FAIR-y Tales In the Immigration Debate

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

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Brewer has spoken of drug-related beheadings in the desert, and she famously announced that most Mexican immigrants were drug mules.

The beheadings-in-the-desert/all-illegals-are-drug-mules stories were patently false.

John Tanton's ties to white nationalists have been questioned repeatedly
John Tanton's ties to white nationalists have been questioned repeatedly


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

Contrary to Brewer’s assertions, border counties and cities have experienced declining crime rates, and border cities were among the safest in the nation, according to the FBI. The Associated Press crunched FBI numbers in June and found that violent crime was down 15 percent in Arizona.

Crime studies show again and again that immigrants do not commit as many violent crimes as their native-born counterparts. And areas with larger populations of unauthorized migrants actually experience reduced crime rates, according to the progressive Immigration Policy Center.

Despite all this, when Arizonans were polled after the passage of SB 1070, they voiced mounting fear over border security—meaning, crimes committed by Mexicans on Americans. This fear is fueled on FAIR’s website, which posts articles detailing horrendous crimes committed in the United States by “illegal-alien criminals.”

This same fear is fanned in FAIR’s alarmist “report” on the fiscal burden of illegal immigration to taxpayers. The think tank claims American taxpayers pay about $7.83 billion for “law-enforcement costs of illegal immigration.” About half is tied to federal detention, removal and prosecution of immigrants for entering the country illegally—for which FAIR has long advocated. Another $1.4 billion is tied to National Guard and Coast Guard costs.

The numbers are ambiguous, at best. The feds who warehouse criminal aliens don’t tally who is legal (green card, visa) and who isn’t, so it’s not possible to get true “law-enforcement costs of illegal immigration.”

In April, Arizona state Representative John Kavanagh said that, in his state, “illegals make up 15 percent of our prison population. . . . It is a fact.”

But it’s not a fact.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, like the federal Bureau of Prisons, doesn’t break down inmate data by who is and isn’t in the country legally. It does tally “foreign national” inmates, but that category includes legal and illegal immigrants.

Two Arizona officials actually did distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas pointed to a disproportionate number of illegal-alien felons incarcerated in the state. Thomas kept the criminal data, but looking at it, many of these “felons” were immigrants with no prior criminal records who’d been nabbed for such felonies as working at car washes with fake IDs or paying a smuggler to guide them through the desert.

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Dr. John Tanton is articulate and friendly. The 76-year-old paints a picture of himself living a seemingly idyllic life of retirement on the shores of Lake Michigan. He is happily married to a smart woman, Mary Lou, and the two are active in the community, their Methodist church and in environmental affairs.

Tanton likes to hike, despite early-stage Parkinson’s disease, and on a recent morning, he and Mary Lou walked for 4 miles through a vast nature preserve they’d helped create near their beloved home of Petoskey, Michigan.

After a post-hike lunch of meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy, he returned to his office and his life’s work: restricting immigration into the United States in any way possible.

He dismisses a growing number of critics who tag him as a closeted white nationalist and charge that the true aim of a web of nonprofits he has started and/or is associated with has one secret, chilling goal: restricting immigration to preserve the nation for a white, European majority.

Tanton says he’s not a white nationalist and neither are his organizations. He says it’s irresponsible to even make the claim.

In the 1970s, Tanton was a leader of the group Zero Population Growth, which promoted two-children families as a way to stabilize the nation’s population. (Kids replace Mom and Dad; net population growth equals zero.)

He has long worried the U.S. population will overrun natural resources and destroy the country. Tanton sees the human population exploding along Malthusian lines—although the work of monk Thomas Malthus has been discredited, and the United Nations reports the world population may stabilize by 2300 because fertility rates are trending downward.

Tanton’s Zero Population Growth movement helped influence a reduction in the size of American families. Even so, the U.S. population soared from about 225 million in 1982 to more than 307 million in 2009, in part because immigrant babies have bolstered the birthrate Tanton has labored so hard to reduce.

Many population experts say this is a good thing, that immigrant babies will become the workers who pay taxes to provide social services for the aging American population.

Tanton has a “fundamental disagreement” with that theory.

He says he’s open to new ideas. But his views haven’t changed much since he started FAIR in 1979. The nonprofit remains near and dear to his heart; he still sits on FAIR’s board.

His self-described population concerns caused him to start a funding nonprofit, US Inc.; the Social Contract Press (a publishing house) NumbersUSA; and CIS. Taken together, these nonprofits make up the so-called Tanton Network.

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