The Far-Right Movement Behind Arizona Copycat Bills

State lawmakers pushing a new crop of immigration-enforcement bills are overwhelmingly affiliated with a network tied to eugenics and anti-Latino fear-mongering.u00a0

By Seth Freed Wessler May 04, 2010

Ed. note: Scroll down for a map of states debating copycat bills

The growing number of immigration-enforcement bills in state legislatures around the country are not merely following Arizona’s lead. Rather, the bills–which legislators have discussed or introduced in at least 11 states–are the fruits of a concerted political strategy seeded by the far-right group Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has taken money from a eugenics foundation and was created by a man who warned of a "Latin onslaught." 

In a majority of the states where legislation has been proposed or discussed, the leading lawmakers behind the bills are associated with FAIR’s legislative arm, a group called State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) that operates in at least 35 states. FAIR was founded over 30 years ago by John Tanton, who is widely credited with spurring the contemporary anti-immigrant movement. Over the past three decades Tanton has expanded FAIR’s reach by cultivating a network of associated organizations, each of which plays a distinct role in the anti-immigrant movement’s infrastructure. 

According the the Center for New Community in Chicago, that network includes the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), credited with helping to write SB 1070, and the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank which is regularly used as a source by major newspapers including the New York Times.

But Tanton’s FAIR network is no mere collection of researchers and legal advocates. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, FAIR has accepted more than $1 million in grants from the Pioneer Fund, which espouses a connection between race and intelligence and has supported eugenics projects for more than 70 years. In 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center added FAIR to its list of organized hate groups because of FAIR and Tanton’s connections with white supremacist organizations and funders.
It’s now clear that the Arizona law emerged because FAIR and a number of its organizational offspring used the Grand Canyon State as a staging ground for the first in what they hoped would be an onslaught of similar state laws. In at least seven of the 11 states where SB 1070-like legislation has been introduced or where legislators have said they’re drafting it, the lawmakers behind the efforts are members of FAIR’s state legislators’ group.

These new laws, argues the Center for New Community’s Eric Ward, "are meant as a strategy of attrition against immigrants–that makes life so unbearable that people start to self deport."
According to ThinkProgress, the general counsel of FAIR’s Immigration Reform Law Institute said he’s been "approached by lawmakers from four other states who have asked for advice on how they can do the same thing" as Arizona. But the idea that state politicians are suddenly rushing to FAIR is not entirely honest; FAIR had already organized the legislative constituency to push these bills long before the Arizona law passed.
In South Carolina, the only state to have actually introduced a version of SB 1070 so far, Rep. Michael Pitts is featured prominently among the legislation’s co-sponsors. Pitts is listed as a member of SLLI on the organization’s website. The language in the South Carolina bill is strikingly similar to the one in Arizona.  
In Missouri, SLLI member Rep. Brian Nieves has signed on as a co-sponsor of a draconian anti-immigrant bill recently referred to a legislative committee. In five other states–Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas–state legislators who have said they are committed to drafting SB 1070-like proposals also appear on the list of SLLI legislators.
In Rhode Island, Rep. Peter Polumbro recently suggested he intends to bypass restrictions on introducing new legislation late in the session and propose an Arizona-style bill. Polumbro is not listed on the SLLI website but in 2007, he co-sponsored the majority of a rash of 36 immigration-related bills along with former state Rep. Richard Singleton. At the time, Singleton announced his affiliation with SLLI. Whether Polumbro will actually introduce a law this session is still unclear. The state’s rules require him to do so before Friday.

Kris Kobach, a lawyer who works with the FAIR legal arm, IRLI, helped write Arizona’s SB 1070. ThinkProgress’ Andrea Nill reported last week that Kobach, who published a New York Times editorial arguing that the bill doesn’t encourage racial profiling, has continued to advise Arizona lawmakers on how to make sure the law casts a broad net, despite amendments meant to limit it.

Kobach wrote an email to Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the bill’s sponsor, offering legislative language that would allow cops to target immigrants for violations of city ordinances. "This will allow police to use violations of property codes (ie, cars on blocks in the yard) or rental codes (too many occupants of a rental accommodation) to initiate queries as well." Pearce and Rep. Judy Burges, an SB 1070 cosponsor, are listed as members of SLLI on the organization’s website.

All of this may be just the tip of the iceberg. Thirty-five states have SLLI members in their state legislatures. Because many legislatures are not currently in session or are far enough along in their sessions that new legislation cannot be proposed, there remain several states where future copycat bills could emerge later.
"It would be a mistake to underestimate the John Tanton Network as a social movement," warns Ward. "They made the conditions that made these laws possible." As a result, he adds, the movement against the spread of SB 1070 copycat laws "must organize directly against the anti-immigrant movement."
Marielena Hincapie, whose National Immigration Law Center has joined a suit against the State of Arizona, agrees. "Litigation is just one tool to support the broader organizing that needs to happen," Hincapie says. "This has to be an organizing and political response. It needs every part of the social justice movement to get involved because folks in communities and states where there’s a risk of similar copycat legislation need to be on alert and start to prevent [future bills]."