2017 may not be a standard election year, but the organized anti-immigrant movement is working to place so-called sanctuary policies on the ballot.
The movement is currently investing thousands of dollars and working to advance ballot initiatives in the Pacific Northwest. Specifically, in the town of Burien, Washington, and the entire state of Oregon.
Last week, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) announced it had successfully aided Washington activists’s challenge of an ordinance in Burien, Washington prohibiting local officials from inquiring into immigration status. IRLI is the legal arm of flagship anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The challenge was led by Craig Keller, co-founder of Respect Washington, a group that FAIR has previously listed as a state contact group on its website.
The Burien City Council passed the ordinance early this year. Keller and other Washington anti-immigrant activists later organized a signature gathering campaign in hopes of forcing the City Council to either repeal the ordinance or allow a referendum on the matter. The effort was successful and Burien residents will determine the fate of the ordinance with Proposition 1 this November.
Superficially, Proposition 1 looks like an admirable instance of residents acting as a check on their elected representatives. Further inspection reveals that the referendum was the project of outside agitators, including Keller, seeking to overturn inclusive policies by preying on the racial anxieties of a select few local residents.
Keller, as The Stranger reported earlier this month, is not a Burien resident. He is from West Seattle, where he previously pursued two failed campaigns for U.S. Congress. Perhaps sensing local residents would not support his efforts, Keller enlisted the help of paid, and in some cases out-of-state, signature gatherers to bolster his challenge of the Burien ordinance. According to Respect Washington’s campaign finance disclosures, the group has paid 15 people as paid signature gatherers. Of those, only six were listed as residents of Washington. Only four of the 15 total gatherers claimed residence in Burien.
To date, Respect Washington has spent over $11,100 on signature gatherers. Over 75% of that total has gone to individuals identified as residents of states other than Washington.
Keller and his paid signature gatherers obtained 3,648 signatures, representing less than four percent of all Burien residents, and just five signatures more than required to challenge the ordinance. As one may expect, the money to fund the gathering effort also originated outside of Burien. Campaign finance disclosures reveal the vast majority of funds RW has raised in 2017 came from the Michigan-based U.S. Inc., the philanthropic foundation of white nationalist and founder of the contemporary anti-immigrant movement, John Tanton. For years, U.S. Inc. has provided financial support to state and local organizations nationwide that support Tanton’s racist immigration policy goals.
Respect Washington received $10,000 from U.S. Inc. in 2017, adding to an earlier $5,000 contribution U.S. Inc. sent the group in December 2016. The U.S. Inc. funds account for a significant majority of the $12,925 RW received in 2017. Of that, only $625 came from Burien residents.
Respect Washington isn’t the only Pacific Northwest anti-immigrant group benefitting from U.S. Inc. dollars this year.
Approximately 180 miles south on Interstate 5, in Salem, Oregon, anti-immigrant group Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) is resurrecting its anti-sanctuary efforts with assistance from U.S. Inc. Similar to its 2014 referendum effort denying driving privileges to some undocumented Oregonians, OFIR is preparing another campaign to repeal a so-called sanctuary provision in Oregon state law. The repeal has been a stated goal of OFIR’s since its inception in 2001. Now, the group is mobilizing to place a referendum on the 2018 ballot via Initiative Petition 22.
The Oregonian reported last week that U.S. Inc. had contributed $3,000 to OFIR’s political committee this month. Those funds are expected to support OFIR’s signature gathering efforts, which have already begun. OFIR has until July of next year to gather the signatures. U.S. Inc. has previously supported OFIR’s efforts. Tax records the group has contributed over $35,000 to OFIR since 2013. OFIR President Cynthia Kendoll has also presented at the annual Writers’ Workshop event in Washington, D.C. organized by U.S. Inc.’s publishing house, The Social Contract Press.
OFIR has received criticism for relying on support from a white nationalist outfit like U.S. Inc., but is reluctant to condemn its bigoted benefactor. Last week, OFIR co-founder Jim Ludwick defended his organization receiving support U.S. Inc., The Oregonian reported.
With its recent investments, U.S. Inc. appears to be confident that the Pacific Northwest is fertile ground for nativist policies. The fact that organizations on the ground are so reliant on outside funding and labor show these are not local efforts with strong, grassroots support.
They’re astroturf campaigns backed by a noted bigot and his disciples that now lead the organized anti-immigrant movement.