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John Tanton Has Died. Unfortunately, His Racist Legacy Lives On At FAIR and CIS

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According to reports, John Tanton, the founder of a network of anti-immigrant hate groups, has died at age 85. Tanton was once called the “most influential unknown man in America” and is in part directly responsible for the Trump Administration’s fear-and-cruelty approach to immigration. Unfortunately, Tanton’s legacy will live on.

Tanton was originally a doctor in Michigan who had extreme beliefs about immigration and eugenics. He wrote and said things like, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that”, and “to govern is to populate … will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?”

Starting in the 1980s, Tanton founded a series of anti-immigrant groups: NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the latter two as hate groups.

These groups have had enormous influence on American life and politics. Anti-immigrant members of Congress love CIS and FAIR; they routinely invite staffers to testify at hearings, appear at their events, and hold them up as factual sources. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a particularly close relationship with Tanton’s groups, and they were effusive about him in return. They have a fan base and a readership which receives content written by white nationalists, Holocaust deniers, and neo-Nazis.

CIS and FAIR were given a seat at the table with the Trump Administration, which hired a number of CIS and FAIR staffers, met with the groups, and cited their data. Trump action items like ending DACA and curtailing both legal and undocumented immigration have been on FAIR and CIS’ wish list for years. Trump has been working to whiten America, by kicking out immigrants already here and keeping out those who would come, and that’s what CIS and FAIR have been about for decades (see Tanton quotes above). Stephen Miller is carrying out their plans to the letter.

Advocates have always fought back against Tanton and his groups, by seeking to highlight the connections behind this shadowy network; by suing the University of Michigan, which holds a collection of Tanton’s papers; and by reminding members of the media that CIS and FAIR aren’t sources equivalent to immigration experts — they are nativists who publish junk studies and advocate for hateful policies (CIS once tried to blame climate change on immigrants). Ultimately, however, the Trump Administration is in the White House, and Tanton’s awful ideology will continue to be implemented as policies that hurt millions of Americans, unless we do something about it. 

Here are some of the tweets noting Tanton’s death and his role in anti-immigrant policy: