Some call him an honorable anti-illegal immigration crusader. To others, he’s a self-righteous xenophobe. Love him or hate him, opinions of Tom Tancredo are usually based on his provocative positions on illegal immigration. But there are people who consider the Republican Colorado Congressman a humanitarian for reasons that have nothing to do with the border.Although he’s regularly called a racist by detractors, to the Genocide Intervention Network Tancredo is a hero. The organization named him one of its four “Champions of Darfur,” and gave him an A+ on its legislative report card, Darfur Scores. Only 10 other House members received a top grade.
The Congressman and long-shot presidential candidate received points for sponsoring measures, such as a resolution encouraging all public and private institutions and private citizens to divest from companies doing business in Sudan. The resolution, introduced earlier this year, hasn’t made it out of the House Committee on Financial Services. Tancredo sponsored another measure this year that would create a student loan forgiveness program for Sudanese living in the United States with the goal of encouraging them to return to southern Sudan to help with reconstruction efforts. Much of the Sudan-related legislation Tancredo has sponsored during his five terms in Congress has been focused on the Arab government’s actions in the Christian southern region of the country. Tancredo, like many evangelical Christians in the U.S., first began paying attention to the Sudanese government because of its violence against the Christians in the south who now maintain a fragile peace agreement with the Arab government in Khartoum, following decades of civil war. The government is now charged with supporting Arab militias committing atrocities in the black Muslim region of Darfur.
Tancredo has sponsored several successful measures, such as the Sudan Peace Act of 2002, that affect the whole country.
“Congressman Tancredo has for years been one of the strongest voices on Sudan in the U.S. House of Representatives, and his leadership on Sudan issues has been important on a number of critical issues,” Sudan advocate and Smith College Professor Eric Reeves said in an e-mail.
And it’s not just Sudan peace supporters who revere the Congressman – the Taiwanese, as well. The people of Taiwan, many of whom are Christian, are still considered by the U.S. to be under Chinese rule, although Taiwan functions as its own sovereign, democratic country.
This year Tancredo sponsored a resolution expressing Congressional support for Taiwan to be allowed to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing under its own name and flag. He also sponsored a bill that would require Senate confirmation of the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which substitutes for an actual embassy.
Tancredo’s support of Taiwanese independence has not gone unnoticed in the country. A recent article from the Taipei Times proclaimed, “Taiwan will lose one of its best friends in the U.S. Congress next year when Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo is to resign his seat after years of consistently championing Taiwan’s cause in the House of Representatives.” Tancredo, the article stated, has been “an insatiable writer of letters to officials in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, complaining of actions that are adverse to Taiwan or could hurt the nation’s efforts to gain international recognition.”
But despite such glowing admiration from the other side of the globe, most people in the U.S. know Tancredo only as the guy who called Miami a “third-world country.” And Tancredo, it seems, wants it that way.
The Congressman has regularly made national – and sometimes international – headlines because of his positions on illegal immigration, but rarely does he get much media attention for his support of Sudanese peace or Taiwanese independence. In part, that’s because illegal immigration is a more controversial issue in the U.S., but it’s not entirely the fault of reporters.
Tancredo’s office has issued 49 press releases this year about immigration and he’s sponsored eight measures in the House relating to the subject. Although he’s sponsored nearly as many measures concerning Sudan and Taiwan, he’s issued just five press releases about Taiwan and none about Sudan.
Legislatively, Tancredo has given equal weight to human rights and illegal immigration. But rather than letting the former define him as a humanitarian, he cashed in the latter as his ticket to national notoriety.