CPAC Counter Events Include Security Con, Ted Cruz, & Secretive White Nationalist Gathering

Senator Ted Cruz speaks at "Univited II"

Senator Ted Cruz and Frank Gaffney speak at “Univited II”

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was kicked off Thursday morning by Sen. Ted Cruz with a fiery speech covered on most of the major network and cable broadcasts.  But Cruz gave another, less publicized speech later in the day at a counter-event held a few blocks away from CPAC.  This was one of a several alternative events being held in conjunction in CPAC, hosted by and featuring those the American Conservative Union chose not to include in their annual gathering.

The Uninvited II 

The conference held yesterday (Thursday) was titled “The Uninvited II:  The National Security Action Summit,” hosted by Breitbart News Network and held a few blocks away at the Westin hotel.  Last year, Breitbart News hosted an impromptu panel on the last day of the CPAC to discuss security issues not included in the official schedule.  It was titled “The Uninvited,” and included former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Rosemary Jenks, Frank Gaffney, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, and others.  This year, a full day counter-event was planned in advance, featuring some of those same speakers plus James O’Keefe, Rep. Peter King, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, Phyllis Schafley, Sen. David Vitter, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, and others.  Live streamed by Breitbart News, the event was a gathering of immigration foes and security hawks, moderated by Frank Gaffney.  The URL for reserving a space at the conference was HomelandThreats.com, hosted by sponsor EMPact America.

Panels included:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood, the “Civilization Jihad” and Its Enablers
  • Amnesty and Open Borders: The End of America – and the End of the GOP
  • Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-Up
  • Protecting the Grid: Correct Its Vulnerabilities – or a “World Without America”

The full schedule of events can be viewed on their website.

Breitbart News Chairman Steve Brannon had a busy day shuttling back and forth between the official CPAC and the “Uninvited,” attending the official conference for the awarding of the first annual “Citizens United Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award” to Mark Levin.

In the video below, Brannon is interviewed about the reasons for hosting Uninvited II.  As Brannon notes, it is their hope that these issues will be included at future CPACs, eliminating the need for the “Uninvited” events.

But the highlight of the alternative conference was a midday speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, who presented himself to the audience as an alternative to the “extremes of the spectrum on security” represented by Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. John McCain. Cruz described himself as a third choice for “peace through strength” in the mold of Ronald Reagan. The well received speech has been posted on Sen. Cruz’s official youtube account. This year’s CPAC is the beginning of the 2016 GOP presidential marathon, with 26 candidates included in the Saturday straw poll sponsored by the Washington Times.

The background with the transmission tower graphic in photo above of Cruz and Gaffney is that of EMPact America, a sponsoring organization dedicated to warning about electromagnetic pulse, the topic of the last panel of the day. EMPact is encouraging United States military action against Iran, claiming the Middle Eastern nation could take out the electrical grid of the United States by way of electromagnetic.

Newt Gingrich had been scheduled for the “Uninvited II” but dropped out, reportedly due to the tone of the publicity of the event.  Gingrich was then approached by the American Conservative Union to help develop a last minute panel on Ukraine for CPAC.

White Nationalist “Unconference”

An “Unconference” is being held tonight (Friday) by Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization.  Spencer announced he would be “crashing” CPAC, but the NPI is sponsoring a separate evening event with speaker Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, followed by an open bar and “unconference.”  The location of the event was being kept secret until today, but advertised as within a few blocks of the CPAC convention.

White nationalists have previously tried to attend and influence the CPAC conference, including efforts by Jamie Kelso, a former aide to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, to covert young attendees to his brand of overt white supremacism (see the video below).

Conservative Divisions 

CPAC has become a bellwether for monitoring the divisions between conservatives. In recent years, the American Conservative Union has invited and uninvited groups ranging from GOProud to the John Birch Society.  Most mainstream media is describing the conservative split as one between the GOP establishment and the Tea Partiers, but there are other paradigms for describing the current divides.  The security counter-conference highlights the split between neo-conservative security hawks and the growing paleo-libertarian and libertarian factions on the Right.  The revival of paleo-conservatism and paleo-libertarianism was a featured topic in my recent article “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right”, co-authored by Frank Cocozzelli.

Taking the Voting-Rights Battle to the States and the Streets

Protesting outside the NC General Assembly building. Photo courtesy of Grant Baldwin.

Protesting outside the NC General Assembly building. Photo courtesy of Grant Baldwin.

On June 25, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which established a formula for determining whether states and jurisdictions need permission from the federal government to change their voting procedures. As a result, there is no mechanism to enforce Section 5 of the VRA, which allows the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to freeze and review changes in voting procedures in locales with a history of voter suppression.

The majority of the justices in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, reasoned that the pre-clearance formula was outdated, since Jim Crow-era voting restrictions like the poll tax and literacy test have been abolished. But voting restrictions are far from a relic of the past. Between January 2011 and October 2012, 25 restrictive voter ID laws and two executive actions passed in 19 states, according to a 2012 “Voting Laws Roundup” by the Brennan Center for Justice. Many were struck down by federal courts, including some by the DOJ under the provisions of Section 4(b). Within two days of Section 4(b) being overturned, six states that were at least partly covered under Section 5 moved forward with voter restrictions.

In light of what is at stake, it would be foolish to rely on the dysfunctional U.S. Congress to address this injustice. Nor is it sufficient to rely on legal challenges brought by organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Though absolutely crucial, they cannot serve all jurisdictions, and the seriousness of this challenge requires a broad-based, popular response.

It’s time to demonstrate our commitment to free and fair elections by building large-scale, broad-based coalitions at the state level—and taking them to the streets. This is precisely what the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, guided by the NC-NAACP, has been doing since April. All told, tens of thousands have flocked to the General Assembly building in Raleigh on Monday afternoons, protesting the extreme policies of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Because of gerrymandering, nine of North Carolina’s 13 U.S. Representatives are Republicans, though the state’s voters are split almost evenly between the two parties.

The weekly protests top 3,000 participants. About 1,000 peaceful demonstrators have been arrested (as of late July). To make this possible, the NC-NAACP spearheaded a coalition of 150 progressive and/or non-partisan organizations that have come together to defend equal protection for all. In addition to traditional civil-rights organizations, the coalition includes groups with concerns as varied as reproductive justice, economic inequality, education, labor rights, immigration reform, criminal-justice reform, and faith-based social justice.

Protesters have made strong gains in reaching out to residents. The Republican-led legislative body no longer enjoys majority support, even within its own party, and the General Assembly’s approval rate has fallen to just 20 percent, according to a mid-July poll by Public Policy Polling.

The next goal is to provide avenues for citizens throughout the state to take part in the ongoing uprising. It will be nearly a decade before the next federally-mandated congressional redistricting (the process of redrawing legislative boundaries, which happens after every U.S. Census). In the meantime, the decline in popular support for Republican leadership means that the GOP has more incentive than ever to rig elections to favor Republican candidates. In late July, the North Carolina General Assembly began pursuing that goal by passing legislation that requires voters to show government-issued photo IDs at the polls and ends same-day voter registration. The legislation also weakens campaign donation disclosure laws.

North Carolinians face a long-term battle. The Supreme Court’s ruling means the DOJ will not come to the aid of jurisdictions previously covered under Section 4(b). With so much authority ceded to states, people who value free and fair elections must localize efforts, cast voting rights as foundational, and embrace broad inclusivity.

In North Carolina, this is creating intersectional solidarity rather than diluting the message. Weekly protesters include everyone from disaffected Republicans to members of the Occupy movement. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the people. As the president of the NC-NAACP, Rev. Dr. William Barber, noted at the July 22 protests, “Our parents already won this fight with less than we have now.” And from here, the path is clear: “Forward together! Not one step back!”

This profile also appears in the Summer 2013 issue of the of PRA’s Public Eye magazine.


Dan Peltier, a Summer 2013 Research and Editorial Intern at PRA, recently interviewed Leigh Bordley about her participation in the “Moral Monday” protests. A lifelong resident of North Carolina, Bordley has been a member of the Durham, NC, school board since 2008. She served as executive director of Partners for Youth from 1998-2011. She has also been a consultant for Literacy South and the director of development for NC Equity. Bordley became active in the protests because she believes that legislation recently passed by the General Assembly doesn’t represent North Carolina’s true values. She attended five protests in Raleigh and was arrested during one of them. 

A lot of the media attention has focused on the protests as being heavily based in Christian prayer and teaching, including an article in which you say you “went as a Christian.”  What is your take on the Christian connection?

I went as a Christian because I am a liberal. Jesus taught that we should all help people living in poverty. Much of the legislation getting passed by Republicans is harming the poor and not helping to grow our state’s economy. It just made perfect sense to me to go to these protests and pray that the representatives hear our complaints and realize that they don’t speak for the majority of North Carolinians. I was arrested at one of the protests for speaking out against this legislature and was put in jail with the other arrestees. It was fun but not ideal. It was like a big party with no food. There were elderly people and teachers, and we all supported each other. We went to jail for what we believe in and for expressing our opinions.

Leigh Bordley

Leigh Bordley

Even though the General Assembly is now in summer recess, the protests don’t seem to be losing momentum.  Would you say that this is a sign of their success?

