Monday, January 29, 2007

Immigration: The bridge to extremism

Bill Berkowitz has been knocking out the home runs lately, including his analysis of Tom Tancredo's candidacy which wraps up with the main point of concern:
One of the most significant things that could emerge from Tancredo's campaign "is the further advancement of the anti-immigration infrastructure," Devin Burghart pointed out. "Much as we saw with the campaign of Pat Robertson in 1988 -- which led to the launching of the Christian Coalition -- the Tancredo run has the potential to create a more extensive national anti-immigrant political operation."

He has another piece for IPS titled Right and Left Ask, Who Would Jesus Deport?, which takes a look at the growing bridge between the fundamentalist right and the anti-immigration movement, embodied in the group Families First on Immigration:
[U]nlike the numerous religious organisations that have consistently supported undocumented workers and their families, Families First on Immigration is focused more on securing the U.S. borders and eliminating citizenship birthright than with the human rights of immigrants.

Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone born in the United States is a citizen -- a right Families First is waging an extremely uphill battle to overturn.

... Nearer the other side of the debate is Families First on Immigration, which earlier this month sent letters to President George W. Bush and to leaders of the new Democratic controlled Congress urging them "to adopt a grand compromise on the divisive issue that includes strong border security, an amnesty for illegals already here who are relatives of citizens and an end to birthright citizenship."

Families First on Immigration, which claims to be advancing what they call religiously grounded positions on immigration, has some very familiar names attached to it, including former Republican Party presidential hopeful Gary Bauer, who heads up a group called American Values; former Bush advisor to Catholic voters, Deal Hudson of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture; and Paul Weyrich, who is widely considered one of the founding fathers of the modern conservative movement and the head of the Free Congress Foundation.

"We weren't surprised that leaders of the religious right finally got into the game," Devin Burghart, the programme director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Chicago, Illinois-based Centre for New Community, told IPS. "The organisation is trying to stake out a more moderate position than the Minutemen and other extremist anti-immigration organisations, and it is using a religious frame to try and woo supporters."

"While the language the group is using is more moderate sounding -- touting a compromise solution to the problem -- its anti-immigrant positions are quite radical," Burghart added. "And although they claim to be in line with traditional religious teachings, they seem to be ignoring much of the Bible, particularly passages about welcoming strangers."

What's particularly noteworthy about FFI is its origins in the fever swamps of the Republican dirty-tricks department:
Families First on Immigration has been brought together by Manuel Miranda, a longtime conservative activist and the former judicial nominations counsel to then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Owing to his participation in what was then dubbed "Memogate" -- Miranda was accused of stealing internal Democratic memos off a Judiciary Committee computer server -- in 2004, he "had one foot in the political graveyard," The Hill reported in November 2005.

A related Berkowitz piece at Media Transparency on Families First for Immigration has more details:
In 2004, Democrats "accused Miranda of stealing internal Democratic memos off a Judiciary Committee computer server," an act that several Republican senators called "improper after [Miranda] admitted to reading the memos, which a junior Republican Judiciary aide downloaded from the unsecured server."

Miranda claimed "that he had neither broken the law nor Senate rules by reading the memos, but key Republican Senators did not back him," The Hill reported.

Although it was reported that Miranda felt he had been "betrayed by Republicans," there were conservatives who stood by him, and "the American Conservative Union dubbed him 'an American hero' for bringing the memos to light."

Miranda formed the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters, a group that actively worked to have the Republican Senate leadership invoke the so-called "nuclear option," a parliamentary tactic aimed at stripping Senate Democrats of the right to filibuster judicial nominees. Miranda's coalition eventually grew to encompass some 200 conservative groups; later changing its name to the Third Branch Conference.

Miranda's work derailing the Miers nomination and advocating the "nuclear option" in the Senate won him near universal approval from conservative lobbying groups. It is curious that such a controversial ideologue would be the spokesperson for a group that claims to represent conciliation and compromise.

