Immigration is dominating much of the national political dialogue at the moment. Republicans in Congress are preparing legislation to target so-called “sanctuary cities” and eyeing a new five-year mandatory minimum sentence for immigrants who illegally re-enter the United States.
Conservatives, generally, are supportive of rolling back illegal immigration. A recent poll found that 55 percent of conservatives want to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. Most Americans – 56 percent, in fact – support a plan that would allow them to stay.
Much of the rhetoric on the Republican side reveals more than just opposition to illegal immigration, but animosity toward even legal immigrants. It shows nativist tendencies; the sort of sentiment that is dangerous, disgusting and seriously misinformed. There’s a wealth of information, for example, showing that immigrants, including illegal ones, are a net-benefit to the economy. But the negative attitude toward them persists.
So what’s driving it?
Organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA are some of the driving forces in the debate. And these three groups all share a common name: John Tanton.
Tanton is a retired ophthalmologist and radical environmentalist who was unable to convince prominent environmental groups to support restrictionist immigration policies. A resident of Michigan, he also served on the board of his local Planned Parenthood.
Tanton, who founded FAIR and helped organize CIS and NumbersUSA, opposes not only illegal immigration but advocates for zero-population growth for fear that an influx of immigrants would be dangerous for the environment. But, keeping to form, there was a hint of prejudice in his motives.
The New York Times’ 2011 profile of Tanton quotes from a letter he wrote to a donor, in which he said, “One of my prime concerns is about the decline of folks who look like you and me.” Tanton is white.
In his 2008 book, Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, Jason L. Riley, a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, details the connection that Tanton has to the restrictionist movement in the United States. He provides details on some of the more sinister aspects of these groups that he helped get off the ground, such as the $1.2 million in funding FAIR received from the pro-eugenics foundation, the Pioneer Fund.
“When I travel the country to report on immigration, or speak to groups in the known about Tanton and his network, I’m often asked why the mainstream media continue to cite groups like FAIR and the Center for Immigration Studies without mentioning their origins or ulterior motives,” writes Riley. “CIS ‘reports’ are given the gravitas of the Brookings Institution’s, and FAIR is described as an organization that merely favors less immigration, when in fact its stated goal is to cut the U.S. population in half.”
Others have taken note of the restrictionist movement’s zero-population growth roots. Mario H. Lopez published a study in October 2012 in which he explained the views that, at the very least, were foundational principles of today’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“The myth that human beings are ‘overpopulating’ the earth, which has persisted for centuries, is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of human activity, economics, and natural science,” writes Lopez. “Numerous political elites have promulgated the overpopulation myth in pursuit of various big-government policies both in their home countries and around the world. People like Thomas Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, and Margaret Sanger have sought various ‘remedies’ for this false crisis, ‘solutions’ which devalue human life—abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia—and promote government control of economic activity.”
Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he theorized that population growth would eventually outpace agriculture production and offered “two great checks” – “positive,” which includes famine and war, and “preventative,” which refers to birth control. His work influenced many thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of his beliefs were carried forward, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not – by radical environmentalist Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, and Margaret Sanger, a member of the American Eugenics Society and founder of Planned Parenthood.
“The opinions of the abortion and population-control movements are dominant among the founders, funders, and board members of FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA,” Lopez explains. “They represent the direct modern continuation of the 1960s and 1970s population-control movement—in many cases the same people involved in that movement decades ago sit on the boards of these three organizations.”
“Of course, not everyone concerned about immigration advocates population control, abortion, or sterilization. However, the evidence shows that the primary leaders and funders of the anti-immigration movement were drawn to it because they were also active organizers and supporters of, and contributors to, the population-control movement in the United States,” he adds.
Similarly, Neil Stevens, a contributor at the popular conservative outlet, RedState, has called these restrictionist groups, specifically FAIR and NumbersUSA, “fronts for the extreme left.”
“FAIR took a number of early members from ZPG, the group founded by Paul Ehrlich of The Population Bomb fame. They’ve now renamed themselves to Population Connection, but they’re always been a group about abortion and birth control in the global green left context,” Stevens explains. “FAIR spun off from them when, in the United States, it turned out that our fertility rate before Roe v. Wade was low enough that the way to end population growth here was to end all immigration.”
He turned his attention to NumbersUSA and its executive director, Roy Beck. “[B]uried in PDFs is the real NumbersUSA agenda. Take a look for example at Page 8 of this PDF by the group, which goes off into a whole rant against a vast Catholic conspiracy to oppose abortion and birth control,” he notes. “Or take Page 189 of this PDF which outlines Beck’s green left agenda, including ‘Laws that force greater cuts in consumption and waste,’ and ‘Tougher enforcement of environmental laws.’”
One has to wonder that if conservatives would still support the work of restrictionist and anti-immigration organization if they had even a basic overview of its background in the zero-population growth movement. For now, just sit back and enjoy the irony.