Our VoiceNews & Politics

Progressives for Immigration Reform Launch New Environmental Project

Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone • Aug 07, 2012


Philip Cafaro, president of the board of directors of PFIR

Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), a front group that is part of white nationalist John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant groups, is grossly misnamed and far from progressive. Even the slightest tie to Tanton’s anti-immigrant network erases an organization’s “progressive” credibility, and PFIR is a staunch Tanton-network mouthpiece.

As such, it fills a very specific niche within the architecture of the anti-immigrant movement. PFIR exists, as its name suggests, to try and make the Tanton Network’s racist, anti-immigrant agenda palatable to moderates and liberals, often by describing environmental degradation and immigration in the same breath.

The anti-immigrant movement has had a colorful relationship with the environmental movement, and has historically attempted to make population the centerpiece of any and all conversations about sustainability. Most notably, Sierrans for US Population Stabilization (or SUSPS) attempted to influence the Sierra Club board in the late 1990s and early 2000s and tried to make population control the main focus of the club. The effort culminated in an embarrassing failed coup, and since then these Tanton-backed anti-immigrant activists and populationists have been forced to regroup and repackage their message.

PFIR’s newest environmental project is called the “United States Immigration Policy – Environmental Impact Statement.” Make no mistake: this project represents nothing more substantial than those repackaging efforts. Never one to trumpet their relationship with white nationalists, racists and xenophobes, PFIR has subtly placed their innocuous logo on the bottom of the webpage. However, a closer look reveals that those relationships are strong. The website was built by Elbel Consulting Services. Fred Elbel is the founder of the anti-immigrant group Defend Colorado Now, a contributor to Tanton’s Social Contract Press and was a SUSPS leader during its wrestling match with the Sierra Club.

The anti-immigrant movement’s message about population growth rarely changes: immigrants are responsible for nearly every form of environmental degradation, including deforestation, traffic congestion, decreasing wild spaces and a lack of arable land. In the fantasy of the anti-immigrant movement, immigrants are super-consumers and polluters. In fact, immigrants tend to posses the least amount of wealth in a society, and are often considered to have little social capital.

Rather than present a new message, PFIR’s latest project attempts to disguise the same old rhetoric under a banner of objectivity. Their “United States Immigration Policy EIS” lists a variety of resources, with articles by Tanton Network stalwarts like Roy Beck and Philip Cafaro  (not to mention their contemporaries, including eugenics supporter Garrett Hardin and populationist Paul Ehrlich) listed alongside eco-socialist Ian Angus, the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College, and your very own Center for New Community.

Unfortunately for PFIR, this desperate flail for credibility will not be accomplished by simply tossing a few names around. A PFIR-run, Tanton-backed examination of immigration policies will always result in the same vile conclusion no matter how the study itself is presented: white supremacists in the United States are threatened by the presence of immigrants. They will continue to try and lure unsuspecting environmentalists and politically progressive folks into their camp, but PFIR’s role within the anti-immigrant community is firmly cemented and well known. It is up to real environmentalists, those who reject the scapegoating of immigrants and the influence of bigotry, to continue to expose them.

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