Post Politics: Opposition to mass immigration is not inherently racist

Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 11:45pm

Last week, The City Paper’s Kyle Swenson reported that Sheriff Daron Hall, a champion of Nashville’s controversial 287(g) program that extends immigration enforcement authority to localities, was to appear on a panel at the National Press Club along with members of an immigration restrictionist think tank called the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racist watchdog group, singled out CIS as an organization with hate group ties. When this was brought to the attention of the sheriff, he canceled his appearance.

He shouldn’t have. His decision was no doubt an overcorrection of another — opposite — poor decision he made last year, when he agreed to speak about 287(g) to the local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Anyone with any degree of political astuteness knows that the Council of Conservative Citizens is a radioactive group. It is a direct descendant of the Citizens Councils of the ’50s and ’60s that sought to preserve Jim Crow segregation. The appearance was an embarrassment to the city and to Hall, one the sheriff vowed never to repeat.

CIS should have been vetted thoroughly on the front end, and once the sheriff decided it was an appropriate venue to appear, and committed to do it, he should have stuck with and defended that decision.

And it was an appropriate venue. The fact is that the Center of immigration Studies isn’t a white supremacist organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center won’t call it a hate group outright. It will say only that it has “ties.” It’s textbook guilt by association, which is used so often because it works.

CIS is not the Council of Conservative Citizens. It’s true that seed money to start the think tank years ago came from a man with questionable views on race, but that doesn’t put the current organization across the line of permissible dissent.

It’s a think tank. It issues reports. It puts out press releases. Yes, it means to affect policy restricting immigration. But it doesn’t use race or ethnicity as a wedge, or seek to divide and inflame. Its approach is intellectual and its leadership’s arguments based on statistics and data.

If the Center for Immigration Studies is a hate group — a label meant to tag someone or something as racist — essentially, then, no one could ever advocate for immigration restriction without being racist.

That, in fact, may be what this is all about. There is a segment of elite opinion out there that believes arguing for reduced or restricted immigration is necessarily racist. But that’s an article of faith, not proof.

To characterize someone or a group as marginal and outside the lines of permissible dissent, you need demonstrable evidence — more than just a decades-old donation and guilt by association. Just as Planned Parenthood should not be made to answer for the eugenicist beliefs of Margaret Sanger, neither should the Center for Immigration Studies be made to answer for the white nationalist thoughts of onetime donor John Tanton. Judge the group by its work.

All of which isn’t to say that racism doesn’t exist in the immigration restrictionist movement. It does. But just because David Duke wants to curb immigration doesn’t mean its wrong to do so. This is not, pardon the pun, a black-and-white situation. There are several shades of gray that are only made grayer when what essentially are charges of racism aren’t leveled responsibly.

Once polite society has lumped someone in with the racist rabble, that someone tends to make that designation part of their identity. As much as we like to think of ourselves as independent actors impervious to the influence of others’ perceptions, we’re not. How we are seen by others molds how we see ourselves. If enough people see you as racist, you might start to believe it — whether or not it’s true.

Hall may have felt that the Council of Conservative Citizens debacle had put him on his heels and it wasn’t worth getting involved in an argument over the legitimacy of some Washington think tank.

But it’s actually a debate worth having.

Calling the Center for Immigration Studies a hate group does nothing but radicalize and marginalize people who already feel alienated. We should keep as many people inside the definition of legitimate political discussion as possible because the last thing we want is a bunch of reactionaries with earned chips on their shoulders reaching critical mass.

* This column as orginally posted contained a hyperlink to a blog post by Betsy Phillips under the words "elite opinion." That link has been removed.

A.C. Kleinheider is’s political blogger. Visit him at

8 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 11/23/09 at 9:43

If they are not here legally, send them home. Thats easy!

By: kennyj on 11/23/09 at 12:09

Fact is we have laws regulating immigration to this country. Those who enter the country thumbing their noses at our laws are Illegal (no other correct word for it) aliens.
It just so happens that the vast majority of our illegals are from the South American countries.

Our invisible borders are more of a threat to our National Security than the penny-ante crap the DHS & TSA regulate to try and justify their existence. But, our yellow livered PC "Government" won't face up to it and the employers in this country looking for cheap labor aren't willing to do anything about it, either.

On the other hand, I don't believe the illegals are taking away American Jobs. Americans would rather be on welfare, which is more profitable and requires no effort, than to do the stoop labor the illegals are willing to do. The US may need them, but we also need more control over those entering this country.

By: sidneyames on 11/23/09 at 1:02

I disagree Kennyj; I don't think "Americans would rather be on welvare". I think there are many hard working Americans - many in my family and many in families that I know.

