets the impression that the organization isn't merely concerned about "mass immigration," but that it just plain doesn't like immigrants. A recent selection of stories from the bulletin board on FAIR's website includes stories on a "Cambodian lifer" who committed murder after release by the INS; an increase in foreign student enrollment at Arizona State University; and a report on how a California appeals court has been lenient with an "illegal alien drug addict."
Among the projects singled out in FAIR's 2000 annual report is its work with the Sachem Quality of Life Organization in Farmingville, New York. Farmingville is one of many suburban towns on Long Island that, like Greenville, have recently experienced a wave of Latino immigrants, most of whom find work as day laborers. SQL's website includes a long "declaration" against "the perils of invasion." "Our neighborhoods are overrun and occupied by foreign nationals," it warns. "This inexorable march toward globalization will yet result in the death of a nation. This must be stopped!" SQL carefully, and cannily, specifies that its opposition is to illegal immigration. But its goal, clearly, is to get the immigrants out of town. Last year, it invited like-minded groups to a "Congress on Immigration Reform." According to a story in the National Catholic Reporter, invitations went to the John Birch Society and to American Patrol, an extremist anti-immigration group.
When I first mention SQL to Staudenraus, calling them anti-immigrant, he leaps to their defense. "You'll find that their concerns are not anti-immigrant-based at all," he says. "That's one of the labels that people who don't want a dialogue slap on the movement." And after I return to my office, I discover Staudenraus is no stranger to the Sachem group. In fact, it was he who organized the good citizens of Farmingville as part of FAIR's "citizen action program" -- the same grassroots organizing agenda that has brought him here to Greenville.
Peter Kostmayer, president of the family planning advocacy group Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth), calls FAIR "offensive." Adds Kostmayer, "I don't think they're taken that seriously on the Hill. I think people see them for what they are. Members of Congress try to include people -- [but] I think FAIR makes members of Congress a little edgy."
On the other end of the political spectrum is Damon B. Ansell of Americans for Tax Reform. Two years ago, he excoriated FAIR in the Washington Times as "hate-filled extremists" and said that true conservatives "should be horrified" to be identified with them.