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Jazz-Age Heiress Single-Handedly Funded Modern-Day Racism

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The heiress poured over $180 million into the anti-immigrant movement

The New York Times yesterday issued a deep-dive investigative journalism piece that highlights the role and funding that heiress Cordelia Scaife May played in formulating and funding the anti-immigrant movement. Her funding, totaling 180 million dollars, includes the seed money and ongoing support for white nationalist John Tanton-sponsored organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Numbers USA, and dozens more.

The piece comes during a week in which examples of what Cordelia Scaife May has bought, and whom she has empowered, are disturbingly evident:

  • Elevating people like Donald Trump, Ken Cuccinelli, and Stephen Miller: As Donald Trump continues to make his 2020 re-election all about xenophobia and racism, and during a week in which the comments of Ken Cuccinelli and continued influence of Stephen Miller are apparent, Scaife May’s funding and the organizations she funded play a massive story in bringing us to this moment.
  • Formulating the ideas leading to this week’s public charge announcement and attempt to slash legal immigration and make America white again. As the Associated Press writes of the announced rule, “The Trump administration is on a course to remake the face of immigration in America in ways that would turn it whiter and wealthier.” And, from Michael D. Shear, Miriam Jordan, and Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times: “The new rule — pushed by the White House adviser Stephen Miller as a critical piece of President Trump’s America First immigration agenda — aims to reshape that immigrant community.

The NYTimes article, “Why an Heiress Spent Her Fortune Trying to Keep Immigrants Out,” on how May funded the modern anti-immigrant movement is excerpted below and can be read in full here: 

An heiress to the Mellon banking and industrial fortune with a half-billion dollars at her disposal, Mrs. May helped create what would become the modern anti-immigration movement. She bankrolled the founding and operation of the nation’s three largest restrictionist groups — the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies — as well as dozens of smaller ones, including some that have promulgated white nationalist views.

Today, 14 years after Mrs. May’s death, her money remains the lifeblood of the movement, through her Colcom Foundation. It has poured $180 million into a network of groups that spent decades agitating for policies now pursued by President Trump: militarizing the border, capping legal immigration, prioritizing skills over family ties for entry and reducing access to public benefits for migrants, as in the new rule issued just this week by the administration.

In many ways, the Trump presidency is the culmination of Mrs. May’s vision for strictly limiting immigration. Groups that she funded shared policy proposals with Mr. Trump’s campaign, sent key staff members to join his administration and have close ties to Stephen Miller, the architect of his immigration agenda to upend practices adopted by his Democratic and Republican predecessors.


The groups have wasted little time seizing the moment since Donald Trump came to the White House. As Mr. Stein’s organization, known as FAIR, put it in a federal tax filing last year, Mr. Trump’s election presented “a unique opportunity” to enact its longstanding agenda of “building the wall, ending chain migration, rolling back dangerous sanctuary policies, eliminating the visa lottery” and more.

Nowhere in the document is the name of its largest benefactor ever mentioned.

“Without Cordy May, there’s no FAIR,” said Roger Conner, the organization’s first executive director. “There was no money without her.”