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The White Nationalist Eugenicist Who Inspired Trump’s Immigration Ban

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This week, instead of providing a solution to the states and cities around the country clamoring for COVID-19 tests, Donald Trump again tried to shift blame for his bungled response to the crisis. This week, instead of providing leadership to a nation that is reeling, Donald Trump tried to distract from his failures by once again trying to end immigration in the United States. 

Using the pandemic crisis as an excuse, he is issuing an executive order to limit legal immigration. Since the start of his campaign in 2015, Trump has made attacks on immigrants the central focus of his campaigns, and his presidency. He has turned his Administration’s anti-immigrant machinations over to Stephen Miller, an extremist with long-standing ties to white nationalists and anti-immigrant hate groups.

The latest move by Trump follows a path laid out by the architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement in the United States: the late John Tanton, who founded several national hate groups, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies. Staffers from these groups now populate the Trump administration and are instituting his racist policies.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post titled, President Trump’s immigration suspension has nothing to do with coronavirus, historian Carly Goodman explained Tanton’s thinking:

Tanton understood that as long as legal immigration continued, people of color would continue to become Americans. In a 1979 proposal, Tanton and FAIR’s first executive director Roger Conner were clear that its goal would be “to reform policies governing legal immigration, conforming them to today’s demographic, resource, political and social realities.”

Tanton was especially worried about the shift in American demographics, and different birth rates of people of different races. “As our native birthrate falls, immigration will account for an increasing proportion of our growth,” Tanton warned. Later he worried that the present majority, presumably of white Americans, would be overwhelmed by more fertile groups: As he wrote in a 1986 memo, “will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?”

FAIR and the other organizations founded or funded by Tanton, including the Center for Immigration Studies, Immigration Reform Law Institute and NumbersUSA tended to frame their policy preferences in terms of numbers. They understood well that “restricting” immigration by the numbers instead of “excluding” based on race would achieve their goals and disproportionately limit and exclude the migration of non-white people without running afoul of the race-neutral language that tended to fly in Washington.

At America’s Voice, we’ve written extensively about the ties between the Trump Administration and the Tanton network:

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.

It was John Tanton who infamously crafted the term “the immigrant invasion,”  which was also the title of his 1996 book. Trump has echoed that term repeatedly during his presidency. In August 2019, a mass shooter killed 22 people at a Wal-Mart in El Pasto, Texas — after leaving behind a manifesto using the same language. The Washington Post reported on the similarities between the language of the shooter and the Tanton groups:

[FAIR’s Executive Director Dan] Stein made no mention in his tweet of the online document police believe was written by the alleged killer, Patrick Wood Crusius, which cited many of the same arguments against immigration as a rationale and motivation for the attack that killed 22 people in a predominantly Hispanic city near the U.S.-Mexico border…..Long relegated to the fringes of the debate, these organizations have moved center stage under President Trump — helping to provide the intellectual and ideological framework for the administration’s hard-line immigration agenda, one that immigrant rights advocates have decried as xenophobic and racist.

In other words, these hate organizations founded by John Tanton are driving policy in the Trump Administration, while using language that has led to violence. In her op-ed, Goodman also drew the line from Tanton to Trump’s policies:

President Trump’s administration has imposed serious restrictions on legal immigration through executive action, without congressional approval. Informed by the Tanton network’s recommendations and proposals, the Trump administration has used executive power to ban travel from specific countries, to reduce the number of refugees resettled, to all but eliminate the right to seek asylum, to cut legal immigration by slowing visa processing and by imposing new regulations making it easier to reject applications from families that have used certain public benefits.

Trump’s latest tweet suggests he hopes to realize Tanton’s vision and cut immigration to zero. (emphasis added) He’s even borrowed a page from FAIR and is framing the cut as temporary, which restrictionists realize puts the onus on advocates to restore immigration later, a presumably tough lift in our divided, inert system.

Trump — and Stephen Miller — are hoping to realize John Tanton’s white nationalist vision for America. It’s the fundamental driving force of this presidency. This week, in the midst of a pandemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans, we once again saw Trump try to divide and distract Americans with another Tanton-inspired policy.