by Andrew Walden FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 04, 2006
It is easy to portray the anti-immigration sentiment as coming entirely from the political Right. But the environmentalist Left is also a big part of the anti-immigration effort. Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a leading anti-immigration group, played a key role in two failed attempts to take over the Sierra Club in 1998 and again in 2004. FAIR and its offshoot, Numbers USA, advocate not only an end to illegal immigration and deportation of all illegals, but also reduced levels of legal immigration.
Another little noted fact is that House Democrats are responsible for keeping “felony illegal” provisions in the House Immigration Bill, HR 4437. In a slick maneuver December 16, House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, was one of 191 Democrats who joined only 65 Republicans providing the majority voting to block an amendment to the HR 4437 immigration bill which would have removed provisions making a federal felony of illegal entry or presence in the U.S. HR 4437 sponsor James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, himself had offered an amendment removing it. Only eight Democrats joined 156 Republicans voting to remove the felony provision. HR 4437 also reduces the number of legal immigrant visas by 50,000 per year whereas Senate bills under consideration sharply expand legal immigration.
Hawaii Representatives Neil Abercrombie, D-HI, and Ed Case, D-HI, (first and second Congressional districts, respectively) both voted on December 16 to keep the felony provision in the bill. Case then voted to approve HB 4437 as a whole while Abercrombie voted against it. Case has close ties to the environmentalist Hawaii Nature Conservancy: his sister Suzanne Case is their Executive Director.
Speaking on the House floor immediately after her December 16 felony vote, Pelosi turned around and called the bill, “punitive, mean-spirited legislation.” Without a hint of shame, she complained about the provision she had just voted to keep in: “For the first time in our history, this bill before us would make it a federal crime, instead of a civil offense, to be in the United States in violation of an immigration law or regulation. This provision would turn millions of immigrants currently here into criminals, hindering their ability to acquire any legal status – and would effectively frustrate the proposals that would provide real immigration reform.”
HR 4437 felony provisions are a key focus of recent demonstrations by illegal aliens and their supporters in many U.S. cities. Ironically many of the demonstration leaders are also liberal Democrats. This move parallels the position taken by the Sierra Club anti-immigration faction. One hand washes the other.
Writing in Reason Magazine in 1998, Virginia Postrel describes an anti-immigration resolution put before the Sierra Club membership for a vote by FAIR associates:
Its opponents often characterized the resolution as a product of outside agitators. “Zealots Target Sierra Club: Immigration Foes Working to Usurp Club Elections,” screamed a headline in the left-leaning L.A. Weekly. Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope called the measure's supporters “nativists” and “right-wingers.” Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez described it as “a clumsy, right-wing effort” and its backers as “a small group of super-ethnocentrists.”
Things are not that simple, however. The resolution sprang not from right-wing outsiders, but from the vital intellectual core of the environmental movement. Its backers included long-time environmental leaders such as Worldwatch Institute head Lester Brown, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, and EarthFirst! founder Dave Foreman.
And the ideas behind it have not gone away. They will inspire many such efforts in the future. After all, the leading anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has its roots not on the nativist right but on the green left, among population-control advocates.
Brad Knickerbocker described the anti-immigration faction of the Sierra Club in 2004 in the Christian Science Monitor:
Leaders of the anti-immigration faction are mainly establishment types - former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, the former director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and university professors from around the country. Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, president of the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and an advocate of zero population growth, gathered enough club support to get himself nominated and then elected to a board position last year. So did two other population activists.
Richard Lamm is now leading the petition drive for a 2006 Colorado ballot initiative, which would deny public services to illegal aliens.
An “Intelligence Report” published by the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center describes the roots of FAIR and other anti-immigration groups:
It is not often that a single individual is largely responsible for creating an entire political movement. But John Tanton can claim without exaggeration that he is the founding father of America's modern anti-immigration movement.
In addition to directly controlling four prominent immigration restriction groups, Tanton has been critical in establishing or helping fund several other anti-immigration groups. He serves on the board of the group with the largest membership, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which he founded 23 years ago.
It was an odd turn of events for an erstwhile liberal activist who loved beekeeping and the rural life. Raising a family and practicing medicine in Petoskey, Mich., Tanton started out as a passionate environmentalist. In the 1960s and early 1970s, he was a leader in the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and other mainstream environmental groups.
But Tanton soon became fixated on population control, seeing environmental degradation as the inevitable result of overpopulation. When the indigenous birth rate fell below replacement level in the United States, his preoccupation turned to immigration. And this soon led him to race….
And so he began to develop a counter-force. After 1979, when he co-founded FAIR, Tanton launched “a whole array of organizations that serve the overall ideological and political battle plan to halt immigration — even if those groups have somewhat differing politics,” explained Rick Swartz, the pro-immigration activist who founded the National Immigration Forum in 1982.
“Tanton is the puppeteer behind this entire movement,” Swartz said. “He is the organizer of a significant amount of its financing, and is both the major recruiter of key personnel and the intellectual leader of the whole network of groups.”
After the Dubai ports debacle left many protectionist voters alienated, Democrats are salivating at the possibility that the immigration debate could cause protectionists to veer away from the Republicans.
Democrats have only two post-Jim-Crow models for capturing the presidency: Watergate and Ross Perot. Efforts to rerun the Watergate scenario against President Bush have yet to produce anything except embarrassment for the Democrats as they are caught exposing classified elements of the U.S. efforts against al-Qaeda. On the other hand, Democratic efforts to stampede isolationist voters made sudden headway with the Dubai Ports deal controversy – even as Bill Clinton embarrassed Hillary by lobbying on behalf of Dubai as she opposed it.
Most conservative protectionists will not vote for a Democrat Party they correctly see as appeasing Islamic terrorists. These are voters who see Republicans as not doing enough to fight terrorism because U.S. borders are still crossed by thousands of illegals daily. They may vote for a third-party candidate similar to Ross Perot in sufficient numbers to deliver the Presidency to the Democrats. They have already proven this twice.
In this context, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats ride into the fray by keeping the felony provisions in HR 4437. This forces Republicans into opposing the protectionist Right – a group happy to demand illegals be made felons. Meanwhile, Democrats need not take responsibility for the fact that 11 million federal felony prosecutions – each carrying a mandatory federal prison term – are neither a realistic nor humane way to solve the illegal alien problem. They need only direct their unions – such as AFSCME – to lead the giant illegal alien demonstrations, thus further gathering the protectionists’ ire at any who are seen as soft on illegals: Both ends working against the middle.
When the Senate reconvenes, the challenge will be to craft a bill which will solve this longest-running bone of contention protectionists have with the GOP – illegal immigration – and forestall a three-way-race that could deliver the presidency to Hillary Clinton in 2008 just as it did for her husband in 1992 and 1996.
Is Senate majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, up to the job? We will soon find out.