Our VoiceImmigration

Anti-Immigrant Leader Defends Controversial Environmentalist


Jill Garvey • Jul 09, 2010

Durant posing with white nationalists Wayne Lutton & Peter Gemma

Imagine 2050 hit the nail on the head a nerve with anti-immigrant groups a few weeks ago when we posted an article about one of the anti-immigrant movement’s environmentalists-for-hire, Philip Cafaro.

Leah Durant, executive director of Progressives For Immigration Reform, sent us a rebuttal defending her friend (Cafaro) and attacking me. In her email she asked that we publish her lengthy response on our site. Normally, we would, but we have this policy about providing platforms for bigots - we just don’t do it.

However, I would like to share some of what she said in an effort to help the public get a feel for Durant’s connections to white nationalism and why the anti-immigrant movement is a danger to environmental causes.

Durant starts by saying, “Garvey’s piece deceptively frames the entire immigration reduction argument in the US as simply being a byproduct of right-wing, nativist and racist bigots.”

Durant wouldn’t be so far off the mark if she or any of the organizations she associates with were actually about immigration reduction. Unfortunately, the groups she works with have been founded, funded or supported by John Tanton - a white nationalist who has a long history of promoting racial eugenics. Leah heads up Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), a spin off of the Federation for American Immigration Reform or FAIR (founded by John Tanton and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center). PFIR is one of the more recent and insidious incarnations aimed at furthering FAIR’s agenda. The innocuous sounding group feigns concern for progressive causes, but a few minutes spent digging around its website and it’s obvious there’s little to back up its “progressive” moniker. Click on the “Environment” tab and there is a scant one paragraph which focuses entirely on scapegoating immigrants.

So it’s baffling that Leah Durant would publicly come to Cafaro’s defense considering her own ties to white nationalism are much more overt. She was formerly a staff attorney for FAIR, and above is a photo of her with white nationalists at the 33rd Writers Workshop put on by The Social Contract Press, founded by - you guessed it! - John Tanton.  Why wouldn’t legitimate environmental leaders come to Phil Cafaro’s defense or at least someone outside of the anti-immigrant movement? It leads one to suspect that perhaps there is no one outside of extreme anti-immigrant circles willing to stand up for Cafaro’s work.

Durant’s rebuttal goes on to state, “Garvey’s piece simplifies and distorts many of Cafaro’s arguments.”

I didn’t address any of Cafaro’s arguments in my piece, so that sort of makes simplifying and distorting them impossible. Luckily, the writers at Imagine 2050 have been writing on immigration and environmentalism for some time. Check out some of the great articles here, here, here, and here. In the article singled out by Durant, I did, however, talk at length about Cafaro’s background, saying:

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 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.

Maybe all that was too much for Durant, because then she says, “In an effort to debase Cafaro’s credibility, Garvey points to associations that Cafaro allegedly has with extremists in the immigration debate. Garvey is too lazy to actually examine the arguments within Cafaro’s writings and refute them with academic analysis of her own.”

This is the interesting part - Cafaro wrote the report in question for the Center for Immigration Studies (another organization founded by John Tanton) that has been repeatedly criticized by authentic non-partisan research organizations like Immigration Policy Center (IPC) which calls CIS data “unreliable” and “out of context.” A casual search on Immigration Policy Center’s website brings up over a dozen publications debunking CIS’ reports and data.

At the end of her missive, Durant broadens her attack to include environmentalists, writing, “…environmentalists are shortsighted when they argue that we should concentrate solely on the developing world and neglect the numerous environmental problems that overpopulation in the US is causing local communities here,” she continues, “Self-described “progressives” like Jill Garvey need to spend more time actually working to address some of the environmental problems in the US rather than devoting all her energy attacking those like Cafaro who are educating the public to a growing problem.”

Gee, thanks for the advice, Leah. I definitely should spend more time addressing environmental probl-wait-what’s that? PFIR doesn’t actually have programmatic work that addresses environmental problems? So what does PFIR do for the environment besides harp on immigrants? That’s a good question.

Folks like Philip Cafaro and Leah Durant, whose only goals involve channeling concerns over climate change into attacks on immigrants, are real threats to environmentalism and progressive change in general. They know that already, but be warned, they’d rather you didn’t repeat it.

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