Skip to main content

PFIR - Progressives for Immigration Reform - is not a progressive organization.  

Who says so?  

Well, we can turn to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has documented decades of hate groups across the United States.  They say that PFIR is a front group - astro-turf - for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which was founded by white nationalist John Tanton.

• Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), a new organization that purports to represent liberal environmentalists, is headed by Leah Durant, an attorney who once worked for the nativist Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR. John Tanton, who remains on FAIR's board, has written about the need to use progressive or liberal environmental organizations as a means of insulating nativists against charges of racism.
But what if we don't want to accept the word of the SPLC?  Who elected them the last word, right?  Well, one thing we could do is look at the words of John Tanton himself:
"I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that."
– Dec. 10, 1993, letter to the late Garrett Hardin, a controversial ecology professor.
From the New York Times:
Latino fertility rates caused him special alarm: “those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!”

“One of my prime concerns,” he wrote to a large donor, “is about the decline of folks who look like you and me.”

 He corresponded with Sam G. Dickson, a Georgia lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan, who sits on the board of The Barnes Review, a magazine that, among other things, questions “the so-called Holocaust.” Dr. Tanton promoted the work of Jared Taylor, whose magazine, American Renaissance, warned: “America is an increasingly dangerous and disagreeable place because of growing numbers of blacks and Hispanics.” (To Mr. Taylor, Dr. Tanton wrote, “You are saying a lot of things that need to be said.”)

[emphasis added]

Is your stomach turning yet? Well, let's see what we can do about that. There's much more.

John Tanton's racist views have been documented previously at DailyKos:

...Tanton introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage “race betterment,” at a 1997 meeting at a private club. Tanton also wrote a major far-right funder to encourage her to read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor — to “give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life” — and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss the professor’s theories on the Jews. He revered a principal architect of the Immigration Act of 1924, instituting a national origin quota system and barring Asian immigration — a rabid anti-Semite whose pro-Nazi American Coalition of Patriotic Societies was indicted for sedition in 1942.
Tanton supported the white nationalist journal American Renaissance financially for some years and undertook correspondence with its leader Jared Taylor. An example of Taylor’s writings:
“When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.”
Right Wing Watch has two pages of links on John Tanton.

So does the Center for American Progress. (an excellent write-up - reading the whole thing is strongly recommended)

Most Americans have never heard of John Tanton because he operates behind the scenes, but he is the founder and/or early funder of almost every national anti-immigrant organization in the country, including at least a dozen groups. By his own admission, Tanton’s creations include the largest and best known of the national anti-immigrant organizations: NumbersUSA and FAIR, which stands for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

The Tanton-owned Social Contract Press publishes the views of white nationalists such as John Vinson, including a gem about how God prefers racial separation. Tanton also publishes Camp of the Saints, a racist screed that uses fiction to warn white Europeans about an impending invasion of immigrants from India who will overrun the government, kidnap white women and make them into prostitutes.


Not to be outdone, Joe Turner, who was recently hired by FAIR as the successor to Oltman, had racist skinheads and neo-Nazis join his protests when he was head of the anti-immigrant Save Our State in California. Turner toes the company line at FAIR, claiming that he is not racist, but one needs to understand this in the context of his unique perspective on what it is to be a racist. Here is a remark attributed to Turner by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that that does not make them a racist. I can make the argument that someone who proclaims to be a white nationalist isnt necessarily a white supremacist. I dont think that standing up for your "kind" or "your race" makes you a bad person. [Lack of punctuation appears in the original.]
As does ThinkProgress:
Tanton is a strict a nativist who once wrote a paper titled “The Case for Passive Eugenics.” He has openly professed his preference for white people, and once said, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Later in his life, Tanton tried to start an organization called the Society for Genetic Education.