It's curious indeed, especially considering that the "compromise" they propose entails amending the Constitution and rendering moot the birthright portion of the 14th Amendment -- no doubt to eventually be followed, in due course, by the same amendment's equal-protection, which has been a bete noire for the extremist right almost as long the issue of birthright citizenship has (see particularly the recent discussion of Asian American immigration early in the 20th century).

Of course, it's also worth remembering, via Media Matters, that Miranda has a long record of mendacity:
In his September 21 column, Wall Street Journal columnist Manuel Miranda referred to "staff memos from [Sen.] Dick Durbin of Illinois, quoted by the Wall Street Journal in November 2003" as proof of a "Democratic smear campaign" against President Bush's judicial nominees. Miranda once again failed to disclose, however, that those Durbin memos are among the thousands of Democratic documents Miranda was accused of improperly accessing over an 18-month period starting in 2001 -- a scandal known as "Memogate." Some of those memos were leaked to conservative media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Dirty tricksters like Miranda -- and a whole generation of Karl Rove wannabees -- are as endemic to Republican politics as an inclination toward winking and nudging at extremism and racism. It's probably not surprising that they also often go hand in hand.

The concern over immigration becoming a venue for the increasing radicalization of "mainstream" movement conservatism has been around for some time, though it is rarely voiced in the halls of mainstream media. As Berkowitz notes in the IPS piece:
At the heart of the Families First on Immigration proposal is the elimination of birthright citizenship which conservative columnist and radio talk show host Jane Chastain has termed the United States' "dirty little secret."

The most abhorrent aspect of Families First on Immigration's agenda is the removal of birthright citizenship, said Devin Burghart. "It is an attack on civil rights in general and on the 14th amendment specifically, which is a cornerstone of our democracy."

According to Burghart, an activist/researcher who has been tracking developments around immigration for several years, Families First on Immigration "is hungry for new members and hopes to tap into a new funding stream. They saw how successful the Minuteman Political Action Committee was in raising money and they hope to strike while the iron is hot."

The organisation appears to be a "bridge group' said Burghart, "aimed at bridging the gap between the hard core anti-immigration movement and the religious right."

FFI's effort, incidentally, stands in direct contrast to a recent effort in Missouri to strike a genuine compromise and engage in a real debate:
Two state legislators from St. Louis County have introduced a resolution seeking public discussion on the best course for the nation's immigration policies and rejecting the extremism of anti-immigrant groups.

The resolution, introduced in the House by Rep. John L. Bowman, D-Normandy, and in the Senate by Sen. Joan Bray, D-Ladue, has the support of a new statewide coalition, the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates. The coalition is working for comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.

Coalition members include Manos Unidas, a faith-based advocacy and leadership group within the local Latino community operating from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson.

"We are clear that immigration is a national issue and a matter for Congress. We believe the passage of this resolution by the Missouri legislature can once again help our state to be the welcoming place where immigrants and refugees can pursue the American Dream," Bowman said in a news release on the resolution.

In September, Archbishop Raymond Burke wrote a pastoral letter reminding Catholics of their duty to welcome the stranger and of the Christian response in the debate.

"As Christians, no matter what may be our disagreements about specific aspects of the law on immigration, we must be united in obedience to the Word of God, which teaches us to receive the stranger into our midst as one of our own," he wrote.

He said the present legislation on immigration does not work and that there is a diversity of opinion on how the government should reform it in order to deal with unauthorized immigration.

A piecemeal approach with various laws on state and local levels is not the right approach, he said, because immigration legislation is best dealt with as a federal matter.

The resolution introduced in the House and Senate states that "tax-paying immigrants embody our Missouri values of hard work, faith and family. ... We reject the extremism of anti-immigrant groups that seek to use fear to confuse and divide our communities."

The resolution cites connections between many anti-immigrant groups and white nationalist organizations and calls for a unified voice against "their organized bigotry and dangerous vigilantism."

Now, thanks to faux "compromise" outfits like Families First for Immigration and figures like Tancredo, this bigotry is obtaining official sanction as well -- while serious efforts to confront immigration issues is shunted and ignored.

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