Lies, Damn Lies and Immigration Statistics

The latest immigration reform bill winding its way through Congress has sent the media into a tizzy again. Talking heads spout “nonpartisan” data and sadly uninformed journalists gobble up these so-called facts as established truths.

Short of having a Nobel Prize-winning researcher on speed dial, what’s the average person to do to confirm or refute data about illegal immigration? One place to start is to investigate the funding sources of groups that purport themselves to be nonprofit, nonpartisan think tanks. For instance, John Tanton has nearly single-handedly funded the evolution of the white supremacist movement by posing his groups as legitimate social science researchers but with a decidedly covert agenda. They’re like the Ku Klux Klan donning Brooks Brothers suits in well-appointed offices rather than lurking around in white sheets setting crosses ablaze in the dead of night. At the end of the day, it’s still about fomenting bigotry and ignorance.

The mothership of hate is U.S., Inc., an organization created by Tanton that simultaneously funds lobbyists, researchers and media who promote racist views while accepting funding from eugenics, neo-Nazis and wealthy ultraconservatives with a penchant for white supremacy. A former ophthalmologist, Tanton, to borrow a Biblical reference, appears to have a log in his own eye regarding immigrants, especially brown-colored ones.

Tanton made his mark in the 1970s when he chaired the Sierra Club’s National Population Committee, among other leadership positions in mainstream environmental and family planning causes. When his colleagues rejected his extreme ideas, he took a hard right turn toward unabashed anti-immigration with a virulently racist tone.

Chief among the groups Tanton has founded or funded are: NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). All of them are regularly cited in media accounts as valid sources of information on immigration.

In a carefully worded statement on its website, NumbersUSA claims the organization is pro-immigrant and simply opposes over-immigration. That’s a bit hard to accept at face value when the site’s congressional scorecard posts blinking graphics of a swarthy-looking man jumping over a fence to indicate the group’s disapproval of a politician’s voting record.

According to Public Research Associates, a racial justice watchdog group, NumbersUSA shares office space with ProEnglish, a group also founded and financially supported by Tanton that has a history of making anti-Latino, anti-Catholic statements.

FAIR has also found itself embroiled in controversy. The Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that the group received more than $1.2 million in support from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that, among other unsavory activities, finances eugenics research to prove intelligence differences between the races and to “create better humans through selective breeding.” The Wall Street Journal, in particular, has been critical of FAIR’s hyperinflated statistics and unscientific data, yet the group continues to be used as a news source.

The Center for Immigration Studies has a special propensity toward the xenophobic by conflating Mexican immigration and Reconquista, the ridiculous notion that Mexico is planning to snatch the southwestern territory away from the United States.

While it’s easy enough to write-off such misinformation as the inconsequential rantings of the extreme far right, Tanton is also a buddy of long-shot presidential hopeful Rep. Tom Tancredo. Staff and lobbyists from CIS and NumbersUSA advise the congressman on domestic policy issues and provide unpaid legislative assistance to the House Commission on Immigration Reform, founded by Tancredo, who recently stepped down to pursue his presidential ambitions. Fellow Colorado Reps. Marilyn Musgrave and Doug Lamborn are also caucus members. Tancredo, in turn, attends the groups’ events, adding a caché of Washington-insider access to their media self-promotion.

But, sadly, this snake pit of racism is legitimized by lazy reporters who can’t bother to spend a few minutes on Google ferreting out the backgrounds of the anti-immigration groups they cite as experts.

This editorial originally appeared in the Rocky Mountain Chronicle.

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