Beck and Tanton worked together on a journal named “The Social Contract Press,” which frequently runs articles by white supremacists. Quotes from the material published in The Social Contract include,

“The ethnic identity that is emerging among Hispanic immigrants … [is] a militant and all-encompassing identity that excludes and conflicts with traditional American allegiances, institutions, and values and explicitly identifies whites as a racially alien enemy, an oppressor, whose institutions are to be taken over and whose race is to be expelled from territories that whites stole in the Mexican-American War,” and ” We are infested with an alien force that seeks, Borg-like, to assimilate us to their totalitarian system of religion and society.”
I dunno. Is that enough to establish John Tanton's bona fides? It is for me.  My conclusion: John Tanton = racist, if not several other abhorrent beliefs

There's been some awful slogging so far, so let's review:

John Tanton established F.A.I.R. and several other organizations for the purpose of pushing his views regarding white people, "Euro-American civilization," and the consequent, in his mind, dangers of immigration, legal and otherwise.

FAIR established PFIR.  PFIR is one of several astroturf groups created by FAIR to create the belief there is support for their beliefs from various societal groups:

The white-dominated Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the most important of the groups founded by Tanton, has been behind the creation of three other front groups that supposedly represented African Americans (Choose Black America), Latino Americans (You Don’t Speak for Me!) and labor (Coalition for the Future American Worker). In fact, FAIR had its own white spokesman double as a press representative for the first two organizations. Another group unrelated to FAIR, Vietnamese for Fair Immigration, turned out to be led by a white man who used a fake Vietnamese surname and whose only connection to that country was that he liked the food.
FAIR is not only not progressive, but an embodiment of John Tanton's beliefs from the beginning.

So, is PFIR "progressive" despite having "Progressives" in the name? I say "No," but for the sake of argument, let's say you disagree. Maybe I'm not credible. Maybe the word "Yucatan" in my user name discredits me and all my links in your eyes. Maybe you just don't believe the documentation that PFIR is another one of many front groups for FAIR and it's racist foundation. (maybe you don't even believe in racism?)  

Well, OK, so let's look into this deeper.

Let's go read what PFIR is all about:


Progressives for Immigration Reform exists to protect low-skill, low wage American workers from unemployment and wage suppression caused by unfair labor and trade practices, including importation of large numbers of low wage foreign workers who are subject to exploitation by foreign and domestic corporations working in the United States. At the same time, it seeks to enhance the working conditions of working people worldwide through enhancing economic, health, social, and environmental conditions in the developing countries worldwide.

This is a front-group. And what do front-groups do?  They co-opt language, images, concepts and ideas to paste a thin veneer over their true goals. They are about selling the concept and doing anything necessary to make their goals sound "reasonable."

Here's a challenge:  Find concrete examples of PFIR "enhancing economic, health, social, and environmental conditions in the developing countries worldwide." Can you?

They have three main categories of action or interest:

1. Protection of American Workers
The organization’s primary focus of concern is the condition of unskilled workers in U.S. society. In an age in which unskilled workers have far too few opportunities opened to them, and in which welfare reform will require thousands more to find jobs, we see no justification to the continued entry of unskilled foreign workers —unless the rationale for their admission otherwise serves a significant interest, as does the admission of nuclear family members and refugees.
Are undocumented immigrants a threat to American workers?  A compilation of information at The Hill holds all kinds of information:
Echoing the Department of Labor, the USDA, and the National Milk Producers Federation, agricultural labor economist James S. Holt made the following statement to Congress in 2007:
“The reality, however, is that if we deported a substantial number of undocumented farm workers, there would be a tremendous labor shortage.

Finally, the aggregate economic impact of illegal immigration is debatable, but any claim that they’ve ruined the country doesn’t correlate to the views of any notable economist. An open letter to President George W. Bush in 2006, signed by around five hundred economists (including five Nobel laureates) stated the following:  

“While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices.”
Although Harvard economist Jorge Borjas has stated that illegal immigrants from 1980-2000 have reduced the wages of high school dropouts in the U.S, he also states that the average American’s wealth has increased by 1 percent because of illegal immigration.
Tremendous labor shortage. If undocumented workers were displacing US workers, there would be no labor shortage. There would be a surplus of labor waiting to take their jobs back. Thus, the claim by PFIR is false.

