On June 5, hundreds rallied at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix in support of Senate Bill 1070, the harshest state immigration law in the nation that had been signed into law six weeks earlier.
The crowd of mostly middle-aged, working-class white people waved handmade signs blaring such slogans as "14 Million Jobless Americans, 13 Million Illegals, DO THE MATH, MR. PRESIDENT."
And: "SB 1070 is not racist!"
It was a hot day. People were sunburned. Some wore American-flag shirts, American-flag baseball caps, or American-flag necklaces. Some carried American flags. They stood in the sun to hear a lineup of speakers delivering the same victory-themed message: Americans are under siege by hordes of illegal invaders who steal their jobs and suck up public benefits ... and, in this economy, how much more can Americans be expected to endure?
The call-to-arms message was that enough is enough. Rise up, get active, donate, vote, stop illegal immigration now — before it's too late.
The orators included black activist Ted Hayes ("Amnesty is racist. This country doesn't belong to anyone else but us"); Col. Al Rodriguez ("Mexicans, you don't speak for me"); Terry Anderson, the now-deceased California radio talk-show host ("Jackpot babies"); NumbersUSA lobbyist Rosemary Jenks ("Amnesty destroys America"); immigration hardliner and soon-to-lose Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo ("Barack Obama ... will open our borders"); and the self-professed author and sponsor of SB 1070, Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce.
Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans, Pearce beamed as the crowd chanted gratitude for SB 1070. "Thank you, Russell. Thank you, Russell."
Pearce joked about how maybe Barack Obama himself didn't have papers. Then he justified SB 1070 by reciting the "hard costs of illegal immigration" to Arizona taxpayers — $2.7 billion in a time of "high unemployment and record foreclosures."
Like many successful illegal-immigration populists, Pearce gets those "hard costs" and his talking points from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based "public interest" nonprofit founded in 1979.
For years, FAIR has issued reports detailing how illegal immigrants damage the economy, steal American jobs, sponge public benefits and commit heinous crimes. The nonprofit allies itself with other groups and activists sharing its point of view. And although FAIR takes a back seat at anti-illegal-immigration rallies, its presence is pervasive. At the June 5 rally in Phoenix, almost every speaker had ties to FAIR.
Thanks to grassroots organizing, Washington politicking and faithful donors, FAIR has changed the immigration debate in the United States. It has successfully blocked progressive immigration reform, including what it calls "amnesty" — legalization of noncriminal illegal immigrants (including magna cum laude college graduates) who have lived in the United States for decades.
After SB 1070, FAIR turned its attention to its favorite cause: "birthright citizenship" legislation that would challenge the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment gives citizenship to children born in the United States. FAIR wants to change that so that babies born to undocumented-immigrant parents would be denied citizenship.
FAIR is allied with its sister nonprofits: NumbersUSA, which also lobbied successfully to squash immigration reform in 2007, and the Center for Immigration Studies, which refers to itself as a nonpartisan, pro-immigrant think tank. The three groups cite one another's reports and studies, and post one another's findings on their websites.
Reporters often quote experts from these three groups as credible mainstream voices of dissent to progressive immigration reform, even though several human-rights organizations have flagged FAIR, NumbersUSA and CIS as white-nationalist hate groups.
The groups maintain that the hate designations are arbitrary and untrue, but their vitriolic rhetoric scalds the ear.