Our VoiceImmigration

The Anti-Immigrant Movement’s Environmental Mercenary


Jill Garvey • Jun 21, 2010

“Now, if we had time, I think I could show that every major environmental problem in the U.S. is made worse by population growth.”

-Philip Cafaro, anti-immigrant activist speaking on a panel titled, “Immigration, Population, and the Environment: Experts to Debate Impact of Current Policies.”

White nationalist John Tanton, driver of the most powerful anti-immigrant movement in America, has perfected the art of playing both sides against the middle.

Tanton’s array of organizations, from lobbyists to grassroots mobilizers, work closely with national tea party leaders one day and the next pander to left-leaning audiences through spin-off groups like Progressives for Immigration Reform. This is nothing new for the Network’s web of over two dozen organizations - meticulously nurtured for the last three decades by the same small circle of men.

When the Network’s seed group, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), wanted to appear pro-Latino a few years back, it recruited virulent minuteman leader and Mexican-American Rosanna Pulido to head up its You Don’t Speak for Me coalition - a front group that unsuccessfully tried to trick established Latino communities into thinking that immigrants were budging them in the line for the American dream. A similar tactic was tried when FAIR-created Choose Black America and recruited a few far right African-American representatives like Ted Hayes to bash immigrants. To this day, anti-immigrant groups exploit the false notion that immigrants and African-Americans must compete with one another for prosperity.

The Tanton Network has been working the environmental angle in the same way for many years. But now, with popular culture embracing everything earth-friendly, the Network’s efforts have intensified and focus specifically on converting progressive environmentalists. Its most effective tools are seemingly moderate academics who willing pump out suspect research, opinion articles, and populate “expert” panels on behalf of anti-immigrant groups.

Philip Cafaro is just one of those academics, and he is enjoying more attention now than he ever would as just a run-of-the-mill environmental professor. His day job involves working at Colorado State University where he teaches five courses, including Environmental Ethics. Cafaro plans to add published author to his resume. He is currently working on a book titled Bleeding Hearts and Empty Promises: A Liberal Rethinks American Immigration, in which he argues, “we need to reduce immigration if we hope to achieve our main progressive political goals, such as good wages for working Americans and creation of an ecologically sustainable society.”

As a prelude to his new book, Cafaro wrote a “scholarly” paper titled, “The Environmental Argument for Reducing Immigration.” In the paper, Cafaro references work by Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, and Leon Kolankiewicz, advisory board member of Californians for Population Stabilization. Roy Beck’s ties to Tanton and Tanton-founded anti-immigration groups go back at least to 1991. Tanton hired Beck as a consultant “because of his unique background in environmental reporting, and his understanding of the immigration issue,” Tanton wrote in a 1997 memo.

At least through the summer 2000 issue, Beck served as editor of John Tanton’s The Social Contract, a white nationalist publication. Beck remains a regular contributor to the quarterly journal. Current Social Contract editor Wayne Lutton has been active with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a documented white supremacist organization. Beck has his own connections to the white nationalist organization having in 1997 presented his well-known presentation “Immigration by the Numbers” at the Council of Conservative Citizen’s National Conference.

Cafaro also refers to papers published by Negative Population Growth. Like NumbersUSA, Negative Population Growth and Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) are also affiliates of the John Tanton Network. CAPS president Rick Oltman is a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, formerly known as the White Citizens Council. In 1994, when Oltman was working as the Western Regional Coordinator for Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), he shared the podium with Virginia Abernethy at a Council of Conservative Citizens conference. Virginia Abernethy is a self-described white separatist.

Cafaro’s paper is also featured on FAIR’s website. The love goes both ways. The professor is a member of local anti-immigrant group Northern Coloradoans for Immigration Reduction, and its website links to FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) - all three founded by John Tanton and his network’s most powerful players. Fellow member of Northern Coloradoans for Immigration Reduction, Peter M. O’Neill, produced a PowerPoint for the group’s website in which he negatively asserts that immigration to the U.S. is now mono-cultural, saying that it “changed from European of many languages & cultures to Latin American of single language & culture. Is this diversity?”

Cafaro also writes for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) - so far he’s produced three reports and four blogs for the organization. One recent article reasoned that the BP oil spill can be linked to immigration.

Phil is an advisory board member for the aforementioned Progressives for Immigration Reform. On January 12, he wrote a blog on PFIR’s website in which he lauded an article published by white nationalist journal The Social Contract. Based on the title of his book and as a leader for a group called Progressives for Immigration Reform, it’s obvious Cafaro publicly identifies as politically liberal, but his extensive ties to the Tanton Network tell a different story.

There are two possible scenarios to explain how folks like Phil Cafaro become anti-immigrant shills. One is they start out as legitimate liberal academics who are lured into the anti-immigrant movement with an eye for supplemental prestige and income. Or the more sinister option is that they harbor politically extreme ideas all along and work their way into progressive communities specifically to co-opt their causes.

Regardless of whether they be environmental mercenaries or bigots in green get-ups, the fact remains that they are aligned with a movement rooted in white nationalist ideology. That spells trouble for any progressive cause.

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