PFIR's point one is followed by a litany of prescriptions for change and scary "concern" over the "costs" of undocumented immigrants.  But the Congressional Budget Office (24 page PDF) doesn't agree:

“Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”
[emphasis added]
From the footnotes, here are the "most efforts" reviewed by the CBO:

See Ronald D. Lee and Timothy W. Miller, “The Current Fiscal Impact of Immigrants and Their Descendants: Beyond the Immigrant Household,” in James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, eds., The Immigration Debate: Studies on the Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1998); James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, eds., The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1997); Georges Vernez and Kevin F. McCarthy, The Costs of Immigration to Taxpayers: Analytical and Policy Issues (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, 1996); and George Vernez and Kevin F. McCarthy, Immigration in a Changing Economy: California’s Experience (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, 1998).

Taxes paid exceed the cost of the services they use.  We're better off, tax-wise, with both legal and unauthorized immigrants because they cause a net surplus in taxes paid versus services consumed.  Well, that doesn't sound like a grave danger. Sounds like a "thank you for helping pay the costs of this nation, immigrants" is in order.

That's not the only source though.

In December 2006, Texas was the first state to conduct a comprehensive financial analysis of the impact of undocumented immigrants on a state's budget and economy. The stunning results showed that
"undocumented immigrants produced $1.58 billion in state revenues, which exceeded the $1.16 billion in state services they received."
Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the former Texas Comptroller, said,
"Bottom line, undocumented immigrants in the state of Texas are adding $17.7 billion to our gross state product ... we net $428 million at the state level because of the taxes they're paying in."

 Undocumented Immigrants Pay State, Local Taxes At Higher Rate Than The 1 Percent (INFOGRAPHIC)


Undocumented Immigrants Pay More in Taxes Than They Receive in Benefits

During their working life, undocumented immigrants in the United States will pay, on average, approximately $80,000 more in taxes per capita than they use in government services, owing to the fact that they are not eligible to take advantage of almost all of the social service programs offered by the federal government, according to a study released by the National Council of La Raza.

According to the report, in June of 2007, the president's Council of Economic Advisers stated that the "impact of undocumented immigration on public budgets is likely to be very positive."

That's George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, by the way.

Second category of concern:

2. Improving the Lives of Working People Worldwide
I'm not going to dignify this with much of a response, because this group has not and will never lobby for working people outside the USA. What is listed here is a litany of things which progressives do endorse: family planning, humanitarian assistance, increasing foreign aid, etc.  So, what's the issue?

Find any instance where any lobbying effort or "grassroots" phone call effort by FAIR or PFIR has pressured Congress to do any of those things. What is written there is wallpaper: It's astro turf delight!  It's so sloppily written that it includes many points about the environment, which it seems should be included in point three:

3. Protection of the Environment
This is the greenwashing of the anti-immigrant movement.  John Tanton, early on, had dreams of using the Sierra Club as a means of promoting his anti-immigrant views. He liked the idea of co-opting other movements to bring along his racist backstory.

Long complicated story found here at Grist.

Several anti-immigrant and white-supremacist groups got word of the upcoming elections and urged their supporters to join the Sierra Club in time to vote for the three candidates. In late October, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, sent a detailed letter to Sierra Club Board President Larry Fahn describing the recent activities of anti-immigration activist John Tanton, who has repeatedly called for the Sierra Club to support stricter immigration limits. Tanton is associated with several organizations that the law center defines as hate groups. “Without a doubt,” wrote law center staffer Mark Potok, “the Sierra Club is the subject of a hostile takeover attempt by forces allied with Tanton and a variety of right-wing extremists.”
[personal disclaimer - as a member at that time, I voted in 2004 against the slate which Tanton preferred]

ThinkProgress debunks the attempted link between environment and anti-immigration forces -- Refuting myths about immigration and the environment as does the original report from the Center for American Progress -- From a “Green Farce” to a Green Future, Refuting False Claims About Immigrants and the Environment Full 21 page PDF of the report found here.