A: Success is hard to gauge.  We didn’t seem to get through to the Republicans. But I think we definitely made some voters second guess why they chose to elect some of the people who are behind some of the horrible legislation getting passed. That’s why myself and other Forward Together Movement members are continuing the protests and taking them on the road to all of the major cities across the state–so that voters are aware of how they are being represented, and to show that we have endurance and won’t back down.

Q: The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the NC-NAACP (which organized the protests), has said that “our parents already won this fight with less than we have now.” What are your thoughts on that? 

A: I grew up in the 1960s, watching the civil rights movement unfold, and a lot of it took place in nearby cities such as Greensboro. The African-American civil rights movement was driven by desperation and excitement, and people thought that real change was coming. While some things have changed, so many others have stayed the same.  Today, our fight is not as exciting. It can be very discouraging and even disheartening.  It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re any further along, and I’m not sure if we’ve made a net gain or that we ever “won” anything.

Q: This is the first time in more than a century that Republicans have controlled the General Assembly. Do you see North Carolina as a new battleground for the Right, and what do you see as potential future challenges?

A: This will not be an easy fight. Democrats have suffered from gerrymandering, and this is a backlash against progressives. I feel hopeful about our chances, but we really need to convince voters in these gerrymandered districts that the Republicans are not acting in their best interests. This is our biggest challenge. I have experience in working on the Obama campaign, and I know that this will not be easy–but that with enough help, we can try to make a difference. These protests have been and continue to be extremely well organized, so we have that on our side. I am a lifelong resident of North Carolina and have seen that, historically, the state has been fairly moderate. All of a sudden, it is so far right that I don’t even recognize my own state anymore. I had to get involved and do something, because what is going on inside the General Assembly Building is not the real North Carolina.

“Bipartisan” Evangelical Rev. Rodriguez Conservative Even on Immigration

RodriguezGreat value is placed on being bipartisan in Washington, D.C., today.  Or, at least, appearing bipartisan.  That may be part of the secret of the remarkable success of Christian Right leader Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), who manages to appear bipartisan without actually being bipartisan. Rodriguez claims he supports the “agenda of the Lamb” (a biblical metaphor for Jesus) rather than the Democratic donkey or the Republican elephant, a self-portrayal the media eats up, but his version always turns out to be conservative and Republican–as illustrated by the latest revelations about his role in immigration reform.

Early in the first Obama administration, Rodriguez was presented as one of a new breed of moderate evangelical leaders who, along with Rick Warren, would displace the Christian Right old guard. Neither managed to maintain the facade. Warren exited stage right after being repeatedly exposed, as Rob Boston put it, as “Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt,” including for his role attacking LGBTQ rights in Uganda, as exposed by PRA’s Globalizing the Culture Wars. Meanwhile, Rodriguez was abandoned by liberals and the Democratic Party in the wake of his strident anti-Muslim, anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, and overtly pro-Republican politics.

Yet Rodriguez has survived, largely in the media, as a figure who transcends racial, religious and political divides on immigration reform. But even on immigration, his signature issue across two presidential administrations, he has a controversial and decidedly conservative record. In 2009, he publicly deprioritized immigration reform (as I report in The Public Eye), declaring that if we got it right on abortion and marriage, God would take care of immigration. Now that immigration has moved to the center of public policy discussion, it is worth surfacing more of his record. Read More

Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law SB1070

Where did it it come from, where is it going?

Kris Kobach campaigns for Kansas Secretary of State (©Mike Yoder)

Kris Kobach campaigns for Kansas Secretary of State (©Mike Yoder)

Misericordia.

The word washes across the congregation at the tiny church, carried by voices singing in Spanish.

Mercy.

Young girls, their long, shiny black hair covered in sheer white doilies, sit close to each other in the pews at Surprise Apostolic Assembly in suburban Phoenix, Arizona, chattering and giggling into their hands. Mothers and grandmothers, their hair covered in scarves of black lace, lean over and gently shush them. A handsome young man with baby-smooth skin and glistening hair neatly parted at the side steps forward to the pulpit. Steve Montenegro, the youth minister, beckons to the congregation’s children, who gather at his feet. He praises the little ones for their innocence as their mothers snap photos from the pews.

Steve’s father, José Roberto Montenegro, the church’s pastor, delivers the sermon in Spanish, as the son translates, switching easily between the two languages. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” the older Montenegro says, quoting from the book of Proverbs.

In the early 1980s, when Steve was only a baby, the Montenegro family fled from El Salvador to the United States. With help from the Apostolic Assembly, the refugees applied for and received asylum on the basis of their religion, making it possible for Steve to become a U.S. citizen.1

In 2008, Steve Montenegro was elected to the Arizona state house with strong conservative support.2 Last spring, he became the only Latino lawmaker to cast a vote in favor of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, otherwise known as SB1070, the notorious state law that requires state and local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest or suspect is in the country illegally. The law places the burden of proof on those questioned by the police to prove they are in the country legally; if they can’t, they will be arrested and charged with trespassing. Known informally as the Show Me Your Papers Law or, more derisively, Driving While Brown, SB 1070’s stated purpose is to crack down on the state’s estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants. As Arizona’s senate president and the bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Russell Pearce, wrote on his website,

The fact is Arizona’s motto is ‘Attrition by Enforcement’ and 90% will self-deport. …[T]hose who say we need reform (code word Amnesty), because we can’t deport them all, [are] saying come on in illegally, we don’t intend to enforce our laws.3

April 23 was the anniversary of Governor Jan Brewer’s signing of SB1070. Just a few weeks before that, on April 11, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld District Court Judge Susan Bolton’s July 2010 injunction against the enforcement of certain provisions of SB1070, including those that require immigrants to carry their papers at all times and police officers to check suspects’ immigration status. The 9th Circuit concluded that there was sufficient evidence that these parts of the law infringe on federal jurisdiction. Pearce has vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.4 Despite the injunction, the law’s impact has been widely felt, across the state and nationally. Other states are preparing similar legislation, and immigrants with legal papers and without are living in fear.

Pentecostal observers say that the Montenegros’ Apostolic Assembly denomination, with its large Hispanic membership, includes individuals of questionable documentation, who would pay a heavy price for their spiritual brother’s support of SB 1070.5

Yet, like his Tea Party colleagues, Montenegro has been an active sponsor of a series of recently rejected anti-immigration bills, which critics say were even more draconian than SB1070. He was also the prime sponsor of Arizona’s latest anti-abortion law, signed by Brewer in March, which makes it a crime to get an abortion because of the race or gender of the fetus and requires minority women to sign a document explaining their reasons for seeking the procedure.6

When I interviewed him in September regarding his support for SB1070, Montenegro declined to discuss how he was able to reconcile his votes with his religious beliefs and his church. “We don’t mix religion and politics,” he told me. “If you’re working on a story about what the religious experience has to do with [the law], I don’t think that’s fair.” He added that he and his family came to the United States legally, and that people who accuse him of being hypocritical are stereotyping him. At a Tea Party rally Montenegro summed up his position: “The fact that I can speak in Spanish doesn’t automatically make me a protax, open border liberal hopelessly addicted to big government spending. So today we send government a message: don’t mess with my liberties, don’t mess with my faith, and don’t mess with my wallet.”7

That a Spanish-speaking immigrant and Latino church leader is a major supporter of SB1070 says much about the disparate elements that came together to pass the most restrictive anti-immigration law in the country—an unhealthy brew of Wall Street greed, political opportunism, and nativist fears.

The Mexican Financial Crisis, U.S. Banks, and the Private Prison Industry

Today’s debates about U.S. immigration policy have roots in the December 1994 Mexican financial panic. On the heels of NAFTA, Mexico emerged nearly bankrupt because of bond debt to Wall Street banks. The peso was devalued by forty percent. The U.S. government pushed the International Monetary Fund to give Mexico money so it could put together a package to pay its creditors, most of which were the Wall Street banks.8 The IMF then contracted out the bailout loan to the U.S. Treasury.9 Mark Fineman of the Los Angeles Times reported, “Three weeks after it started receiving one of the biggest and most controversial credit packages in U.S. history, the Mexican government has spent a fifth of the $20 billion in promised U.S. loans to pay off American insurance companies, mutual fund investors, Wall Street brokerage houses, Mexican banks and the richest of Mexico’s rich.”10

To meet its crushing debt to Wall Street, the Mexican government increased interest rates at the behest of the U.S. Treasury. The rates on business and farm loans rose from an average of eleven percent to 56 percent. Those on credit-card debt went from seven percent to 61 percent. The rates on home loans increased from an average of five percent to 75 percent.11

The impact on Mexican citizens was devastating. Thousands of farms and businesses, both large and small, went bankrupt. Jobs disappeared, and people could no longer support their families. The economic hardships prompted a wave of mass migration, as millions of men, women, and children crossed Mexico’s northern border seeking work.

