28 years to SB 1070: How “Attrition Through Enforcement” Becomes a Law

Imagine 2050 Staff • Jun 26, 2012

John Tanton (l) & Kris Kobach (r)

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB1070 law, gutting many provisions but allowing the most infamous provision, i.e. the one which essentially allows for racial profiling. SB1070 was signed into law in 2010, but the origins of the now infamous law can be traced back nearly 30 years.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) was incorporated in 1989. IRLI was founded by white nationalist John Tanton who formed the modern anti-immigrant movement in the late 70s/early 80s. After founding the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1979, Tanton decided that it needed a legal arm, one that could be easily controlled. He stated, “So the structure we settled upon was a so-called supporting organization, rather than an entirely independent group. We called it the Immigration Reform Law Institute, or IRLI. It was structured in such a way that it could operate under FAIR’S tax exemption but have its own board, appointed initially by FAIR’s board.”

Skipping forward to the 2000s, with IRLI in place the anti-immigrant movement had ballooned into a major force—the John Tanton Network.

The Network eventually established a new anti-immigrant blueprint, “attrition through enforcement.” The goal of this blueprint is to make life so difficult for immigrants that they will “self deport” themselves at no cost to taxpayers. The attrition through enforcement model started with IRLI, where anti-immigrant legislation was (and still is) drafted by its leading attorneys, Mike Hethmon and Kris Kobach. The current staff at IRLI shares the vision of its founder, Tanton, who once stated, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Only this year, Hethmon echoed Tanton when he stated that immigration was “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority. ”

Writing model legislation was only one part of the strategy, though. Another was finding politicians to introduce and push the legislation through state legislatures. For this IRLI and FAIR formed a coalition of anti-immigrant state politicians called State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI). In its founding press release, SLLI stated that it is in a “working partnership with the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI).” At its founding press conference, Hethmon and Dan Stein from FAIR were present, as was SLLI founder Daryl Metcalfe from Pennsylvania along with Arizona’s Russell Pearce.

Pearce, of course, is the man who eventually introduced SB1070 a few years after the founding of SLLI. It, of course, was drafted by IRLI.

Pearce worked closely with Kris Kobach and the IRLI team before the bill was introduced and ultimately passed by the AZ House and Senate. Pearce, however, paid the price for his actions. He was eventually recalled because he introduced and helped to spearhead such a harsh bill. His recall was a victory, but yesterday’s Supreme Court decision still allows for the racial profiling part of the law.

SB 1070 is part of a more than 30 year anti-immigrant struggle, one with clear origins that hold dear some unwavering ties to white nationalism.


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