FAIR-y Tales In the Immigration Debate

Anti-immigrant think tanks are aiming their dubious statistics at the 14th Amendment

FAIR-y Tales In the Immigration Debate
On June 5, hundreds rallied at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix, Arizona, in support of Senate Bill 1070, the harshest state immigration law in the nation, which had been signed into law in April.

The crowd of mostly middle-aged, working-class Anglos waved handmade signs blaring such things as:

“14 Million Jobless Americans; 13 Million Illegals, DO THE MATH, MR. PRESIDENT.”

A display of buttons for sale at the June 5 pro-SB 1070 rally
Terry Greene Sterling
A display of buttons for sale at the June 5 pro-SB 1070 rally
In the eye of the hurricane:  protester at an immigration rally
Social Eye Media
In the eye of the hurricane: protester at an immigration rally


Editor's note: Former Phoenix New Times staff writer Terry Greene Sterling is the author of the new book Illegal: Life and Death In Arizona's Immigration War Zone and is writer-in-residence at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Jennifer Gaie Hellum assisted with research on white-nationalist groups. Sterling's personal website is

See also:
Fantasy Voter Fraud
Whose Dole is It, Anyway?
Mexican Macroeconomics


“SB 1070 is not racist!”

It was a hot day. People were sunburned. Some wore American-flag shirts, American-flag baseball caps or American-flag necklaces. Some carried American flags. They stood in the sun to hear a lineup of speakers deliver the same victory-themed message: Americans are under siege by hordes of illegal invaders who steal their jobs and suck up public benefits . . . and, in this economy, how much more can Americans be expected to endure?

The call-to-arms message was: Enough is enough, rise up, get active, donate, vote, stop illegal immigration now—before it’s too late.

The orators included black activist Ted Hayes (“Amnesty is racist. This country doesn’t belong to anyone else but us”) and Terry Anderson, the now-deceased California radio talk-show host (“Jackpot babies”)—both of them members of the Huntington Beach-based California Coalition for Immigration Reform. Also speaking were Colonel Al Rodriguez (“Mexicans, you don’t speak for me”); NumbersUSA lobbyist Rosemary Jenks (“Amnesty destroys America”); immigration hard-liner and soon-to-lose Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo (“Barack Obama . . . will open our borders”); and the self-professed author and sponsor of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, state Senator Russell Pearce.

Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans, Pearce beamed as the crowd chanted gratitude for SB 1070. “Thank you, Russell. Thank you, Russell.”

Pearce joked about how maybe President Obama himself didn’t have papers.

Then he justified SB 1070 by reciting the “hard costs” of illegal immigration to Arizona taxpayers—$2.7 billion in a time of “high unemployment and record foreclosures.”

Later, J.D. Hayworth, an immigration hard-liner, former talk-show host and U.S. Senate candidate who would soon be clobbered in the Republican primary by John McCain, began his $25-per-plate fund-raising barbecue in the plaza.

Pearce and Tancredo, who are friends and political allies, were among the featured speakers at the Hayworth fund-raiser. They enthused about what was to be Pearce’s next legislative effort in 2011: to challenge the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying legal status to Arizona babies born to undocumented parents.

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Like many successful illegal-immigration populists, Pearce gets his “hard costs of illegal immigration” and his talking points from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington, D.C.-based “public interest” nonprofit founded in 1979.

For years, FAIR has issued reports detailing how illegal immigrants damage the economy, steal American jobs, sponge public benefits and commit heinous crimes. The nonprofit allies itself with other groups and activists who share FAIR’s point of view, and although it takes a backseat at anti-illegal-immigration rallies, its presence is pervasive. At the June 5 rally in Phoenix, for instance, almost every speaker had ties to FAIR.

Thanks to grassroots organizing, Washington politicking and faithful donors, FAIR has changed the immigration debate in the United States. It has successfully blocked progressive immigration reform, including what it calls “amnesty”—legalization of non-criminal illegal immigrants (including magna cum laude college graduates) who have lived in the United States for decades.

After it helped insert SB 1070 into the Arizona Revised Statutes, FAIR turned its attention to its favorite cause: “birthright citizenship” legislation that would challenge the 14th Amendment, which classifies most babies born in the United States as citizens. FAIR wants to change it so that babies born to undocumented immigrant parents will be denied citizenship. Such children are derided as “jackpot babies” or “anchor babies.”

Among FAIR’s allies are sister nonprofits NumbersUSA, which also lobbied successfully to squash immigration reform in 2007, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which refers to itself as a non-partisan pro-immigrant think tank. The three groups cite one another’s reports and studies and post one another’s findings on their respective websites.

Reporters often quote experts from the three groups as credible mainstream voices of dissent to progressive immigration reform, even though several human-rights organizations have flagged FAIR as a white-nationalist hate group and have tied CIS and NumbersUSA to white nationalists and white-nationalist hate groups.

Though these three groups maintain the hate designations are arbitrary and untrue, the vitriolic rhetoric at the root of these organizations’ sensibilities scalds the ear. “As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?” asked retired ophthalmologist Dr. John Tanton, founder of these oft-cited organizations.

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Arizona has long been an experimental legal laboratory for FAIR, a place to test increasingly harsh laws: 2004’s Proposition 200, the human-smuggling law, the employer-sanctions law, SB 1070 and the promised birthright-citizenship law. The state has replaced Orange County as Ground Zero for the nation’s anti-immigrant movement; from the 1990s until the past decade, the county voted on propositions 187 (a precursor to SB 1070 by 16 years) and 227 (which ended bilingual education), and Costa Mesa and Anaheim pioneered the use of local police officers to enforce federal immigration law.

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