Nearly 12 years ago, a quote-unquote hippie who fled America to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War was named general counsel of, read “head of,” the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). Near the beginning of this August, though, and just several days after writing a legal update regarding the anti-immigrant ordinance that IRLI authored for the city of Hazelton, PA, Mike Hethmon’s name vanished from the “Attorneys & Staff” page of the group’s website.
Why? Has Hethmon retired, fallen ill, breached ethics and been disbarred, committed some grievous professional maleficence and been fired? What’s happened? And more importantly, why has the anti-immigrant movement — in particular, the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — been so un-forthcoming about Hethmon’s disappearance?
The last time FAIR was this opaque about the vanishing of one of it’s leaders was just over a year ago. Then, a revealing expose ran on the top-half of the front page of the Sunday edition of the New York Times. “The Anti-Immigrant Crusader” by reporter Jason DeParle details the life’s work of one Dr. John Tanton, the founder of the contemporary anti-immigrant movement we know today. After the article was published, Tanton was suddenly effaced from FAIR’s board of directors with no “real” explanation, only for him to reappear unannounced on its advisory board a couple of months later.
Will something similar now happen with Hethmon?
IRLI was originally founded by Tanton and FAIR leadership in 1989 as a project of FAIR that would craft model bills under the monitoring of Dan Stein, FAIR’s president. Hethmon proved a vital leader and astute practitioner within the movement, for years penning model anti-immigrant legislation for state-to-local level government agencies across the country to propose and attempt to pass. One of his successes was highlighted in the documentary 9500 Liberty. Usually preferring to orchestrate his influence from the background, far from the spotlights of scrutinizing journalists and progressive activists, however, Hethmon has nevertheless been singled out for praise from anti-immigrant legislators.
A Washington Post article profiling Hethmon and his now Conservative “superstar”-protege, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, offers one example:
“’They’re the wizards behind the curtain,’ said Oklahoma state Rep. Randy Terrill (R), whose bill they rewrote. ‘They were the face and the muscle behind the effort that really synthesized it into a movement. Do I think it would have happened without them? Most certainly it would not have’.”
So, again, where has this “face and muscle” gone? Journalists and activists alike have a role to play here.
To partially quote Stephen Piggott’s piece about the beliefs linking Tanton and Hethmon, “the public has a right and a responsibility to scrutinize [their] ideology.” We also have a right to know what both are up to now, and together we must take responsibility for producing such discoveries.
Those and the group’s they’ve worked and still work for who have together fought to denigrate and scapegoat entire populations simply at the whims of their own biases and bigotries shouldn’t be allowed to so simply slink off to pasture.
IRLI’s contact page is here.