Donald Trump has horrifyingly shot to the top of the Republican presidential primary in part by presenting a belligerent "us vs. them" message — with "them" usually being immigrants. It's no surprise that Trump's rhetoric has been appealing to white nationalists. In calling for the mass deportation of Latino immigrants and for barring Muslims from the country, he paints a picture of a country of and for white people.
Many Republicans have feigned shock and some, though not nearly enough have spoken out against Trump's bigotry. But while Trump has certainly helped to take the vitriol of the immigration debate to new levels, calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and drug dealers and promising a "great wall" at the southern border, the sentiments he's expressing and policies he's pushing are nothing new. Trump and his fellow Republican presidential contenders are working out of a playbook that has been guiding the anti-immigrant movement on the ground and in Congress for a very long time.
The current anti-immigrant movement centers around three groups — the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA that all grew out of the vision of one activist who, like Trump, has unapologetically depicted America as a country of and for white people. While even some on the right are horrified by Trump's racism, these groups have long enjoyed a friendly reception on Capitol Hill as they have helped to sink any meaningful attempt at immigration reform. In fact, when it comes to policy, these groups are in many ways more extreme than Trump. NumbersUSA, which gives grades to candidates based on their immigration views, even docked Trump's grade over the summer, not because of his offensive remarks about immigrants but because he had put forward a muddled plan for a "merit-based system" for some undocumented immigrants.
A new report from People For the American Way explores the history and the influence of these three groups at the center of the opposition to immigration reform.
John Tanton, the founder of all three groups, made his view of America clear when he wrote in 1993, "I have come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, it requires an European-American majority and a clear one at that." At other times, he worried about a "Latin onslaught" on the United States and of immigrants "defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs."
These views have been echoed by some in leadership positions of Tanton's organizations, including FAIR president Dan Stein, who once wondered, "How can we preserve America if it becomes 50 percent Latin American?" One member of FAIR's board of advisors once suggested giving "shoot-to-kill orders" to troops positioned on the southern border.
Tanton and some of his allies in this network of anti-immigration groups have also promoted extreme "population control" measures that should be troubling to anyone no matter if they're pro-life, pro-choice or anywhere in between. Tanton has praised China's one-child policy and regretted that India did not impose similar measures, and expressed his concern about "less intelligent" people having children. When asked about a former FAIR board member espousing similar viewpoints, Stein responded, "Yeah, so what? What is your problem with that?"
Those views were reflected years later when the conservative behemoth Heritage Foundation released a report estimating that immigration reform would cost the U.S. $6.3 trillion. The report essentially made the incorrect assumption that immigrants and their descendants would not be upwardly mobile. It was hardly surprising, then, when it turned out that one of the report's authors had previously written a dissertation positing that immigrants have lower IQs than native-born white Americans.
The anti-immigrant demagoguery we're hearing from Trump and others has a long history that precedes even Tanton and his network of advocacy groups. But understanding the forces behind today's immigration debate helps to put Trump in perspective. Trump talks a big, hateful, game, but his views are disturbingly close to those that have too long been met with a warm welcome –or at least a blind eye — in Washington.