On July 28, 2012, IREHR's Devin Burghart gave a keynote speech at the Western States Center's annual training and skills conference, AMP, an event that drew over 400 activists and organizers from states across the west. Devin used the occasion to remind the attendees of lessons past and to talk about the tasks everyone faces today. This speech is a most powerful indictment of the Tea Party movement, and a call for people of good will—no matter what their principal issue of concern—to understand that the Tea Party movement must be actively opposed by us all.
Kansas passed an instate tuition policy that provided higher educational opportunities for immigrant students in 2004. Many people outside the state were puzzled, wondering how Kansas could join the ranks of New York and California in taking such a progressive stance. In subsequent years, Democrat and Republican lawmakers turned back repeated attempts to repeal this signature legislation. By joining forces, alliances formed between lawmakers from both parties. They took ownership of the policy that facilitated the education of young immigrants, understanding that it was in the best interests of the state.
When Kris Kobach, an anti-immigrant attorney with a long history of working for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was elected Secretary of State in 2010, many believed that the legislative coalition that had passed and protected the pro-education measure was doomed. Indeed, Kobach had once sued the state, unsuccessfully, in opposition to this legislation. Kobach's plans to bring an Arizona-style anti-immigrant hardline to the state seemed inevitable. Instead, Kobach was rebuffed two legislative sessions in a row. He failed to have passed even limited pilots programs of e-verify, a measure that supposedly 'cracks down' on unauthorized employment.
While all eyes were focused on the Republican Party primary in South Carolina, and commentators were proclaiming the Tea Party movement finished because it had not yet picked a single presidential candidate to act as its standard-bearer, five hundred Tea Partiers gathered in Myrtle Beach on January 15 and 16, as if to prove its naysayers wrong. They came from 23 local Tea Party and "constitutionalist" organizations. The speakers' list was a who's who and what is what among the Tea Partiers and Republican politicians. And anti-immigrant fever ran high.
In this special report the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) delineates the intersection of two trends. One is a measureable drop in the number of local and national anti-immigrant organizations that were established prior to the presidency of Barack Obama. Along the same lines, those organizations which remained experienced a noticeable decrease in the size of their membership and financial support.
This has led to a relative decline in what IREHR describes as the Nativist Establishment. It should be noted that IREHR is not arguing that these organizations have disappeared altogether. Neither does IREHR contend that such organizations have ceased to be a danger to human rights. Rather, the data suggests that their size and power have fallen relative to the strength they had achieved at their height during the period 2007-2008.
The second trend is a rise in anti-immigrant activism by the Tea Parties. As IREHR reported in its 2010 special report, Tea Party Nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and activism have been part of the Tea Party mix from the beginning. Indeed, we noted then that one of the six national factions, 1776 Tea Party, had imported its staff leadership directly from the Minutemen. In Beyond FAIR, however, we note both an increase in anti-immigrant activism by national and local Tea Party groups, as well as a measurable number of anti-immigrant leaders who have joined the Tea Parties and consequently accelerated the rate of anti-immigrant activism by those Tea Parties.
To a noticeable degree, the transfer of organizational allegiances to the Tea Parties noted in trend two is caused by the drop in strength by established anti-immigrant organizations described in trend one.
This re-articulation of the Nativist Establishment into the Tea Parties changes both the shape and strength of the anti-immigrant impulse in American life. Mixed into the activities of multi-issue organizations (the Tea Parties), it will be harder to delineate and counter by immigrant rights advocates. Further, the Tea Party movement by itself is larger and more significant than the Nativist Establishment ever was, even at its height. As a result, anti-immigrant activism has a bigger immediate constituency and is likely to be stronger.
NumbersUSA announced that they will air television ads during the next GOP presidential candidate debate that advocate further restrictions on the level of documented (so called "legal") immigrants. As IREHR recently noted, some national nativist groups appear to be changing course, and preparing to launch a campaign to restrict documented immigration. If this shift in nativist strategy fully materializes, it is likely to alter the terms of discussion by policymakers and the public.
Does it signal a shift in focus?
The Revolutionary War-era costumes, the yellow “Don’t tread on me” Gadsden flags from the same era, the earnest recitals of the pledge of allegiance, the over-stated veneration of the Constitution, and the defense of “American exceptionalism” in a world turned towards transnational economies and global institutions: all are signs of the over-arching nationalism that helps define the Tea Party movement.
It is a form of American nationalism, however, that does not include all Americans, and separates itself from those it regards as insufficiently “real Americans.” Consider in this regard, a recent Tea Party Nation Newsletter article entitled, “Real Americans Did Not Sue Arizona.” Or the hand-drawn sign at a Tea Party rally that was obviously earnestly felt. “I am a arrogant American, unlike our President, I am proud of my country, our freedom, our generosity, no apology from me.”