The $270,000 Question: How Long can Progressives for Immigration Reform Survive on Life Support?

Rebecca Poswolsky • Oct 14, 2011

Leah Durant pulls a Cheshire grin while personally shoving a pregnant woman from PFIR's conference.

After the dismal, racially homogenous turnout at its recent conference, with the wildly erratic appearance of content on their blog, and without any real momentum or interest behind or in seemingly any of their work, the time has come to pose the following question—is Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) finally, like so many Tanton Network front groups from the past, sinking into a demise of banal irrelevance and ineffectuality?

Unequivocally, we say, “yes.”

Last week, PFIR – anti-immigrant cohort of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – held its 2nd National Conference on “Immigration, Conservation and the Environment,” which sucked-in a paltry twenty-five or so attendees. Compare this to PFIR’s conference last year, it’s first ever, which brought in three times that amount and lasted from 8:30 AM to 4 PM.

This year’s effort was only three hours in length, scheduled from 9 AM-12 PM. The gross disparity between these turnouts in mind, it seems obvious that PFIR is backsliding, about to tip headlong into organizational freefall.

During the conference PFIR were live tweeting, but then announced at one point that they were experiencing “technical difficulties.”  Only later, after America’s Voice pointed it out, did PFIR report that four-to-five pregnant female protesters were escorted out for simply asking panelist Ben Zuckerman why mothers and their children were being blamed for environmental degradation. According to sources, the protesters represent a group of mothers concerned with socially-conscious environmental issues.

It’s not great when roughly 20% of those at your conference are only in attendance because they completely oppose your group. Furthermore, escorting environmental friendly mothers out of a mostly empty conference certainly doesn’t seem too progressive—but that’s PFIR.

Notably, Roy Beck, president of the anti-immigrant NumbersUSA, yet another Tanton Network group, was in the crowd.  As it was, the bulk of those in attendance were the leaders of other anti-immigrant groups.  This in mind, it might be surprising to some, though not to many, that none of these leaders, Roy Beck included, or their groups have since leapt to the defense of the Tanton Network’s “progressive” wing for the expulsion of those pregnant protestors.

It seems the major Tanton players are seeking to distance themselves from PFIR’s floundering. Moreover, almost two weeks after its conference, PFIR itself has yet to provide any reports or coverage whatsoever of their own event.

The Tanton Network, of which PFIR is a member, comprises the bulk of the anti-immigrant movement that was founded by and/or subsequently funded by white nationalist John Tanton, and receives the bulk of their funding through Tanton from the Colcom Foundation. The Colcom Foundation, based in Pittsburgh, PA, financially props-up groups in the Tanton Network such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), U.S., Inc, and PFIR.

According to financial documents obtained by Imagine2050, from 2008-2010 Colcom donated over $25 million dollars to the aforementioned anti-immigrant organizations. According to Colcom’s own 2008-2010 financial documents, the “Big 3” of the anti-immigrant movement received the bulk of this money with FAIR receiving over $6.5 million, NumbersUSA receiving over $7.5 million, and CIS receiving almost $3 million.

Further adding credibility to the notion of PFIR’s demise is the lack of level support they’re receiving. In 2010, PFIR only received $270,000 of Colcom’s funding; such a lack of funding comes into sharper focus when one realizes that during this same time period FAIR received $1.75 million, CIS received $1.1 million and NumbersUSA received $1.782 million. If these totals are signifiers of exactly where PFIR ranks within the Tanton Network, one could be excused for, well, having a chuckle at the realization that they aren’t even highly rated by their own people.

In 2009 alone, Durant herself absorbed $120,000 in salary—25% of the group’s total funding. For Durant at PFIR, similarly to America’s Big Bank CEOs, there seems to be good money in relative failure.

Durant bouncing a concerned mother from PFIR's racially homogenous conference.

This funding gulf between PFIR and the rest of the Tanton Network in mind, the group is also having additional trouble maintaining its facade of progressive-ness. The rather feckless leadership of Leah Durnat, PFIR’s executive director since its launch and a long-time Tanton Network employee, and the rounded, dull-edges of its messaging should be blamed both for the group’s lack of funding and its relative failure as an anti-immigrant front designed to infiltrate America’s Left.

Forcibly bouncing pregnant women – as Leah Durant can be seen doing above & to the right – for simply posing challenging questions, once again, isn’t too, too progressive.

Since its inception, PFIR has always attempted to use progressive frames around conservation issues to lure environmentalists into the anti-immigrant movement. But, perhaps, such efforts are stiffening with rigor mortis.

Like Choose Black America, like You Don’t Speak for Me!, and other Tanton front-groups set up to target demographics that the Network’s  bigotry has failed to influence—PFIR is drying up.

That in mind, we should keep the pressure on PFIR, not letting up to allow them to arise into a resurgence of both presence and, for the first time ever, broader effectiveness. Let’s forever continue to remind the Tanton Network of their sadder failures.

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