I agree with the fact: The immigration laws are clear. In the case of illegal immigrants, regardless of the reason, they are breaking the law of the U.S. Deport them along with their family. Simple, clear. The law is the law. After all, if you rob a bank and only get $1000, is it any less of a federal crime than if you get $100,000? Me thinks not!

By: govskeptic on 11/23/09 at 3:07

The Southern Poverty Law Center is the hate group. They
hate any group that doesn't believe the center is relevant
(which it no longer is) and who questions their news releases
as to what they preport to be factual. Their scare tactics
are apparently still working hinse this story. The core group
of the center is two or three liberal lawyers that go back many
yrs. and who still cannot find anything better job to move
along to as most of their earlier smart minded ones have done!
Recycling of old stories and rumors without facts is the
final fortay that should be recognized by all.

By: efeghali on 11/24/09 at 9:03

Look, biased think tanks are really nothing new. There are a plethora of organizations like CIS that release academic reports that harbor ideological or political agendas. I think we can all agree on that, right?

The issue is: CIS’s agenda is one of restricting of immigration (both LEGAL and UNDOCUMENTED). Just check out some of its executive director’s books. That’s fine in principle, if that’s a conclusion you come to after a thorough and honest study of the facts. Unfortunately, when CIS is skewing data and analysis to come to its predestined conclusion that undocumented immigrants need to be deported in mass, and future immigration needs to be restricted – the whole scenario becomes a lot more problematic.

This is where CIS’s affiliations become more pronounced. I understand why some might call it guilt by association. However, this isn’t the case where one troubled person’s vague connection is used to smear a credible organization. This is a case of an ideological network of organizations, sharing the same founders and funders, with a shared vision: a return to an American demographic landscape dominated by white European Christians.

There is a lot more to this story, but anyone studying the history of white supremacist in this country will likely come to the same conclusion: the anti-immigrant movement is very much the same as the white-nativist movement in this country.

I understand I’m not going to convince everyone who reads this, and I apologize if I was confusing, but I really don’t think its fair to ignore CIS’s ideology and history.

By: efeghali on 11/24/09 at 9:13

If the Center for Immigration Studies is a hate group — a label meant to tag someone or something as racist — essentially, then, no one could ever advocate for immigration restriction without being racist.

That, in fact, may be what this is all about. There is a segment of elite opinion out there that believes arguing for reduced or restricted immigration is necessarily racist. But that’s an article of faith, not proof.

I think you have it wrong here. The issue I have is that CIS skews data to support their conclusion opposing immigration. Not the other way around. That's the critical point.

They are coming into this already opposing immigration, and then looking for any shred of information that would support that conclusion.


I'm not going to pretend I'm qualified to call it hatred. I don't know enough. But that's what makes their association so important. They were founded and funded by the same person who founded a slew of other organizations, all sharing the same ideology. This person, John Tanton, has said among other things: "As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?"

This is the same person who founded and funded Pro English, the group responsible for over 90% of Eric Crafton's English-Only money.

Yes this is association. But it's not McCarythyist! It's substantial.

Your article is well meaning but misses the point.

By: Donna Locke on 11/24/09 at 3:32

CIS does not skew data. Anyone can take the same Census data, labor statistics, etc., and come to the same analyses and conclusions, unless one has reasons and agenda to ignore and reject it. People reject the principles of logic every day.

CIS is straightforward about its bias toward reduction of immigration numbers. If CIS did not exist, it would have to be invented, simply to balance the push from the mass-immigration interests, who are bent on silencing any dissent and interference with their goals of essentially erasing our borders and making the United States even more of a free-for-all than it has become. Theirs is not a liberal, tolerant position. Quiet the opposite. It is one of suppression, oppression, and control.

Rather than ascribing and impugning motives -- that is, the politics of distraction -- why not spend some time considering the data, facts, and analyses that CIS presents? Of course, that is not the objective of folks like the commenter above. That's probably the last thing they want.

By: EddieA on 11/25/09 at 7:28

According to U.S. Population statistics, in the year 2040, people of Hispanic descent will have the largest voting population in America. English-only makes no difference. In the year 2040, the main language spoken will be Spanish. In the year 2040, the main religion in America will be Catholic.

This is not a bad thing. It is a transition from one dominate culture to another. The main difference will be one political party - the Hispanic Peoples Party.

For a look at the future, check out the 2007 novel 'George's Flag'. It is the fictional story of the creation of a third political party and the election of the first Hispanic-American president. The novel ends with everyone speaking Spanish.