The Private Prison Companies Get Involved

In December 2006, more than a thousand men and women were arrested and detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids at meat-packing plants across the U.S. Instead of being charged with misdemeanors such as the misuse of a social security number—the U.S. practice since 1995—they were charged with crimes that carry lengthy prison sentences, such as falsifying documents or identity theft. The charges marked a significant shift in the enforcement of federal immigration policy.12

As Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, the executive director of Enlace, a group that helps low-wage workers develop and strengthen their organizations, wrote in an analysis for the Americas Program think tank, the shift spelled good news for the for-profit prison industry. Although the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, across the country, crime rates were down.13 Private prison corporations, no longer able to keep their jails filled, had lost contracts and shuttered doors.14 Now, however, wrote Cervantes-Gautschi,

This single change in enforcement of existing law created a potential “market” of over 10 million new felons almost overnight, multiplying the lucrative incarceration market for the private prison industry and sending a shock wave through immigrant-related communities across the country.15

A report by the Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest for-profit prison company, noted that “[e]xecutives believe immigrant detention is their next big market.” CCA, said the report, was expecting to bring in “a significant portion of our revenues” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).16 Many of the same banking institutions that profited from the Mexican financial crisis of the 1990s, such as JP Morgan and the Bank of America, are now investing heavily in the private prison industry, enabling them once again to profit from those who lost their jobs and businesses following the Mexico bailout.17

Kris Kobach, Crusading Attorney

In 2002, Kris Kobach was a 33-year-old advisor to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, working in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. There, he was “intimately involved,” as he says, in writing a memo arguing that local and state police have the power to arrest undocumented immigrants for civil violations of immigration law.18 Kobach’s memo directly contradicted opinions issued by his office in 1989 and 1996, which stated that only federal agents have that power, and his memo never became official policy.

In 2003, he left the department, and a year later, he was hired as senior counsel to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that works to curtail immigration, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has identified as a White nationalist hate group.19 In its report, SPLC cites John Tanton, FAIR’s founder, who wrote that a clear “European-American majority” is needed to protect American culture.20

Although Kobach’s Department of Justice memo never went anywhere, Kobach uses it to justify the authority of local law enforcement in immigration matters. In a May 18, 2010, article, theWashington Post wrote that “ [Kobach] … has cited the authority granted in the 2002 memo as a basis for the legislation.”21—and he is behind the anti-immigration laws that have started popping up in towns across the country, writing them and then defending them in court.

He has had limited success, however, in selling his arguments to judges. In 2007, he was brought in to defend a law in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, in a case that heated up the national anti-immigrant climate. Hazleton’s municipal ordinance made it a crime for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants and required all tenants to register with the city. As Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta said at the time, Kobach intended to make the law “legally bulletproof.”22 Nevertheless, in 2007, a federal district court judge struck it down as unconstitutional. In September 2010, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s ruling that immigration law falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Hazleton has appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has remanded it back to the Third Circuit. “Mr. Kobach’s experiments in pushing immigration enforcement to states and municipalities has real-world consequences, fueling xenophobia and pitting neighbor against neighbor,” said the Legal Director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Witold Walczak, who argued the case.23

Last fall, Kobach was elected Kansas secretary of state, running on a pledge to end immigrant voter fraud—even though he provided no credible evidence that this problem exists. He cited one case, in which he claimed that someone who had died in 1996 had voted in August 2010. However, theWichita Eagle found the “dead” man outside his house raking leaves.24

Russell Pearce, FAIR, and ALEC

Both nativists and the private prison industry were at the center of developing and passing SB1070;Arizona’s Senator Pearce has ties to both.

His connections to FAIR go back to at least 2004, when he was the co-chairman of the campaign for Proposition 200, a voter-approved law that cut off benefits to undocumented immigrants.25 The ballot initiative marked FAIR’s first foray into Arizona politics, for which the organization spent $500,000 in lobbying the public.26

A report by the Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest for-profit prison company, noted, “Executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market.”

Certainly, FAIR and Kobach fingerprints are all over SB1070, with its references to pressuring undocumented immigrants to “self deport” and to “attrition through enforcement,” which come directly from FAIR’s talking points.27 Dan Pochoda, the legal director of the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), points out that the enforcement strategy, also embraced by the Arizona Tea Party, is at the heart of all of Kobach’s cases.28 Still, Kobach’s previous ordinances had “only fiddled around” with giving local police enforcement responsibility, says SPLC Director of Research Heidi Beirich. “SB 1070 was a big innovation,” she notes.29

Kobach did not return phone calls for requests for an interview.

Pearce also has close connections to the prison industry, due to his membership in the American Legislative Enterprise Council (ALEC), a nonprofit, private membership organization that develops “model legislation” dedicated to advancing “free markets” and “limited government” for state lawmakers.30 In addition to the lawmakers, ALEC’s membership includes 200 corporations, who pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of gaining access to the state officials. Both CCA and Geo Group, another large private prison company, are corporate members of ALEC.31

Pearce is an ALEC lawmaker-member and serves on the council’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force—which also includes CCA representatives. Pearce admits that he submitted a draft to the task force of the bill that would become SB1070 in December 2009.32  Kobach says he helped draft a version of the law, likely the version that Pearce brought to ALEC.33

A month after Pearce presented the draft to the task force, the January-February edition of Inside ALEC published a list of the model legislation the council had approved at its December States and Nation Policy Summit, including this:

Resolution to Enforce Our Immigration Laws and Secure Our Borders Calls on states to enforce immigration laws and end sanctuary policies.

Calls on law enforcement officers to execute their authority to arrest any person guilty of hiring, harboring, or transporting illegal immigrants and to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities for removal from the United States.34

In March, Pearce introduced a bill into the Arizona state legislature that was practically identical to ALEC’s model legislation.

Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (with folder and without cowboy hat)

Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (with folder
and without cowboy hat)

For its part, CCA donated to the campaigns of thirty of the bill’s 36 cosponsors and hired a lobbyist to work the state capitol on the bill’s behalf. Two of Governor Brewer’s top advisors, Spokesman Paul Senseman and Campaign Manager Chuck Coughlin, are former lobbyists for the private prison industry.35

Tapping the Tea Party

Even though the forces that came together to pass SB1070, such as the private prison industry and ALEC, are powerful, neither group alone would have achieved such success. The prison industry’s lobbying efforts have been behind the scenes—in fact, it denies any lobbying at all. Obtaining grassroots support was crucial, and FAIR focused on generating it, tapping into Arizona’s motivated Tea Party movement.

FAIR set the stage for SB1070 with the Proposition 200 campaign. Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, which lobbies for comprehensive immigration reform, said thelegislation restricting public benefits to those who could not prove their immigration status, was in fact symbolic. “Few undocumented workers collect benefits, but [FAIR’s] strategy was to mobilize their base,” Sharry said. “In some ways [it became] the predecessor to the Tea Party. [FAIR] used online organizing to build a pretty formal cadre of activists around the country…. The anti-immigration movement has been able to stir up the Republican base so that the Republicans are scared of them in low-turnout elections.”36

FAIR invested a half-million dollars in the campaign, hiring signature gatherers and mobilizing support with a misinformation strategy, claiming (falsely) that undocumented immigrants cost the state $1.3 billion a year. To produce this number, a FAIR study included $810 million the state spends on educating the children of immigrants who are US citizens.37 The referendum campaign fanned the flames of anti-immigrant fears. “The Minutemen vigilantes have diverted the attention of the public and the media while their counterparts, sporting suits and ties in the state capitol, promote racist laws,” said Luis Herrera, an organizer with the St. Peter’s Housing Committee in San Francisco. “A war against immigrants and people of color has been declared in Arizona.”38

Margot Vernes, a community activist and volunteer with Corazon del Tucson, said that the White progressive community was reticent about the racist motivations of White nationalist movement, which helped the anti-immigrant movement in the long-term, setting the stage for the SB 1070 showdown.39

Proposition 200 passed with 56 percent of the vote.40

For the next few years, as Prop. 200 faced legal challenges, FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, headed by Kobach, spent its time and resources trying to institute anti-immigration policies at the local level. After losing several high profile cases such as the one in Hazleton, in 2009, Kobach and FAIR turned their attention back to Arizona. Governor Janet Napolitano had just been appointed Secretary of Homeland Security. Lieutenant Governor Jan Brewer, a staunch, conservative supportive of anti-immigration legislation, became the new governor, and Pearce moved into the powerful position of head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.41

The anti-immigration movement has been able to stir up the Republican base so that the Republicans are scared of them in low-turnout elections.

“Given all that, with the local ordinances held up in the courts, I suspect they figured, ‘Hey we’ve got strong support in Arizona,’” Sharry said. “Prop. 200 sowed the seed for SB1070, because FAIR had gotten to know Pearce at the time. They had gotten the Republican establishment behind them.” He continued,

There has been a significant demographic change in America. The White majority is getting increasingly fearful that they have lost control and [Republicans] have tapped into that fear.  California is already multi-ethnic. Arizona is next door and next up. The White majority population there thinks it’s losing out to the growth of the Hispanic community and are reacting in a very tribalistic way. FAIR and these groups are pretty skillful at blowing the dog whistle of demagoguery without being overtly racist.42

As evidence of the anti-immigrant groups’ success, Sharry points to the reversal of U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on immigration reform. In 2005, McCain worked with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) on a bipartisan plan that would have increased border security but also granted amnesty to illegal workers already in the country. By 2008, in response to anti-immigration activism, he changed his position and endorsed strict border crackdowns and blamed undocumented residents for “home invasions and murders.”43

“This is less a policy issue than it is a front on the culture war and in the partisan political war,” Sharry said.

The Tea Party, emerging in the wake of this anti-immigration fervor, embraced FAIR’s talking points and ran with them. Politicians like Montenegro curried favor with this motivated constituency.

