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Tomorrow’s House Constitution Subcommittee hearing on Rep. Steve King (R-IA)’s English Language Unity Act—a bill that would mandate “English-only” government documents and services—is hardly the first indication that the House GOP is taking its cues on immigration from the anti-immigrant movement’s playbook, but it might be the most brazen. Since returning to power in 2011, King and his fellow haters in Congress have launched and sustained an all-out attack on immigrants, regardless of legal status: they’ve tried to pit immigrants against U.S.-born minorities and the foreign-born against the native-born, worked to prevent immigrants in detention from receiving better access to health care, and attempted to roll back domestic violence protections for immigrant women.
All of this is part of an anti-immigrant agenda and strategy that groups founded by John Tanton have been pushing for years. Long before Mitt Romney incorporated “self-deportation” into his platform in the 2012 primaries, Tanton-founded organizations were shilling for “attrition through enforcement” as a way of “squeezing the illegal population so that it declines over time.” Now, with King’s bill, they’re pushing one of the oldest and most cherished planks in the extremist platform of the anti-immigrant right.
It’s clear that Steve King is passionate about English-only laws. In 2002, King championed a similar statewide law in Iowa—and when it passed, immediately turned around and sued the state for daring to publish voter-registration forms in languages other than English. And tomorrow, he’ll even take the witness stand himself and testify on behalf of his own bill. But just like everything else the House GOP has tried to do on immigration, this isn’t a one-King crusade. English-only has been a pet cause of anti-immigrant extremists for the past three decades.
Fittingly, King and his GOP allies have invited a witness from one of the groups that started it all: U.S. English, founded by John Tanton himself in 1983. U.S. English’s history shows how extreme the anti-immigrant groups really are. In 2003, the group hired a Director of Communications who had served as an editor of American Renaissance’s newsletter and shared the stage with David Duke at a white nationalist rally. And in 1988, secret memos written by Tanton for FAIR (classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) were leaked, in which the founder of U.S. English referred to Latinos by asking “will the present (white) majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?“ and concluded that “[p]erhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down.” According to SPLC, after the memos were leaked, Republican Linda Chavez quit her position as executive director of U.S. English because she was disgusted by Tanton’s bigotry. Ironically, while some in the Republican Party of twenty-five years ago sought to distance itself from Tanton and U.S. English, the Republican Party of today invites the group to testify in Congress.
With King and the Tanton Network testifying, this hearing will be a showcase for the anti-immigrant movement. America’s Voice Education Fund will live-tweet the hearing from start to finish.
“This hearing is just another opportunity to shine a light on the close relationship between Republican immigration ‘leaders’ in Congress and the anti-immigrant extremists who are drafting their agenda. It’s true that you can tell who someone is by the company they keep, and Steve King has some highly troubling allies and ideas,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund.
“This is a man who has compared immigrants to livestock and dogs. It’s impossible to understand why Republican leadership would continue to give him a platform to espouse his hate,” Tramonte concluded.
UPDATE: We just got a glimpse of the full witness list, and it’s even crazier than we thought. U.S. English is one of the groups testifying, but the other pro-English-only witness (other than King himself) is head of the group ProEnglish — the organization Tanton started when he left U.S. English. So the only two groups Steve King could find to defend his bill are both John Tanton’s brainchildren. What a spectacle.