As the national Republican leadership marginalizes the extreme right within its ranks – or at least appears to do so – there is less space for openly anti-immigrant groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in DC. Though they haven’t given up at the national level, they are searching for openings to leverage their influence in state policy fights. FAIR , one of the most powerful anti-immigrant organizations in the US, recently announced it will be dedicating additional staff and funds to defeat driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Oregon. Their game plan has changed a lot in the last few years as states have moved towards more welcoming legislation. FAIR and other anti-immigrant groups are often on the defensive, advancing anti-immigrant laws only in the reddest of states. They’ve also moved towards messaging around jobs and unemployment, with some entertaining gaffes along the way. Despite the missteps, these moves are part of a broader strategy, as recent FAIR publications reveal. Here are a few moves from FAIR’s new playbook:
One clear strategy has emerged for FAIR: to block inclusive legislation that gives immigrants greater access to driver’s licenses or higher education, or limits local law enforcement collaboration with ICE. FAIR’s latest legislative report reveals that it has its eyes on Maryland, and in particular a recently introduced TRUST act. The bill would limit local compliance with ICE holds, formal requests by federal immigration authorities that allow immigrants to be taken into ICE custody and entered into deportation proceedings. FAIR and CIS are also keeping tabs on a similar bill in Massachusetts that would combine a Trust Act and driver’s licenses for undocumented residents of the state.
Another response to recent state victories is an attempt to overturn them – by legislative vote or referendum. In Oregon, FAIR state contact group Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) supported a successful petition drive to challenge a law passed last year to provide limited driving privileges to Oregon residents without legal status. Consequently, the law will be placed on the November ballot for a popular vote. FAIR announced in its winter newsletter that it will support the referendum: “Over the coming months, FAIR’s field, state legislative, and media teams will assist state immigration reform activists in their efforts to educate Oregon voters about the issues and the dangers of granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.”
For the remaining anti-immigrant measures, FAIR and its partner organizations are mobilizing to defend them against legal, legislative, and electoral challenges. In Fremont, Nebraska, a local paper revealed that FAIR will be lending support to a campaign to defend a 2010 anti-immigrant ordinance. The law prohibits renting to or hiring undocumented immigrants. The housing portion of the ordinance will be reconsidered in a popular vote on February 11.
Along with its state contact groups, FAIR has attacked DACA recipients and pushed states to treat them as undocumented immigrants, rather than residents with legal presence. (DACA recipients are immigrants who arrived in the US as children and were granted administrative relief from deportation.) In Georgia for example, FAIR state contact group the Dustin Inman Society announced that it will attempt to deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. These attempts to block DACA recipients from public benefits, in-state tuition, or driver’s licenses have been part of a broader plan to block compliance with Obama’s executive order and to strategically prepare for a DACA renewal vote. If there is sufficient resistance at the state level, they believe this will demonstrate that people, or states don’t agree with administrative relief.
As FAIR and other national anti-immigrant groups attempt to make inroads at the state level, it’s important that we shut them out. By remaining vigilant and aware of their tactics, messages, and contact groups, we can anticipate their moves and shut them down before they’re able to build momentum.