Tea party support has not waned. In February, the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella group, held a so-called policy summit in Phoenix. In its invitation, the group wrote, “It will also be our opportunity to support the citizens of Arizona in their current political battles that carry so many national implications.”44

The Prison Industry Cleans Up

Even now, before SB1070 has gone into effect, there are twelve for-profit, private prison and detention facilities in the state of Arizona. CCA holds the federal contract to house detainees in Arizona who are suspected of violating immigration laws. When someone is arrested on suspicion of being in the country illegally, the state or county must notify ICE, which then has 48 hours to determine the detainee’s status. Each day that CCA holds a detainee in one of its facilities means an additional payment, whether from the state, county, or federal government. According to Cervantes-Gautschi, CCA currently bills the Department of Homeland Security $11 million per month.“[CCA’s] stated goal is to make as much money as they can off detained immigrants,” he says.45

SB1070 would expand the private prison industry’s market, effectively turning state and local police officers into its very own taxpayer-funded sales team. The new trespassing offences created by the law carry a maximum of twenty days in jail for a first offense and thirty days for a second offense. (The main difference between the ALEC model legislation and the bill presented to Arizona legislators was that in the ALEC version, there was no maximum limit on how long a person could be detained.) Private prisons would profit handsomely from these sentencing guidelines—for which the state would be required to pick up the tab.

Although Pearce asserts that the law will reduce prison overcrowding, even the Arizona legislature’s own fiscal analysis predicts that it will bring greater numbers of prisoners into the system, increasing costs. The analysts admit, however, that they cannot put a dollar figure on the cost increase, because no one knows how many people will be rounded up.46

In absence of any credible figures, many are turning to a study done by the Yuma County Sheriff’s Department in 2006, in response to a bill similar to SB1070 that would have rounded up suspected undocumented immigrants, but that never made it into law. Yuma is one of Arizona’s fifteen counties, with a population of about 200,000. Sheriff Ralph E. Ogden estimated that county law-enforcement agencies would have to spend an addition $775,880 to $1,163,820 under the law. Increased processing expenses and jail costs would be between $21,195,600 and $96,086,720.47

With these kinds of increased costs to the taxpayer, SB1070 clearly conflicts with the Tea Party’s demand for smaller government. Yet, the majority of the Tea Party candidates don’t seem to recognize this. The alliance between CCA and FAIR typifies the ironies surrounding SB1070, since FAIR reaches out to Tea Party activists who profess to want to stop illegal immigration; while the CCA’s financial survival is directly linked to its continuation.

“They (Tea Party supporters) don’t know because they don’t listen to us,” Cervantes-Gautschi said. “The argument that this eases overcrowding of prisons is utter nonsense.”48

Beirich called the attempts of Tea Party politicians like Montenegro to reconcile their support of SB 1070 with smaller government “absolute balderdash.” “They haven’t been forced to reconcile it,” she said. “To their base, they play up this red-meat, culture war issue. To the press, they insist they’re just for limited government. They’re supposed to be for liberty, less government intrusion, but what they’re endorsing is the ultimate intrusion.”49

Second Thoughts

During the past few months, various segments of the electorate have expressed concern that perhaps things have gone too far. The economic boycott, first started by the National Council of La Raza, and widely endorsed by other civil liberties organizations after the passage of SB1070, has already cost the state dearly. In the first six months after the bill’s signing, the convention industry lost $141 million.50

A war against immigrants and people of color has been declared in Arizona.

“On top of that, there is all the negative publicity,” said Democratic State Senator Steve Gallardo, who is pushing for a repeal of the law. “It’s going to take years to get out from under this black cloud.” Because Arizona is developing a reputation for racial discrimination, he said, “We’re being called the Mississippi of the Southwest.”51

Some business leaders are pushing back. In March, nearly sixty CEOs signed a letter to legislators opposing Arizona’s most recent round of anti-immigration legislation. The letter referred to the “unintended consequences” of the state’s “going it alone” on the immigration issue. “It’s all based on their own self interests,” Pochoda said. “They lost money. But we’ll take it.”

Nonetheless, FAIR and the private prison industry continue their lobbying efforts. After a lull in support, the dual forces behind SB 1070 are now seeing some success spreading similar legislation to other states. In May, Georgia’s governor signed into law a bill based on the ALEC model legislation.52 In June, Alabama passed an even more stringent anti-immigration law, which Kobach proudly takes credit for writing.53 Missouri and Pennsylvania are debating similar legislation.54

Meanwhile, the FAIR-linked group State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), led by Pennsylvania Republican State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, has been developing model legislation for state challenges to the notion of birthright citizenship, which would prevent children of undocumented immigrants—so-called anchor babies—from automatically receiving U.S. citizenship. The goal is to trigger a U.S. Supreme Court review of the 14th Amendment. In March, though, Arizona rejected its anti-birthright-citizenship bill.

Additionally, in May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a different Arizona case that states do have the right in some instances to set immigration law, raising questions about judicial review of SB 1070.55 Opponents had argued that such state and local anti-immigration legislation interfered with the jurisdiction of federal government to enforce immigration.56

Meanwhile, Pearce still claims that the law’s economic impact on the state has been positive. His website says,

Arizona has become a national leader in the restoration of the Rule of Law, with over 100,000 illegal aliens having left the state since 2007, saving over $350 million in K-12, a huge reduction in violent crimes as high as 30% in some cities and the first time in Arizona history a declining population in our Prisons, reduction in social services cost and jobs for Americans, etc.57

His assertions are dubious—the statistics do not take into account the impact of the 2008 collapse of the U.S. economy and the skyrocketing unemployment rate on reducing overall immigration.  The number of undocumented residents nationally has declined eight percent since 1997, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study.58

The Sanctuary Movement

In the early 1980s, the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, initiated the sanctuary movement, when it sheltered thousands of people fleeing Central American death squads. The Rev. John Fife hung banners outside the church: “This is a Sanctuary for the Oppressed of Central America,” and “Immigration: Do not Profane the Sanctuary of God.”59

The sanctuary movement was based on the religious concept that we are to show our neighbors mercy: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:36-37). SB1070 would target such sanctuaries by prohibiting “any municipal, county or state policy from hampering the ability of any government agency to comply with federal immigration law.”

Misericordia. Perhaps it’s a forgotten concept.

Endnotes

1 Visit to Surprise Apostolic Church and interview with Rep. Steve Montenegro, Phoenix, Arizona, Sept. 12, 2012

2 State of Arizona Official Canvas http://www.azsos.gov/election/2008/General/Canvass2008GE.pdf

3 Russell Pearce website
http://www.russellpearce.com/

4 Arizona Daily Star, Court Keeps Block on Parts of Arizona Immigration Law, Howard Fischer, April 11, 2010, http://azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_0a60baf6-6461-11e0-9ead-001cc4c002e0.html

5 Religion Dispatches, http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/2528/arizona_is_the_hispanic_alabama/ Arizona is the Hispanic Alabama, Anthea Butler, May 3, 2010; Anonymous interviews with national Apostolic Assembly Church administrator on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 2010.

6 Arizona Republic, Arizona Outlaws Abortions Based on Race, Sex, Ginger Rough, March 30, 2011, http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2011/03/30/20110330arizona-abortions-race-sex-crime.html

7 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSghdUwNsMo

8 Americas Program, Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning, Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, Feb. 11, 2008, http://enlaceintl.org/news/old-news/wall-street-and-immigration-financial-services-giants-have-profited-fr

9 Ibid

10 Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, Mexican Meltdown: NAFTA, Democracy, and the Peso, Maxwell Cameron, Jan. 1996, http://www.yorku.ca/cerlac/documents/Cameron.pdf

11 Americas Program, Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning, Cervantes-Gautschi,

12 America’s Program, Wall Street and the Criminalization of Immigrants, Peter
Cervantes-Gautschi, June 10, 2010, http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/3304

13 FBI Uniform Crime Reports, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/preliminary-crime-in-the-us-2009

14 NPR, Private Prison Leaves Texas Towns in Trouble, John Burnett, March 28, 2010, http://www.npr.org/2011/03/28/134855801/private-prison-promises-leave-texas-towns-in-trouble

15 America’s Program, Wall Street and the Criminalization of Immigrants, Cervantes-Gautschi

16 NPR, Prison Economic Help Drive Arizona Immigration Law, Oct. 28, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741

17 Ibid.

18 Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, The Man: A Biography of Kris Kobach, Heidi Beirich, Jan. 20, 2011, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/when-mr-kobach-comes-to-town/the-man-a-biography-of-kris-kobach

19 Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, Winter 2007, The Teflon Nativists, Heidi Beirich, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2007/winter/the-teflon-nativists

20 Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, The Communities: The Cost of Nativist Legislation,  Jan. 20, 2011, http://www.splcenter.org/getinformed/publications/when-mr-kobach-comes-to-town/the-man-a-biography-of-kris-kobach

21 Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, The Man: A Biography of Kris Kobach, Heidi Beirich, Jan. 20, 2011,http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/when-mr-kobach-comes-to-town/the-man-a-biography-of-kris-kobach

22 Interview with Witold Walczak, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, April 14, 2011

23 Ibid.

24 Wichita Eagle, Commentary: Kobach Needs to Provide Voter Fraud Evidence, March 2, 2011, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/03/02/109710/commentary-kobach-needs-to-produce.html02/109710/commentary-kobach-needs-to-produce.html