Nativist organizations and hate groups are attempting to drive their political agenda using environmental concerns as a cover. And conservative lawmakers and opponents of clean energy and climate legislation who use phony environmental arguments as a political wedge are promoting these groups’ talking points.These arguments are a “green farce.” They’re supposedly presented out of concern for the environment but are intentionally misleading and dangerously misinformed. They present Americans with a false choice between achieving fair and humane immigration reform and climate legislation that will respect the environment and lead our country to a clean and prosperous energy future.

Key findings include:

    The assumption that immigrant-driven population growth alone drives the U.S. carbon footprint is false. The 10 highest carbon-emitting cities have an average immigrant population below 5 percent, according to a 2008 Brookings Institution study.

    The cities with the lowest carbon footprint, on the other hand, have an average immigrant population of 26 percent.

    Immigrants, especially recent immigrants, tend to lead “greener” lifestyles than the native-born and are more likely to use public transportation and practice sustainable habits like compact living, conservation, and recycling.

    Immigrants, who are largely low income, are also more likely to have their lives disrupted by extreme weather events and other adverse effects of climate change.

    Addressing climate change and poverty on a global scale will help stabilize immigration flows from undeveloped countries.

    Immigrants are disproportionately hurt by the dirty energy economy and face unique environmental challenges. Consequently, they fight for greener solutions, including challenging the use of hazardous pesticides in the agricultural fields where many immigrants work. A successful campaign by immigrant farm workers during the 1960s led to the banning of the dangerous pesticide DDT.

    2010 polls of key electoral states find that immigrant-rich communities overwhelmingly favor policy that will create green jobs and tend to support congressional candidates who back efforts to fight global warming.

    Immigrants are integral to driving clean energy innovation. They accounted for 70 percent of men and women who entered the engineering and science fields from 1995 to 2006 and 40 percent of all high-tech venture-backed companies.

Now that we've wrapped that up, I just want to review one more time what a "front group" does. From the Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch:
A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. The front group is perhaps the most easily recognized use of the third party technique.

For example, Rick Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding.

PFIR is a front group for a group of organizations long associated with a long string of racists and white supremicists, as well as anti-Semites and eugenics, among other things.

PFIR is, in my opinion, the farthest thing from a "progressive" organization that could be found.

Not convinced yet?  Here's one last link.  Laura Ingram has featured PFIR on her show, according to Media Matters.

Radio host Laura Ingraham hosted the executive director of Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), Leah Durant, to push the debunked myth that the immigration reform bill would hurt the African-American unemployment rate, despite studies which show the opposite is true.
What does Media Matters think?  (same link as above)
However, Durant's organization is a pretty far cry from a "progressive" group. Progressives for Immigration Reform was set up as part of the John Tanton network of anti-immigrant nativists after they failed to take over the Sierra Club, which the Southern Poverty Law Center called "greenwashing" -- a tactic used by nativist groups to appeal to environmentalists in order to mainstream their nativist viewpoints in a more respectable venue. In another attempt at "greenwashing" right-wing groups established Progressives for Immigration Reform "as a purported group of 'liberals' " in the latest attempt "by nativist forces to appear as something they are not."
And who does PFIR invite to their conferences?  Progressives? Or these guys? (same link)
In fact, as the Anti-Defamation League pointed out, at a recent conference run by PFIR, several notable anti-immigrant nativists were in attendance, including VDARE's Peter Brimelow, Wayne Lutton, editor of The Social Contract, an anti-immigrant pro-white publication, and K.C. McAlpin, president of U.S., Inc. who once defended banning Muslim immigrants as similar to banning communists or Nazis in the past.
I think that makes my case.  
I hope that reasonable readers would agree.

One request: This diary is not about what our immigration policy should be or what we should do with undocumented or unauthorized immigrants and the refugee children appearing at our border now.  

This diary is about FAIR, PFIR, and Front Groups. These are methods by which right wing extremists attempt to improve their acceptability and to push their goals under cover of more popular and generally acceptable aims.

I can't believe this started as a comment and turned into a diary like this.

Originally posted to YucatanMan on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 11:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, LatinoKos, and In Support of Labor and Unions.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site