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“Progressives” For Immigration Reform’s Head Heavily Involved with Myriad Conservative Groups

Imagine 2050 Staff • Aug 27, 2013

Leah Durant (front row, seated 2nd from right) at Republican Women of Clifton meeting

Since the spring, the anti-immigrant movement has actively worked to influence national immigration policy as the reform debate has moved from the Senate to the House. Curiously, one organization within the established anti-immigrant movement has been noticeably absent from that debate.

The lack of activity from Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) is likely to due to the organization’s leadership playing a significant role in establishing another front group, one with a dedicated conservative base. Despite the hollow tag “Progressives,” such affiliations reveal the true political motives that PFIR’s leadership actively perpetuates.

PFIR aims to make the anti-immigrant movement’s nativism palatable for environmentally minded liberals. While its voice has never been the loudest within the movement, PFIR have hardly made a peep this year. Currently, it does little more than distributing an immigration-news digest email to its list of subscribers. It shares approximately six news articles and blogs a week via its Twitter account. Interestingly, many of the links that this supposedly “progressive” organization shares on Twitter lead to decidedly conservative websites such as The Daily Caller, News With Views, American Thinker, and Townhall. This is likely due, in no small part, to PFIR’s executive director Leah Durant actually being a conservative activist who belongs to several right-wing groups in Virginia.

According to Durant’s LinkedIn profile, the PFIR Executive Director’s interests include “conservative politics,” and her listed affiliated include the Republican Women of Clifton and The Virginia Liberty Project. The former is a self-described “active, fun and conservative women’s group formed in September 2006,” and the latter is a group headed by conservative activist Ginni Thomas – one of the primary coordinators of the recently exposed far-Right communications, strategy, and movement-building coalition Groundswell.

Such affiliations seem odd for the executive director of a self-proclaimed “progressive” organization whose website cites Planned Parenthood as a resource.

This may also be why Durant’s LinkedIn profile does not feature her position at PFIR. Instead, Durant claims to be Executive Director of The Institute for a Sustainable America – another front group that shared both PFIR’s office space and its objective of “green-washing” nativism in America. Durant’s profile also omits her past experience as a staff attorney at FAIR’s legal arm Immigration Reform Law Institute.

Perhaps due to the growing profile of the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), which Durant has helped found, PFIR has removed all biographical information of the organization’s leadership from its website. Even so, one does not need to look far to draw connections between the two groups:

  • BALA operates out of PFIR’s offices and, early on, PFIR staff member Rachel McCahon served as BALA’s media contact.
  • PFIR Vice President Frank Morris is also a prominent BALA member having done multiple media appearances on the organization’s behalf. Additionally, Morris serves on the board of both the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies, two prominent groups within the anti-immigrant movement.
  • A June 11 BALA press release was issued by PFIR, further eliminating any illusion that BALA is an autonomous organization.

BALA’s Tea Party-centric base of supporters has been cultivated with the help of Durant’s numerous appearances on conservative media outlets such as Fox News, The Blaze, and Breitbart News, and her organization’s connections the Tea Party Patriots, the heads of Breitbart, and the aforementioned Groundswell. During those media appearances, she was often misleadingly introduced as a “progressive voice” on the issue of immigration. Despite the attention, BALA’s emergence under Durant’s leadership this year within the anti-immigrant movement has been primarily underwhelming and ineffective. Its latest endeavor to hold rallies in the districts of prominent House leaders has gone from an initially announced eight rallies down to three. Of those, only one will directly target a member of House leadership (Rep. Eric Cantor in Richmond, VA). The other two are scheduled to occur in Houston, Texas and Phoenix, Ariz.

While BALA is seemingly occupying most of Durant’s time, PFIR recently announced that its fourth annual conference (a 3 hour-long event) will occur on September 30. In the past, the conference has been scheduled to occur over the same weekend as FAIR’s national Board of Advisors meeting and the white nationalist Social Contract Press’s Annual Writer’s Workshop. The theme for PFIR’s conference this year is “Who We Are, How Far We’ve Come.”

Here’s who PFIR is: a front group comprised of veterans within the anti-immigrant movement, committed to John Tanton’s long-stated goal of framing immigration within a paradigm of environmentalism/population control. As for how far they’ve come: based on PFIR’s plunge into nativist obscurity over the past year, you be the judge.


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