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Lindsey Graham Echoes White Nationalist Talking Points to Oppose Popular Citizenship Proposal

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On Monday, July 19, 2021, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), appeared on The Ingraham Angle show on the Fox News Channel to declare his newfound hardline opposition to legal status for immigrants by using talking points peddled by white nationalists. Graham went on the program to oppose the effort to provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers all of whom have been, and will continue to be, vital for the nation’s pandemic recovery. Not only wildly popular with the American public, pathways to citizenship are beneficial to ALL Americans. Yet, Graham now appears committed to the dangerous politics of xenophobic division in opposition to what is best for the nation.

Graham framed his opposition in eerily similar terms to RJ Hauman’s op-ed in the Washington Examiner published Monday morning. The op-ed titled “Amnesty isn’t infrastructure,” was quickly retweeted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) – a central organization around Republican Senate leadership – connecting their opposition to the “border crisis.” The same spurious connection that Hauman makes in the piece, writing: “to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens would not only exacerbate an already raging crisis.” 

Running with this political frame Graham said, “they are wanting to put amnesty in the infrastructure bill…imagine if you gave legal status to illegal immigrants without first securing the border.” 

Who is RJ Hauman who is outlining talking points for the GOP top leadership’s opposition to popular legalization efforts? He is the head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated hate group. FAIR was founded by a white nationalist and eugenicist, John Tanton, who liked to pal-around with Holocaust deniers and helped other white nationalists find funding. Far from a case of ‘sins-of-the-father,’ FAIR helped push white nationalist zeal into the mainstream of the Republican party. They, alongside their allies, helped shape the cruelty and chaos approach to immigration that characterized the Trump administration. Indeed, Trump tapped key leaders from these same Tanton-founded hate groups for key positions in government.

FAIR and their allies were also early amplifiers of the “invasion” rhetoric when talking about migrants at the border. Rhetoric that was picked up by Donald Trump’s digital team and spread across thousands of Facebook ads and repeatedly used on his Twitter account. The same rhetoric that was used by white nationalist mass murderers from Christchurch to Pittsburgh to El Paso. The similarities in anti-immigrant “invasion” rhetoric between FAIR and the accused El Paso shooter was documented by the Washington Post in August of 2019. That Rhetoric remains dangerous as it inspired so many horrific murders in the last few years. The leader of one of the Tanton-founded hate groups went as far as to say that the anti-immigrant manifesto written by the El Paso shooter was “remarkably well-written.”

In spite of nationalist origins and clear track record of violence, Graham deemed it appropriate to repeat the dangerous lie of a looming migrant “invasion” on national television. “Amnesty in the Democrat infrastructure bill that will lead to an invasion,” said Graham. 


Reporting from Oliver Willis for The American Independent also found that the GOP’s current favorite xenophobic dog-whistle about a “border crisis” was first peddled by FAIR, revealing the full circle of Graham and the GOP’s political message on immigration to have its origins from FAIR. 

Beyond Graham’s dangerous rhetoric, he goes on to assert an absurd counterfactual in his opposition to giving even “one person legal status.” While Graham paints giving even one person legal status as radical and dangerous, the American people have been consistent and clear for more than a decade that failing to provide a path to citizenship for long-established, deeply rooted immigrants is a radical GOP position that puts them in opposition to most American voters.

Graham, who before John McCain died was a champion of immigrants and a key leader for reform, is now doing the messaging work for white nationalists. The question should be asked of Sen. Graham’s radical position: Should not one undocumented veteran who has served our country ever have legal status? Not even the ones with whom the Senator served in the Air Force? Not one Dreamer? Not one TPS holder? Not one farmworker or other essential worker who were on the frontlines throughout the pandemic in South Carolina and everywhere else across the nation?    

 In that same Fox News Channel interview, Sen. Graham called the current plan for pathways to citizenship the “dumbest idea in the history of the Senate.” Well, I guess Sen. Graham thinks the vast majority of American’s are dumb because three out of four voters consistently support a pathway to citizenship – a position for which Graham was an ardent and longtime champion not too long ago. So, what in fact might be the dumbest idea ever is that employing rhetoric with a history of racist violence in opposition to a vastly popular proposal is good politics or good for the nation.

Even if we were to look past all the bluster and performance of Sen. Graham, a one-time immigration champion, he is clearly saying one of two things: Either he is now willing to ignore the challenge of 11 million of our neighbors, family and friends permanently locked out of citizenship and living adjacent to but fully part of American society, despite their daily contributions to our success.  Or Sen. Graham actually believes that we will deport or drive out 11 million people despite the failed cruelty and chaos of family separation, mass deportation and the ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric of hate groups. 

Because if you oppose legal status for even one immigrant, those are the only two other options.