25 Arizona Central, Russell Pearce to be next Arizona Senate President, Associated Press, Nov. 3, 2010,http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2010/11/03/20101103arizona-senate-president-pearce.html

26 Counterpunch, Xenophobia in the Desert, Margot Veranes and Adrian Navarro, June 7, 2005, http://www.counterpunch.org/veranes06072005.html

27 FAIR web site http://www.fairus.org/site/News2page=NewsArticle&id=22725&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1741

28 Interview with Dan Pochoda, legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, March 30, 2011

29 Interview with Heidi Beirich, Southern Poverty Law Center, April 5, 2011

30 American Legislative Exchange Council web site http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=About

31 In These Times, Corporate Con Game: How the private prison industry helped shape Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, Beau Hodai, June 21, 2010, http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6084/corporate_con_game/

32 Ibid.

33 New York Times Op-Ed, Why Arizona Drew a Line, Kris Kobach, April 28, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/opinion/29kobach.html

34 Inside Alec newsletter, Jan./Feb. 2010 https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.alec.org/am/pdf/InsideALEC
/InsideALEC_Jan-Feb2010.pdf

35 NPR, Prison Economic Help Drive Arizona Immigration Law, Oct. 28, 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741

36 Interview with Frank Sharry, America’s Voices, June 6, 2011

37 Counterpunch, Xenophobia in the Desert, Veranes and Navarro

38 Ibid

39 Interview with Margot Veranes, June 13, 2011

40 Ibid

41 Arizona Central, Russell Pearce to be next Arizona Senate President, AP

42 Sharry interview

43 ABC News, John McCain Border Shift: ‘Complete Danged Fence,’ Russell Goldman, May 11, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/john-mccain-immigration-reversal-complete-danged-fence/story?id=10616090

44 Newsweek, Tea Party Patriots to Convene in Arizona, Jan. 4, 2011, http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/the-gaggle/2011/01/04/tea-party-patriots-to-convene-in-arizona.html

45 Private Prisons Might Gain from New Immigration Law, KPHO TV, 2010, http://www.kpho.com/news/24362212/detail.html

46 Fiscal Analysis of SB 1070, http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/
fiscal/sb1070.doc.pdf

47 American Immigration Council, Implementation Costs of SB 1070 to One Arizona County, April 23, 2010,http://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/newsroom/release/implementation-costs-sb-1070-one-arizona-county

48 Interview with Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, April 5, 2011

49 Beirich interview.

50 Center for American Progress, The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Conference Cancellations Due to SB 1070, Marshall Fitz and Angela Maria Kelly,  Nov. 18, 2010, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/11/az_tourism.html

51 Interview with Sen. Steve Gallardo, April 12, 2011

52 Atlanta Progressive News, Prison Lobbyists Help Spread Anti-Immigration Laws to U.S. South, Inter-Press Service, May 26, 2011, http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/interspire/news/2011/05/26/(ips)-prison-lobbyists-help-spread-anti-immigrant-laws-to-us-south.html

53 Politico, Swing States Face Immigration Fight, Reid J. Epstein, June 13, 2011, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/56857.html

54 Ibid

55 Los Angeles Times, Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Immigration Law Targeting Employers, David Savage, May 26, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/26/nation/la-na-court-immigration-ruling-20110526

56 Ibid

57 Russell Pearce website,http://www.russellpearce.com/

58 ABC News, Study: Illegal Immigrant Population Shrinks, Crossings Down Sharply, Devin Dwyer, Sept. 1, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/illegal-immigration-numbers-plummet-2005-study-finds/story?id=11524552

59 Arizona Daily Star, Churches in New Sanctuary Movement, Stephanie Innes, June 13, 2008, http://azstarnet.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/article_fb879efc-91e0-56b8-bd71-60001be5caea.html

The Conservative Attack on Birthright Citizenship

CREDIT: (c) Jim Morin

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

United States Constitution, Amendment XIV, Section 1

Among the many low moments of Republican leadership last year, the call by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for hearings on a constitutional amendment to repeal the birthright citizenship provisions of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was among the most dispiriting.[i] Back in 2007, the National Council of La Raza had honored Graham for his commitment to finding solutions to the immigration issue. He had played the responsible grown up among his Republican colleagues at the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

But with the rise of the Tea Party and its increasingly ruthless attempts to purge Republicans of other persuasions from party leadership, Graham seemed anxious to prove his conservative bona fides. He argued that birthright citizenship had encouraged Mexican women to come to the United States to have “anchor babies,” who would enable the parents to remain in the country legally. “It’s called ‘drop and leave,’” Graham explained.

Read More

Basta Dobbs!: An Interview with Roberto Lovato

Last year, a coalition of Latino/a groups successfully fought to remove anti-immigrant pundit Lou Dobbs from CNN. Political Research Associates Executive Director Tarso Luís Ramos spoke to Presente.org co-founder Roberto Lovato to find out how they did it.

Tarso Luís Ramos: Tell me about your organization, Presente.org.

Roberto Lovato: Presente.org, which I co-founded in May 2009, is the preeminent online Latino advocacy organization. It’s kind of like a MoveOn.org for Latinos: its goal is to build Latino power through online and offline organizing. Presente started in May 2009, with a campaign to persuade Governor Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania to take a stand against the verdict in the case of Luis Ramírez, an undocumented immigrant who was killed in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and whose assailants were acquitted by an all-white jury. We also ran a campaign to support the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court—we produced an “I Stand with Sotomayor” logo and poster that people could display at work or in their neighborhoods and post on their facebook pages—and a few additional, smaller campaigns, but really the one that put us on the map was the Basta Dobbs [“Enough with Dobbs”] campaign.

TLR: Of all the anti-immigrant individuals, organizations, and media pundits out there, why did you decide to target Lou Dobbs?

RL: Lou Dobbs probably had the broadest reach of any anti-immigrant pundit in the United States. Every day at 7:00 pm, prime time, on CNN, he would spout anti-immigrant sentiments and provide a platform for the most extreme elements, like the Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR] and the vigilante Minutemen organization, whose members were responsible for killing Raul Flores and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia during a home invasion in May 2009.

CNN has aspirations of being a serious news organization, and most people there really resented being affiliated with a network that was showcasing Lou Dobbs. We also had some internal intelligence from people at CNN telling us that the network was concerned about a drop in Dobbs’s ratings.

TLR: What was your personal interest in this?

RL: I’m a journalist, and I came out of retirement as an organizer to do this campaign. During the 1994 campaign against California’s anti-immigrant ballot initiative, Proposition 187, I was the head of the country’s largest immigrant-rights organization, in Los Angeles—the Central American Resource Center, CARECEN. So I know who’s who in the immigrant-rights movement. [Proposition 187 passed but was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court.]

I took on this campaign for a few reasons. First, I wanted to get Lou Dobbs out. Our campaign called him the most dangerous man for Latinos in the United States. He had a website, a radio show, columns, public appearances, books—a multimedia empire dedicated to the hatred of immigrants and Latinos. We had to do something, if only for our own self-respect.

Number two, it was important to show how to win. You don’t build movements without victories.

Number three, I wanted to complement the organizing that was being done online. If you’re only online, you’re bloodless. Organizing in many ways is about linking personal, cultural, and other narratives to the larger political narratives of our time. Stories are what move people. As a writer and organizer I’m ecstatic when I see two things that I love to do—strategy and storytelling—combined. I mean, they have always been combined—look at the Zapatistas—but I never saw it as clearly as I do now. The Basta Dobbs campaign was a great story—a community rising up to defend itself against a powerful media adversary. It’s the combination of online and on-the-ground organizing that will become the central mode of organizing in our time.

TLR: Any other reasons for targeting Dobbs and CNN?

RL: During the campaign, people would tell me, “Yo siento mucho ódio hacia Lou Dobbs” – “I feel a lot of hatred for Lou Dobbs.” But I would say, “We have to work not from a place of hatred but from a place where we love ourselves enough to say, ‘Stop! Ya basta! No more!’” It’s like that moment when a woman who’s being abused steps up and says, “I love myself enough to protect myself from abuse’”—and her life changes. Our campaign had everything to do with love.

TLR: Others also targeted Dobbs. How did Basta Dobbs relate to those campaigns?

RL: Sure, other groups had tried it, but they weren’t national, they weren’t online, and they didn’t really have a broad strategy. They threatened a boycott, but they never fulfilled that promise. If you make a threat and don’t back it up, you’re doing us all harm.

A couple of campaigns—one called Drop Dobbs and another called Enough is Enough, organized by Democracia USA—were launched at the same time as ours, and there was some level of coordination. But, we were the only one that focused on organizing the people most affected by Lou Dobbs: Spanish-speaking immigrants. If you don’t reach out to the people most affected, what kind of an impact can you have?

So, we stayed very focused. Our group’s confluence of strategy, skills, intelligence, passion, and disposition to fight not only contributed to the demise of Lou Dobbs but also defeated one of the most powerful media companies on earth. Because at the end of the day, our target was not Lou Dobbs; it was CNN. That was another big difference between Basta Dobbs and other campaigns.

TLR: What are the most dangerous lies Dobbs told about immigrants?

