Nativist lobby invisible, but still present in debate about migrant children

Kalia Abiade • Jun 26, 2014


At a Congressional hearing Wednesday, immigration hardliners continued to manipulate the ongoing humanitarian crisis into a case for harsh border enforcement. The arrival at the U.S. border of more than 50,000 children fleeing violence – without their parents – has elicited little evident empathy from those who prefer to seize this situation as a political opportunity in the immigration debate.

Missing from the hearing, titled “An Administration-Made Disaster: The South Texas Border Surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors,” were representatives from any of the Beltway’s major anti-immigrant organizations.  Their agenda, however, was well represented.

Anti-immigrant outfits including the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are often called upon at such hearings to decry immigration reform and to call for harsh, often inhumane enforcement measures. But lately, the media has been on to them.

In May, when CIS released its report claiming federal figures showed the Obama administration released 36,000 undocumented criminals from detention in 2013, the right-wing media diligently echoed the message. News sources including Frontpage Magazine, Breitbart, and the Washington Times covered the story, using terms like “criminal aliens” and “criminal illegals” to assign blame and stoke fear.

But the so-called mainstream media hardly blinked. (An AP story by reporter Alicia Caldwell was among the few exceptions.) What’s more, The Daily Beast ran a feature on CIS, calling the organization “The Immigration False-Fact Think Tank.

CIS and, to a declining degree, FAIR, have been mainstays on witness lists at Congressional hearings on immigration. But, with this kind of negative attention, it makes sense from a strategic standpoint that the organizations, and their friends on Capitol Hill, would want to at least give the illusion of some distance between them.

The nativist brand may be toxic, but the ideas are not.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and former chairman and current member Rep. Lamar Smith, have a long and documented history of collaborating with the nativist lobby. They took up the anti-immigrant talking points Wednesday, faulting the Senate-approved reform bill, in part, for the government’s inability to respond to the crisis and using the situation to criticize DACA.

In an example that points to a recent collaboration between the pair and the anti-immigrant lobby, Smith released a statement on May 12 saying the CIS report exposes “the worst prison break in American history,” the same day CIS released its report. On that same day, Goodlatte and Smith also quickly cranked out a joint statement calling for a House Judiciary Committee DHS oversight hearing.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the witness lineup included people with long-standing ties to FAIR, CIS and their grassroots arm NumbersUSA, including Chris Crane, president of a small union representing ICE deportation agents, and Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.

The anti-immigrant lobby has made a long-term investment in the House Judiciary Committee, and their absence from Wednesday’s hearing does not erase that. While they hide behind the veneer of credibility political office provides, it must not be forgotten that the targets of their attacks this time are children who have arrived at the border without their parents and in the most vulnerable of states. How the nativists have responded says a lot about who they are.


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