JOHN TANTON: Retired eye surgeon and immigration activist
Lance Wynn/Grand Rapids Press/Landov
JOHN TANTON: Retired eye surgeon and immigration activist

Friend or foe?

Immigration | For pro-life Republicans, opposing comprehensive immigration reform puts many in league with pro-abortion and population control groups

Issue: "The new urban frontier," March 9, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—As a candidate in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama promised to have in his first year in office “an immigration bill that I strongly support.” Almost five years later, absent White House action to date, Obama used his Feb. 12 State of the Union address to speak again on immigration reform: “Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.”

Obama’s inaction on immigration has been viewed with suspicion: Perhaps he prefers to continue using the issue as a political tool rather than push for a solution to a broken system. But Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of Cuban immigrants, are ready to put the president’s sentiments on immigration to the test by pushing for reform—even though Democrats soundly beat Republicans at the polls among Latino voters in last year’s presidential election. 

Standing against comprehensive reform is Washington’s influential anti-immigration lobby, already credited with successfully taking down immigration reform efforts in 2007. Groups working to reduce immigration are led by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). While these groups draw ample support from otherwise pro-life Republicans, they are driven by extreme environmentalist views and focus heavily on radical population control. 

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One of the strongest voices for population control via limits to immigration is John Tanton. In 2011 The New York Times called him “the most influential unknown man in America.” A Michigan doctor, Tanton spent the early part of his career starting local Planned Parenthood and Sierra Club chapters in the 1960s and ’70s. For two years he served as national president of Zero Population Growth. He then turned his attention to immigration, directly or indirectly helping found FAIR (1979), CIS (1985), and NumbersUSA (1997), groups that separately engage the public, produce research, and lobby Congress for the same thing: lower immigration. 

Today these groups say they have the ear of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, while it’s mostly Republicans who place a high priority on securing the borders before creating new pathways to legal immigration. The groups played key roles in defeating changes to federal immigration law in 2002 and 2007, and have worked with statehouse Republicans to enact laws restricting immigration in Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama. 

On Capitol Hill and in state capitals, Republicans push hardest for tougher laws, but many board members and financial backers of FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA are anything but social conservatives. Tanton serves on the FAIR board with Sarah G. Epstein, one of many past or present board members to work also for Planned Parenthood. Epstein once called China’s one-child policy “compassionate and fair” and is now working to obtain FDA approval for the dangerous quinacrine sterilization drug—“a permanent contraceptive solution” that sterilizes women by burning the fallopian tubes and upper uterus with acid. 

Population control financiers, led by Colcom Foundation, donate millions to FAIR, CIS, NumbersUSA, and other groups like Negative Population Growth—an organization committed to cutting world population from its current 7 billion to below 2 billion. FAIR also has received funding from the Pioneer Fund, a group seeking to restore “the Darwinian-Galtonian perspective to the mainstream”—a reference to Charles Darwin and his cousin, Francis Galton, the father of eugenics. 

Population control efforts arise out of support for abortion, eugenics, and reduced immigration, and are used to further extreme environmentalist beliefs. “U.S. environmental sustainability is not possible unless we greatly reduce immigration numbers,” NumbersUSA president Roy Beck wrote in 2010 on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. 

Yet that extremist ideology hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers—including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and former Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif. (current and former members of the conservative Republican Study Committee)—along with other pro-lifers from working with the groups.

Do conservatives mind these associations? Pro-life Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, currently a member of the House Immigration Reform caucus, said, “If any group or organization supports the same thing that most of my constituents do, then to that extent we are in agreement.”  

The influence of anti-immigration groups goes beyond Congress: Conservative activists like Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schlafly quote CIS research as unbiased fact. Last year she cited CIS reports painting immigrants as underachieving welfare recipients sucking life out of the U.S. economy. “The notion that foreigners are better and brighter than Americans is nonsense,” she wrote.

Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations at NumbersUSA, said her group doesn’t deceive lawmakers about its purpose: “We’re very clear about what we are.” But GOP lawmakers who don’t favor the groups’ population control and pro-abortion policies appear content to cast themselves alongside them as immigration hawks. 


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