RL: Where do I start? Lou Dobbs explained all kinds of social problems by pointing at immigrants. He claimed that one of every three people in the U.S. prison system is an immigrant—a fabrication. On the Democracy Now! television and radio show, the host, Amy Goodman, confronted Dobbs with the fact that fewer than six percent of prisoners are immigrants, and even fewer are undocumented. [Dobbs responded that he “misspoke,” and that he was speaking only of federal prisons.] He’s said immigrants are responsible for a rise in leprosy in the United States. That’s something anybody with access to the Centers for Disease Control website could show is a total fabrication.

Anti-immigrant groups like the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform [FAIR] have invested a lot of money to create a cultural meme that equates “immigrant” with “criminal,” a falsehood that Dobbs promoted. When he wasn’t doing it himself, he brought on groups such as FAIR or the Minutemen to lie for him. Actually, that may be his biggest and most dangerous lie: giving these groups a national media platform, as if they had some expertise, as if they were anything but the bearers of marginal, extremist, dangerous messages.

TLR: What was the Basta Dobbs campaign strategy?

RL: From the beginning we knew we were going to target CNN, and we actually opened up a front inside of CNN. We had the audacity, the ambition, and the ability to develop networks of journalists and other sources to gather information about CNN and Lou Dobbs’s position there. We got a lot of inteligencia popular, popular intelligence, from CNN employees.

The decision to let go of Dobbs was up to CNN President Jon Klein, so we knew he was the one we had to go after, more than we were going after Lou Dobbs. At one point during the campaign Klein told someone close to him—and to us—that he felt like he was being surveilled or that there was a leak of information. And he was right.

At the center of our strategy was online organizing and getting people to use their computers, cell phones, video, and social networks to become politically engaged. Something like ninety percent of the population has a cell phone. When everybody has a movie house, television set, computer, Internet, and a radio in their pocket—and that’s only going to grow—you have an opportunity to organize and tell stories like never before.

TLR: I’m recording this interview on my cell phone.

RL: Exactly—it’s a new era. But alongside of the online organizing, you still have to deal with people in the streets. Some people think, “Now that there is online organizing, we don’t need to do offline organizing”—a stupid and dangerous idea if ever there was one! We worked with groups that had a base offline to complement our work.

We have to work not from a place of hatred but from a place where we love ourselves enough to say “Stop! Ya basta! No more!”

Another component of our campaign was public relations. I appeared on Spanish-language radio and television all over the United States. We live in a media age, and the private media is no less predisposed to censorship than a totalitarian state is. It is not going to put out your message for you, especially when you’re criticizing it.

I believe the media promotes violence against women and, in the case of Lou Dobbs, against entire communities. And one of the great pleasures of the campaign for me was being able to plant a little seed of disruption to the cultural system behind the violence.

TLR: How did you put your strategy into action?

RL: Initially, we planned to create a credible threat, in the form of 100,000 signatures on a petition, which would allow us to target advertisers—just as our sister-organization Color of Change did last year, when it successfully persuaded companies like Wal-Mart, CVS, and Best Buy to pull their ads from the Glenn Beck show. We had reached the magic number of 100,000 when Dobbs was ousted.

We knew, and CNN knows, that in the future, no media company will survive without capturing a segment of the 50 million-strong Latino market. So, a major tactic was to threaten the CNN brand. The network was previewing its Latino in America documentary, hosted by Soledad O’Brien, in cities around the country. We organized in the top 25 Latino cities in the United States, and everywhere the show went, we’d give it a “welcome.” CNN realized that it was going to be trashed on a regular basis—daily if possible. The network sent cameras to many of the cities where we mobilized, but the demonstrations never appeared on any CNN program. CNN people told me that the network was trying to figure out how massive and effective our movement was.

Organizing in the streets matters as much as ever. Your adversaries won’t tell you that they’re watching you, but they are. They care because their brand is being crushed with every step that you march.

We were also planning to hit CNN beyond U.S. borders. We were ready to launch Basta Dobbs en América Latina in ten Latin American countries on November 13th, but Dobbs was fired on the 12th. We had been in discussions with partners in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries. We’d also been in discussions with Latin American media outlets. They were hungry to go after CNN, because it’s the number-one network in Latin America—their primary competitor. So we would have received massive coverage in Latin America along with support on the ground in what would have become a hemispheric fight between U.S. Latinos and Latin Americans, on the one hand, and one of the most powerful media companies on the planet, on the other.

I really regret that we didn’t get to do that. Increasingly, our adversaries on any given issue are of a global nature—global corporations. Let’s not even mention BP! If you’re going to take on a global adversary it makes strategic sense to mount a global or at least a hemispheric campaign.

TLR: Was CNN aware of your plans?

RL: At the end it was. I don’t know if that was the deciding factor, and Basta Dobbs can’t take total credit. There were the other campaigns, the internal discontent at CNN, and Dobbs’s drop in ratings. But we knew that our pressure helped CNN President Jon Klein make the right decision.

TLR: What was the campaign’s relationship with its organizing partners and to what extent did Presente build its own base over the course of the campaign?

RL: Basta Dobbs was a unique coalition of immigrant-rights organizations from across the United States—the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the Dolores Street Mission, Derechos Humanos, Centro Presente, and others—and media justice groups like Magnet, New Mexico Media and Literacy Project, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. At the local level these groups provided spokespeople, ideas, access, and people power. Also, a bunch of bloggers were posting regularly about our issues and hitting their audiences.

In the future, no media company will survive without capturing a segment of the 50-million-strong Latino market.

We got support from Latino groups like the Willie Velasquez Institute, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Latino Policy Institute, and we got solidarity from non-Latino groups like AlterNet, Credo Mobile, MoveOn, Democrats.com, and Color of Change.

Also important were our friends in the media, especially inside CNN. Lou Dobbs made a lot of enemies.

TLR: Any particularly unusual partners in your coalition?

RL: We got a call from a mostly Latina troop of Girl Scouts who said they were ready to march from their home in southern Georgia to Atlanta, to take it to CNN. We were gearing up to do that when the campaign ended. Maybe that’s really what caused the demise of Lou Dobbs—the invincible force of the Girl Scouts!

TLR: What about the people who signed the Basta Dobbs petition—were they newly activated or had they been involved in other campaigns?

RL: I don’t have statistics, but I have an anecdotal sense about the tens of thousands of people who signed on via text messaging: the majority had probably never been organized before—on- or offline. They were working people, Spanish-speaking immigrants.

When I would appear on Spanish-language radio, we would run a public service announcement. All we had to do was let Lou Dobbs speak. That was the beauty of our campaign. We gave Lou Dobbs the platform to do what he does best: hate! Then I’d get on and say, “Okay, if you don’t like what he’s saying, and you want to do something about it, take out your telephone, text 30644 with the word “Basta,” and deliver a jab to the ribs of Lou Dobbs and CNN.” Each time, we would get between 500 and 1,000 people messaging. That gives you some sense of that disposition to fight, that spirit. You also saw it in people’s willingness to come out and march in 25 different cities.

TLR: Presente’s public service announcements implied that Lou Dobbs was morally responsible for anti-immigrant violence such as the Minuteman killings. How did CNN react to that?

RL: We attached CNN’s brand to the hateful speech of Lou Dobbs. We said that as long as CNN continued to employ someone who was telling dangerous lies, and promoting hate groups and ultimately violence against Latinos and immigrants, the red in the CNN logo would stand for blood, which was staining “the most trusted name in news.” We didn’t even have to make the case. Lou Dobbs made it himself. All we had to do was connect the dots. It was an easy campaign at that level: Lou Dobbs was the gift that kept on giving.

CNN’s own personnel were complaining, and their complaints were amplified by an external echo chamber. The combination of internal and external pressure made the life of Jon Klein impossible. Klein may never admit that Basta Dobbs had any part in his decision to get rid of Lou Dobbs, but he knows in his heart of hearts that we forced him to confront the issues of Dobbs’s hate speech and promotion of violence.

An anti-Lou Dobbs protester (MaryMorenoMontejano, Center for Community Change)

An anti-Lou Dobbs protester (MaryMorenoMontejano, Center for Community Change)

TLR: Dobbs is not the only high-profile media figure to contribute to a climate in which acts of violence against targeted communities become more probable. I’m mindful of Bill O’Reilly’s recurrent “Tiller the baby killer” refrain in the months preceding the 2009 assassination of George Tiller, one of the only doctors in the country who provided late-term abortions. Still, as you point out, the situation with Dobbs at CNN was different from that of the anchors at Fox, because CNN was concerned about maintaining its image as a reputable news organization. So, are any of the lessons from your campaign applicable to other situations?

RL: The principles of organizing, of political warfare, apply in all situations. You have to align your resources, human and otherwise, with your ultimate objectives. You have to disarm your adversaries to the degree possible—or even better, to make them disarm themselves, from within. But the primary factor in war, politics, and love is spiritual. By spiritual, I mean the psychological, the emotional, the aspirational—the things that help us deal with fear. We need to stir peoples’ passions. Just look at the United States in Iraq and in Vietnam. Throughout history, even the most powerful militaries have been defeated by highly motivated forces.

