The man at the heart of the most influential anti-immigrant network in the country, John Tanton, has created an empire of organizations consisting of lobbyists, lawyers, legislators, and “experts” who have infiltrated the very depths of social and political debate.
Lately, that has been no more apparent than in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where the Tanton Network’s favorite attorney, Kris Kobach, is busy working with notoriously brutal Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A Kansas attorney, professor, and politician with controversial associations, Kobach has a history of preying on vulnerable communities. Communities weakened, for example, by corruption or political division.
Maricopa County residents learned that the hard way when Kobach abruptly appeared with a plan to train over 800 deputies in the art of terrorizing the immigrant community. Supporters of Kobach’s program say it will help local deputies enforce federal immigration law, but fail to take a cue from the federal government’s recent decision to strip deputies of their power to make immigration arrests. Additionally, it does little to help the sheriff’s office fend off persistent accusations of racial profiling and related legal troubles.
Maricopa residents aren’t alone.
Last year Kobach partnered with a small group of Fremont, Nebraska residents to propose a city ordinance that would make it a crime to aid or abet undocumented immigrants. And just last month Kobach sued the Board of Regents for the University of Nebraska System, the Board of Governors for the State College System, and the Board of Governors for each of the Nebraska Community Colleges to end the practice of public universities offering in-state tuition to students who cannot prove citizenship. Interestingly, fewer than 50 undocumented students are receiving in-state tuition at Nebraska’s colleges and universities.
Kobach has attempted to pass severe anti-immigration laws in towns across Pennsylvania, California, Missouri, and Texas. What do these communities have in common besides Kris Kobach? They reap no benefits from the anti-immigrant laws and ordinances he is trying to implement and are often left with a costly legal mess.
Mr. Kobach has penetrated all these communities while drawing a hefty paycheck from the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected civil rights organization, lists FAIR as a hate group on its website, based on FAIR’s association with white nationalist organizations.
What appears to the public as a myriad of voices advocating for immigration enforcement is nothing more than a series of front groups and spin-offs seeking to overwhelm reasonable debate on immigration. Tanton founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform 30 years ago and shortly thereafter U.S. Inc. These two entities jointly fund and support most of today’s national anti-immigrant groups. They operate under names like Center for Immigration Studies which serves as the Network’s quasi-think tank, or the Coalition for the Future American Worker which pretends to be the voice of American workers. Names meant to belie the most sinister aspect of John Tanton’s Network. Civil rights groups continue to uncover the Tanton Network’s troubling associations with racists, white supremacists, and political extremists. One is the Pioneer Fund, a foundation committed to eugenics and “scientific racism”. The Pioneer Fund provided John Tanton with the funding he needed to build a multi-million dollar operation.
Anti-immigrant groups are using vulnerable communities like Maricopa County and Fremont to give their leadership mainstream legitimacy in the immigration debate, regardless of the cost to residents. While the Phoenix community embroils itself in a costly debate, Kris Kobach is busy building his campaign for Secretary of State in Kansas and his national political profile.
The Tanton Network’s agenda is obvious – create racial divisions among Americans using immigrants as the wedge. In communities across the nation, from Arizona to Nebraska to Pennsylvania, our towns and cities have become casualties of the anti-immigrant movement’s intolerant agenda. Before anti-immigrant rhetoric takes hold, they must loudly and collectively reject extremist groups. It is in our nation’s best interest.