Nativism Watch

California anti-immigrant activist seeks to bar children from public schools


Imagine2050 Staff • Apr 05, 2017
Image source: Getty Images
Image source: Getty Images

After nearly a decade outside of the public eye, California anti-immigrant activist Joseph Turner has begun spreading bigotry once again. His first target? Children.

History of anti-immigrant organizing

In 2004, Joseph Turner founded the anti-immigrant group Save Our State (SOS). SOS demonstrations and its online web forum became notorious for attracting neo-Nazis, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As the leader of SOS, Turner was uninterested in turning away the neo-Nazis that flocked to his events, and even defended white separatism online.

“I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that that does not make them a racist,” Turner wrote in a 2005 post on SOS’s web site. “I can make the argument that someone who proclaims to be a white nationalist isn’t necessarily a white supremacist. I don’t think that standing up for your ‘kind’ or ‘your race’ makes you a bad person.”

Turner became a field representative for flagship anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in late 2006. FAIR reportedly fired Turner a year later.

Children in Turner’s crosshairs

Almost a decade removed from any significant anti-immigrant organizing in California, Joseph Turner reappeared last month to announce the formation of “a new nationalist organization,” American Children First (ACF).

“I don’t believe we will ever have a better chance in our lifetime to secure our borders, crackdown on illegal immigration, and protect and preserve our American values and culture,” Turner wrote in a message to former SOS supporters.

On Monday, ACF issued a press release announcing that the group had submitted paperwork for a ballot initiative that would prohibit undocumented students from attending public schools in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District. The initiative also targets children who are U.S. citizens and legal residents if their parents are undocumented. These children would be barred from attending school unless their families pay a “non-resident” tuition rate.

The proposal directly violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Plyer v. Doe, which requires public schools to provide an education for all students regardless of their immigration status. Curiously, Turner filed the initiative despite the fact that he lives in neither the cities nor counties the proposal would affect. He now lives in Torrance, California, approximately 90 miles away.

Turner’s latest ballot initiative is not his first effort to institutionalize anti-immigrant policies. In 2005, he led efforts to pass the “City of San Bernardino Illegal Immigration Relief Act.” Among other things, the measure would have prohibited landlords from renting to undocumented tenants. As the Center for New Community detailed in its 2016 report IRLI Beginnings, FAIR unsuccessfully defended similar policies across the country, costing municipalities millions of dollars in the process. In 2006, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled that Turner failed to garner enough signatures to place his initiative on the ballot.

Read more: The Immigration Reform Law Institute and the anti-immigrant origins of Texas v. United States

The LA Times reports that Turner must gather approximately 3,200 signatures for the proposal to be placed on the ballot. Whether Turner can collect the signatures remains to be seen, but it’s clear Turner still harbors the hyper nativist and bigoted motivations from his SOS activism days.

No change in Turner’s bigotry

Joseph Turner has made it clear that his bigotry has not subsided in his years away from anti-immigrant activism in California. In an interview last month with Minnesota anti-immigrant activist Ruthie Hendrycks, Turner’s expresses broad animus toward immigrants.

“Stop trying to turn my country into your country,” Turner said, while later clarifying the invective was also directed toward legal immigrants. “Last time I checked, I wasn’t trying to leave my country to go to your crap hole of a country. Okay? I was here, minding my own business, enjoying life, loving America, loving our freedoms. If you don’t like it, stay where you’re at.”

Earlier in the interview, Turner made it clear that November’s election results played a significant role in his decision to return to anti-immigrant activism.

Turner stated, “with the election of Donald Trump I was reenergized and I felt this was a narrow opportunity to save our country from the illegal immigration crisis.”

For a defender of neo-Nazis like Turner, efforts to “save our country” amount to nothing more than white nationalist posturing and denying students an education.

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