The immigrant-rights movement should really think about that. Look at the condition of immigration policy right now, with Barack Obama and the Democrats becoming even more aggressive and right wing. Obama is militarizing the border; Homeland Security is targeting immigrants with increasing fervor and continued impunity—and yet Washington, D.C.-based immigration groups are still largely uncritical of Obama. Their decision to bring immigrant rights under the control of the Democratic Party has had a devastating effect on the morale of our communities, which have not been allowed to unleash the power we saw on May 1, 2006—the largest simultaneous marches in U.S. history! The groups in D.C. had pretty much nothing to do with those massive marches. Yet, in the media, the Washington groups are asked to speak for that insurgent energy—not because of any moral authority or supreme leadership ability, but because of their financial authority and media access.

The Washington groups promoting comprehensive immigration reform have spent tens of millions of dollars—perhaps hundreds of millions—yet they’ve failed to energize the movement in a way that could bring us victory. We can’t just blame the Republicans for obstructing legislation. There’s no excuse, and this is a mission-critical issue. We have to win. I’d like to see a change of heart. Recently, some of the D.C. leaders were arrested for civil disobedience. That’s a positive development.

A lot depends on foundations. I challenge them to evaluate the results of the tens of millions they’ve invested inside the Beltway. I challenge them to reconsider and start spending some of that money elsewhere. There’s a lot of talent, ability, and even political genius out there, and I encourage our friends in philanthropy to start distributing money to grassroots immigrant and media-justice groups.

TLR: Where did Presente get its funding for Basta Dobbs?

RL: When you build an online organization like MoveOn, with a massive list, you don’t have to depend on anybody except your members. That’s where Presente has to go. We receive funding from our members and private individuals; we’re just now starting to get a little foundation support.

TLR: How much did Basta Dobbs cost?

RL: I don’t know precisely, but I can tell you it didn’t cost a million. It didn’t cost half a million. It didn’t cost all that much for what we got. Small, tightly focused organizations with clear strategies often more efficiently deploy resources and are better investments than organizations with massive infrastructures, multiple issues, and rudderless direction.

Presente.org pro-Sotomayor poster (Poster design by Favianna Rodriguez)

Presente.org pro-Sotomayor poster (Poster design by Favianna Rodriguez)

TLR: Are grassroots campaigns like Basta Dobbs and comprehensive immigration reform complementary, or are they pulling the immigrant-rights movement in different strategic directions?

RL: The anti-Dobbs campaign provided a victory to a movement that, thanks to failed leadership, had been stuck in a profoundly defensive and dangerous position. Basta Dobbs created a channel for the expression of frustration, anger, and aspiration for a new direction. In so doing we delivered a devastating blow to the anti-immigrant organizations in this country—FAIR and the others—who in Lou Dobbs had had a daily platform for their hateful messages and their lies.

The beyond-the-Beltway groups in the network that Basta Dobbs mobilized are not necessarily part of the current comprehensive immigration-reform coalition. Reform is failing right now. If you read immigration-reform proposals you’ll find that out of 800 pages or so, fewer than 100 are about legalization; the other 700 are about prosecution, incarceration, deportation, border militarization, and so on. This is a bad bargain for immigrants.

TLR: Since Dobbs was dislodged from CNN, the situation for immigrants in this county has arguably worsened, with the passage of Arizona’s SB1070 being the clearest indicator. What’s next for Presente, and what lessons and resources from the Basta Dobbs campaign will it bring to the broader struggle?

RL: I don’t have all the answers to that. Right now Presente is supporting the Trail of Dreams. We’re providing media and strategy support to four undocumented students—Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, Carlos Roa, and Juan Rodriguez—who walked from Miami, Florida, to Washington, D.C., to educate people about the importance of passing the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who complete a college degree or two years of military service. In April, another group of six undocumented students began a second walk, from New York City.

We didn’t even have to make the case. Lou Dobbs made it himself. All we had to do was connect the dots.

All these students are heroic figures. The original Dream walkers met with President Obama on June 16 to demand that he issue an executive order stopping deportations of Dream Act-eligible students. Depending on his response, we’ll either celebrate another major victory for the immigrant rights movement, or we will have to push harder, this time not against Lou Dobbs but against the president of the United States, the commander in chief of the war on immigrants.

As the head of the government, Obama has the final authority over the activities of the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He’s made no statement about the cold-blooded murder of fourteen-year-old Sergio Hernandez by a U.S. Border Patrol agent outside Ciudad Juarez on June 7th. He’s been silent about human-rights violations by ICE, the most militarized component of the federal government except for the Pentagon. When ICE terrorizes adults and children in its raids, it’s ultimately President Obama—not Arizona Governor Janice Brewer or Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who is responsible. Across the United States, the flood of trauma that is destroying the lives of immigrants is ultimately caused by President Obama. Presente is planning a campaign to educate the larger community about this, in conjunction with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

TLR: Are you working on SB1070, the Arizona law that encourages the racial profiling of Latinos as suspected criminals?

RL: SB1070 must be defeated at all costs. There are a lot of actors involved in fighting it. We thought we could make a contribution by doing what other communities have done around race issues in Arizona, which is to get a major sports event to pull out. [When Arizona rescinded Martin Luther King Day in 1991, the National Football League moved the 1993 Super Bowl site from Phoenix to Pasadena, California.] Presente has started a campaign to persuade Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona. In one week we gathered 100,000 signatures, and about a million people have signed up on Facebook. There have been actions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. So far, Selig has simply pointed to the racial diversity of Major League Baseball as a reflection of his commitment to civil rights. Still, we’re confident that we’ll persuade him to do the right thing, just as we persuaded Jon Klein to do the right thing.

Judicial Watch Glories in Victories over Undocumented Workers

Commentary

To enter the world of Tom Fitton, President of the conservative, D.C.-based group, Judicial Watch, you’re going to need to forget the stories you’ve heard about hardworking immigrants being torn from their U.S.-born children and deported to their countries of origin. You’ll need to forget tales of workplace raids and anecdotes about people deported for driving five miles above the speed limit. You’ll also need to forget about the 185,431 people who were deported in 2006.

That’s because, in Fitton’s worldview, a vast network of “sanctuary cities” is coddling illegals and refusing to allow local law enforcers to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As Fitton sees it, the roster of recalcitrants includes Anchorage, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Speaking at the National Press Club three weeks before the Iowa Presidential Caucus, Fitton—along with allies Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigrant Studies and a contributor to National Review online, and John Fonte, director of the ominously named Center for American Common Culture and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute—recounted a host of heinous crimes to buttress their assertion that if we want a safer United States, the undocumented must be removed. Their flawed rationale is meant to incite distrust and resentment among the native born

Like a wily adolescent, 14-year-old Judicial Watch is trying on identities. Its website describes it as a “nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.” At the same time, the group’s tentacles extend into traditional right-wing territory—opposition to abortionand GLBTQ rights, and the need to shore up American’s border, among them. Its vitriol also extends to the Clintons and its “Hillary Watch” posits her as an ethical nightmare.

Krikorian was the first to raise the specter of violent foreign hordes. “On December 12, 2002, a 42-year-old woman was abducted and gang raped on Long Island. The woman was a legal immigrant. Four of the five Mexican men responsible were illegal. Three of the five had repeatedly been arrested by the New York Police Department but NYPD never checked to see if they were legally in the country. That’s because New York is a sanctuary city. Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s denial, city employees do not cooperate with immigration officials.”

“That 700,000 state and local law enforcement agents across the country refuse to use immigration law as one of their tools is foolish,” he continued. “Law enforcement should act as if every city is a border city and every state is a border state.”

Fonte went one further, invoking 9-11. “Five of the hijackers were in violation of immigration laws,” he began. “Four had been stopped for traffic violations but their immigration status was never checked. This was a missed opportunity of tragic proportions.”

More recently, he said, a plot against Fort Dix was discovered and thwarted. The masterminds? Three men, in the U.S. illegally, who had previously been cited for speeding, driving without a license, disorderly conduct, and possession of marijuana. A few months later, in August 2007, four innocent African American college students were shot, execution-style, in Newark, New Jersey. The perpetrators? Undocumented men who had previously been arrested for “barroom brawls and aggravated sexual assault.”

Invoking fear is front and center in this schema. Despite documented evidence of low criminality among immigrants—arrest and incarceration rates are below that of the native born— Fitton, Fonte and Krikorian want the government to protect Americans from potential terrorists and criminals, aka “illegal immigrants,” using whatever means are necessary. By calling up actual tragedies, they conjure a predictable emotional response, reality be damned.

The trio place most of the responsibility for stemming unlawful entry on local, state and federal agencies. Nonetheless, they also see a role for the grassroots. Judicial Watch’s staffers, for example, have sued the Chicago, D.C., and Los Angeles police departments for failing to report suspected unauthorized immigrants to federal authorities and have initiated lawsuits against Laguna Beach, California and Herndon, Virginia to force day labor centers to verify the immigration status of would-be workers. Herndon closed its job center in September 2007, something Judicial Watch takes credit for.

The group has also championed—and has worked to popularize —Hazelton, Pennsylvania’s 2006 Rental Registration Ordinance. The ordinance requires tenants to show proof of citizenship or legal residency and obtain an occupancy permit before a landlord can rent to them.

Conservatives say that these efforts have begun to pay off. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute agrees, citing the 1000-plus bills aimed at regulating immigrants that came before state legislatures in 2007. The 156 that passed run the gamut, from fining landlords who rent to the undocumented to directing state and local police to report immigrant offenders to ICE.

