Our VoiceImmigration

Far From Perfect Union: The Tea Party and the Anti-Immigrant Movement


Guest Blogger • May 09, 2011

By Faye Ellis

The Tanton Network has tried to solicit the support of “progressive” groups for anti-immigrant causes. Whether it is through “the greening of hate” or the promotion of a black-brown divide, the Network is trying to insert bigotry into traditionally progressive sectors. But needless to say, the Tanton Network still pursues coalitions with the far right—particularly among tea partiers.

It is common to see images of tea partiers waving signs supporting SB1070, Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law.  While the tea party is often associated with the exclusionary politics of the right, including support for anti-immigrant causes, the tea party may be split on the issue of immigration. However, one thing is clear – the Tanton Network influences its ranks.

The Tea Party Patriots (TPP) provide a case in point.

At their annual conference in Phoenix this year, Governor Jan Brewer thanked the conference participants for gathering in her home state: “You didn’t have to choose our home…I know you are here because we share a common cause in taking back our country. We want our borders secured. We want the federal government out of our daily lives…”

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and State Senator Russell Pearce were the conference’s first speakers. Russell Pearce is a founding member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, a legislative branch of the Tanton Network. Pearce exclaimed, “You wanna remove that disdain that we have, maybe you oughta secure the border. Maybe when you say you’re going to enforce the law, you enforce it. […]It’s all about cheap labor, cheap votes, while they damage this country. I for one do not apologize for defending the principles of this Republic.”

State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) is a coalition of anti-immigrant state-elected officials. As a partner of the John Tanton Network, a web of controversial anti-immigrant organization orchestrated by John Tanton, SLLI serves as the legislative arm of the network, and works closely with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Speakers aligned popular tea party concepts—constitutionality, lawfulness, and American exceptionalism—with a nativist framing of immigration. During a Q&A session, a man from Scottsdale, AZ put it very concisely: “1070, like Obamacare, is really a states’ rights battle more than anything else. We apparently don’t have a right to protect citizens of the state of Arizona.”

Later, this same man encouraged a fellow participant to contact NumbersUSA, the grassroots mobilization arm of the Tanton Network.

But, not all Tea Party advocates are on board with the Tanton Network. While Pearce spoke, Ron Paul supporters distributed leaflets arguing against SB1070. “Internal enforcement is suboptimal and creates costs and regulatory burden for American citizens.”  The leaflet explained how the measures would lead to the intrusion of the Department of Homeland Security into people’s lives. “Real conservatives don’t yield state powers and put them into the hands of the federal executive.”

And indeed, not all conference participants were comfortable with the discussions of immigration enforcement at the conference. A middle aged man from New York thought the tea party should stay away from divisive “social” issues like immigration and “just focus on the economic issues.”

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, says we should “take the tea partiers seriously.” He’s right. Different groups are seeking to take advantage of the tea party movement’s popularity and grassroots energy. The Tanton Network is one of them. But it’s also important to remember that this is a contested process: the tea party and the anti-immigrant movement are far from a perfect union.

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