The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is an anti-immigrant group founded in 1979 and is currently one of the United States’s leading anti-immigrant organizations. According to their website, FAIR as of 2018 has more than 1.9 million members. They have been growing exponentially, as they had only 250,000 members in 2013. Their growth is largely due to their fear-mongering tactics, in which they argue that undocumented immigrants are bad for the U.S. economy and present a physical danger to Americans. While they work hard to maintain a front of moderation and legitimacy, claiming to be “a non-partisan group […with] diverse members and supporters,” their nativist, xenophobic, and White nationalist ideologies are well documented.
Founded in 1979 by John Tanton in Washington D.C., one of FAIR’s main goals is to overturn the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) of 1965. The INA ended a decades-long racist quota system that limited immigration to mostly White Northern Europeans. Current FAIR President Dan Stein has called INA “a key mistake in national policy” and “a source of error” that was “a great way to retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance” and “will continue to create chaos done the line.
FAIR has received criticism over the years for its links to eugenicists and White supremacists. Garrett Hardin, a now deceased biologist and board member of FAIR wrote in his 1968 paper “Tragedy of the Commons” that “[the] freedom to breed is intolerable.” Current board member Donald A. Collins was one of the most prominent writers for VDARE.com, an anti-immigration site. In an infamous 1986 memo, titled “Commentary on the WITAN IV” and later published in the Arizona Republic, founder John Tanton warned of the “Latin onslaught” in the U.S. and the low “educability” of Latinx people. He also expressed concern that the Catholic Church would capitalize on the faith of Latinx people to exert more political influence in the U.S. FAIR has also come under fire for taking grant money from the Pioneer Fund, a controversial nonprofit organization who share FAIR’s eugenicist ideologies. FAIR also promotes The Social Contract Press, a quarterly journal that routinely publishes race-baiting articles written by white nationalists, founded by John Tanton in 1990. The Social Contract Press issue topics include “The Toxic Threat of Infected Migrants” and “The Unmaking of America? The 1965 Immigration Act after 50 years.”
Despite the numerous criticisms and controversies surrounding FAIR, the group remains an influential player in immigration politics. FAIR was a key advocate for the defeat of the DREAM Act in 2010, a widely supported bipartisan bill, which would have provided a path to citizenship for young immigrants raised in the U.S. In the debate surrounding the DREAM Act, FAIR president Dan Stein was often quoted in the mainstream media and appeared on Fox News Latino. The FAIR website claims “FAIR spokespersons are interviewed regularly on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, in the New York Times, USA Today, hundreds of radio stations, and in hundreds of other newspapers, magazines and websites annually.”
As of 2018, the main concern of FAIR appeared to be endorsing the end of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors to gain work permits and avoid deportation. FAIR claims DACA is illegal and adds that it is not in the “national security, public safety, and economic interests of the United States to reward 800,000 immigration law violators.”
FAIR releases studies, op-eds, and statistics on immigration that are frequently misleading or wrong and their content is often quickly debunked. This does not stop conservative pundits and publications like The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and Politico from using their content.
FAIR campaigns for policy that promotes White nationalism under the guise of improving society. A report, released by FAIR in October, 2013, titled “Republicans Have an Immigration Problem,” combines extensive economic and demographic data with opinion research to prove that “Republicans are having problems expanding their voting base because the U.S. immigration system brings in individuals who are less-educated, less-skilled, and low-income.” Implicit throughout the report is the notion that Latinx people are less educated and more dependent on welfare—echoing the same bigoted stereotypes found in Tanton’s 1986 WITAN memo–and therefore drawn to the Democrats’ platform. The report also posits, “Hispanic voters do not vote based on immigration, they vote their pocketbooks.” Citing one of their favorite immigration reform talking points, the report asserts the U.S. should shift immigration policy “to a skills-based model. This will convert our immigration population from one that tends to affiliate with the Democratic Party [Latinxs and other minorities], to one that—over time—is more receptive to core Republican messages [White people].” This kind of thinly veiled white nationalist ideology is representative of both FAIR’s successful “moderateness,” and their obvious racism.
Recently, as of 2018, FAIR has relied on fear mongering in order to promote their ideologies. The home page of their website features “Examples of Serious Crimes by Illegal Aliens.” They go on to discuss examples of “stolen lives” taken from those who were killed by “illegal aliens”, and support the idea that the U.S. government’s immigration policies have led to the deaths of “tens of thousands” of Americans. They have taken their campaigning a step further by appealing to law enforcement to help stop the “murder” of Americans by “illegal immigrants.” In February 2018, they collaborated with Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC) to host a press conference enforcing immigration enforcement, where they stated that their goal was to “ensure that the American Public will be protected.”
FAIR also discusses the ‘high costs’ of undocumented immigration to taxpayers, and they have been complaining about the dangers of chain-migration and advocating for President Trump to end legislation allowing for chain migration. FAIR and their legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), are also active in pushing anti-immigration laws at the state and local level. IRLI attorney Kris Kobach helped draft Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which was signed in April 2010. The bill forced police officers to detain individuals who they suspected to be in the country illegally, and made it a misdemeanor for non-citizens to fail to carry immigration papers. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated three of the bill’s four provisions, but that has not stopped Kobach and the IRLI from working to pass similar laws in Texas, Pennsylvania, and other localities. FAIR and IRLI support efforts to end the birthright citizenship provision in the 14th Amendment.
With the Trump administration increasing support for anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement practices, FAIR is working to attack local governments that try to help undocumented immigrants. They have turned their attention to sanctuary cities, arguing that sanctuary cities and anti-detainer policies are put in place by law enforcement agencies who are “bullied by the illegal alien lobby into believing they must follow the open borders agenda or risk being sued.” They also focus on making sure Trump “keeps his promises”, and they support his ideas of building of “The Wall” and making a so-called “merit-based” U.S. immigration system.