Although Fitton, Fonte and Krikorian are cheered by these developments, they are far from satisfied. Their vision includes not only mass deportations, but the shutting down of all “sanctuary cities.” Krikorian laid out the game plan: first, convince the Department of Justice to cut funds to “sanctuary cities” by ten percent a year until the cities “cry uncle.” Secondly, enforce cooperation between ICE, law enforcement and social service agencies.

In short, they want to remove what’s left of the welcome mat for the world’s hungry, poor and tempest tossed, burying, once and for all, Emma Lazarus’ vision for this country

Immigrants and the Environment

Immigrants and the Environment

The anti-immigrant Right has appealed to those who value the environment, blaming immigrants for problems of pollution, overcrowding, energy shortages and the very quality of life in the United States. Sometimes the arguments are subtle; sometimes groups make provocative claims. Well-funded anti-immigrant groups have produced slick, full-color publications filled with statistics and graphic images related to population and natural resources issues. They have appeared in the media as friends of the environment, broadening their base of appeal, but their message remains clear: we must do more to limit immigration or we will suffer serious environmental consequences. The Political Ecology Group called this approach, “The Greening of Hate.” In 1996 and 1998 members of the Sierra Club voted on a position linking immigration with environmental problems. Both times the measures were defeated.1


Population Growth

What the Anti-Immigrant Right Says

Virtually all the anti-immigrant organizations and spokespeople use population growth in the United States as a keystone in their views about immigrants. They say:

  • Paul Ehrlich was right (The Population Bomb, 1968) when he forecast an environmental crisis as a result of overpopulation.
  • Rapid immigration growth is a main cause of the population problem in the United States.
  • Overflow from developing countries, which have by far the fastest population growth rates in the world, contributes to the United States’ “out of control” growth rate.
  • We have far exceeded the optimum population size for the United States, and we are now too crowded.
  • We can’t solve the world’s population problem by “being nice” and accepting more immigrants.

Examples: Roy Beck. (1996). The Case Against Immigration. New York: W.W. Norton. ch. 1, “A Nation of (Too Many) Immigrants?”; “Why Excess Immigration Damages the Environment.” (1992). Balance DATA, no. 27a, June. Washington, DC: Population-Environment Balance; Jason Din-Alt. (1997). “The Environmental Impact of Immigration into the United States.” Focus, v. 4, n. 2. Washington, DC: Carrying Capacity Network.

 

Response

Many different approaches to studying population issues exist, and economists, geographers, natural scientists, and demographers are all engaged in a lively debate about the best way to deal with population growth. Most anti-immigrant spokespeople tend to be influenced only by one perspective, that of environmentalists like Ehrlich who focus exclusively on population’s effect on natural resource depletion.

Such groups discount other factors that influence population levels and their impact on the environment such as poverty, women’s education levels, technology, human adaptability or even the idea that population growth is an influence, not a central cause, of environmental degradation. They distort the arguments that feminists, scientists and social scientists construct into a simple cause and effect formula that serves their purpose of blaming immigrants for complex, global phenomena.

Furthermore, most anti-immigrant groups focus only on the United States, and they do not examine global population trends thoughtfully. Immigration patterns are the result not just of receiving countries’ policies, but of multiple factors including transnational business practices, social unrest and economic instability in other areas of the world. The United States influences or controls some of these factors itself, contributing to the influx of immigrants to this country.

Even if overpopulation were the single most important factor, it would need to be dealt with on a global level through broad reforms such as increasing women’s rights and their access to education and family planning services all over the world. It will not be solved by simply decreasing immigration to the United States.

Finally, even if they say the issue is solely about numbers, groups that oppose the immigration of people of color are exploiting racial fears. Two examples of such techniques are using images in their publications that depict only people of color and highlighting statistics that show that most immigrants to the United States come from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Diminishing Resources

What the Anti-Immigrant Right Says

Many anti-immigrant groups remind us that the United States currently suffers from environmental degradation and diminishing resources. They blame immigrants for virtually all of these problems. They say:

  • The United States has one of the highest rates of per capita resource utilization in the world, and immigrants adopt these consumerist habits when they arrive here.
  • States with the highest numbers of immigrants, like Texas, Florida, New York and California, also experience the worst environmental problems, like rolling blackouts and high levels of air and water pollution.
  • National parks and other public lands are overcrowded because of increased immigration.
  • Illegal border crossers have no regard for the environment, trampling delicate desert areas and littering the landscape.

Examples: David Simcox. (1992). “The Environmental Risks of Mass Immigration.” Immigration Review, no. 12, Fall. Washington, DC: Center for Immigration Studies; John Cairns, Jr. (2001). “Topics for Public Debate: Immigration, Sustainability, and the Precautionary Principle,” The Social Contract, vol. XI, no. 4, Summer, pp. 239-248.

 

Response

The United States is a major cause of global environmental degradation, refusing to sign on to the Kyoto Agreement, having more lax environmental regulations than most other developed countries, and only weakly pursuing corporate polluters, while exempting its own military from environmental regulations.2 These are all arguably more significant than any individual’s behavior.

The problem of diminished resources is not restricted to the United States; it is global. Setting severe limits on immigration to this country will not improve the overall global environmental situation, which still has the same number of people living on the Earth worldwide. While it is true that people living in the United States consume far more resources than other countries, this is the result of consumer choices by all of us, not explicitly immigrant behavior. In fact, immigrants who are poor actually consume fewer resources in the United States than those of us who are not poor.

Immigrants are not the cause of the environmental problems we experience. In fact, many newly-arrived immigrants live in areas of the United States where they suffer disproportionately from environmental injustice. The greatest polluters of our cities are not urban dwellers but corporations that violate environmental regulations.3 Blaming immigrants for our environmental problems is scapegoating and shifts the responsibility away from all of us to improve how we address environmental challenges. These arguments are designed to turn environmentalists against immigrants.

In addition, many immigrants are escaping human-caused environmental disasters at home. In a 1997 Natural Heritage Institute study, researchers found that Mexican dryland degradation resulted from overgrazing and overharvesting, lack of irrigation, and no access to technology, resulting in migration to the United States.4 The causes of these problems are related to pervasive poverty. In other parts of the world, shifts from subsistence farming to agribusiness have harmed the environment on a large scale. Immigrants have also been blamed for power shortages such as the rolling blackouts California and other states experienced in 2001. Such problems are clearly the result of high consumption rates across the board, and not any one group’s use, nor are they the result of “overpopulation.” Solving the problems of the electrical supply involves more than fingershaking and will take the combined efforts of careful utilities planning, adequate financial support and deliberate conservation campaigns.

Sprawl

What the Anti-Immigrant Right Says

Several anti-immigrant groups on the Right focus on the phenomenon of urban, or more accurately, suburban sprawl, the effect of populations spreading out from cities to rural areas. They say:

  • When immigrants come to this country, they often settle in urban areas, creating overcrowding and undesirable conditions, and forcing others to move to the suburbs.
  • As a result, immigrants are to blame for sprawl and its annoyances: traffic, noise, pollution, litter and unsightly commercial areas.
  • Some immigrants are now settling in surburbia as well, invading the lives of people who moved there to avoid urban blight.
  • The only way to preserve our national heritage and open space is by limiting immigration.

Example: Scipio Garling. (1999). The Environmentalist’s Guide to a Sensible Immigration Policy. Washington, DC: Federation for American Immigration Reform.

 

Response

While it is true that housing developers create sprawl by building on former farmland and open space, this environmental issue is not caused by immigrant population growth. Immigrants are not the ones who are encouraged to move in droves into suburban developments, although some communities are beginning to experience higher numbers of first generation immigrants. New suburbanites move away from cities for many reasons, including the desire for open space, home ownership or upward social mobility, as well as wanting to escape from some ills of urban life such as crime or under-resourced schools. In addition racism, not the mere presence of immigrants, results in “White flight.”

Many less desirable aspects of city life are the result of poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth. In fact, immigrants are blamed and scapegoated for the actions of others by a deliberate attempt of some anti-immigrant groups to shift the blame for sprawl away from its actual causes.

Developers create suburban sprawl by capitalizing on former urban dwellers’ desire to live away from the city. They also are lured by often more favorable construction costs and profit potential in suburban than in urban environments. Much of the frustration suburban residents experience as a result of sprawl is the result of inadequate regional planning and unrealistic or snob-appeal expectations for their communities of choice.

Anti-sprawl campaigns are designed to play on the fears of suburban residents who value the environment and who wish to protect their own communities from problems they associate with urban areas. When they link increased immigrant population in cities to sprawl, these campaigns are also appealing directly to racial resentment.


 End Notes

1. The 1998 ballot results were a resounding 20 point spread: 60 percent in favor of no policy on immigration and population and 40 percent for a measure supporting population control and immigration reduction.

2. See information from the Military Toxics Project, http://www.miltoxproj.org/.

3. Ricahrd Caplan, Polluters’ Playground: How the Government Permits Pollution, (Washington, DC: USPIRG Education Fund, 2001).

4. Natural Heritage Institute, Environmental Degradation and Migration: The U.S.-Mexico Case Study, (Berkeley, CA: by the author, 1998). 

This article first appeared in Defending Immigrant Rights: An Activist Resource Kit, published by Political Research Associates, © 2002.