5 Things to Watch for in Immigration Debate

On May Day 2013 thousands of people turned out onto the streets in hundreds of cities to march for comprehensive immigration reform. With the process partially underway, IREHR takes a look at five different things human rights supporters should be keeping an eye on as the debate moves forward.

1. Tea Partiers Lead the Counter-Mobilization

In contrast to the seeming “consensus” view that immigration reform is a fait accompli, anti-immigrant forces still think they can kill the bill. Unlike the 2005-2007 battles over comprehensive immigration reform, however, there isn’t a unified opposition lead by a close-knit network of anti-immigrant groups. This time, the situation is much more fluid and complicated.

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Tea Party Joins Gun Lobby to Kill Gun Background Checks

Defeating immigration reform next on the Tea Party agenda.

On April 17, the Senate failed to overcome the 60-vote threshold necessary to end a filibuster on bipartisan legislation to expand gun background checks to gun shows and internet sales. The bill garnered a 54-vote majority versus 46 opposed, but fell short of the 60 needed to overcome the minority’s filibuster.

The legislation, written by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), was the centerpiece of gun safety efforts in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut murders. Failed amendments to the bill including an effort to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and several GOP-sponsored efforts that weaken existing gun laws.

It took a concerted effort by the gun lobby and their Tea Party allies to block universal background check legislation, which currently has the support of roughly 90% of the American public according to recent opinion polls.

Efforts by gun lobby groups including the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms were fierce. Their efforts were supplemented by national and local Tea Party groups who rallied outside the local offices of several Senators and flooded Senate phone lines with calls and faxes.

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Taking On the Tea Party: It's Our Time Now

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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.

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Supreme Court’s Arizona SB 1070 Ruling Flares Tea Party Nativism

The legislative log jam in Congress has been brutal.  Since the administration of President George W. Bush, the anti-immigrant establishment has stymied every attempt to enact comprehensive immigration reform. During the same period, nativists have conducted a drive in the states to re-write legislation and make Latino immigrant’s life exceedingly difficult.  In the words of the state legislation’s principal author, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, its goal was “attrition through enforcement.”  Translated it meant that if you made life miserable for immigrants they would “self-deport.”  The archetype of this state legislation was to be Arizona’s SB 1070, written to avoid the constitutional pitfalls that had sunk California’s Proposition 187 and Hazelton, Pennsylvania’s local ordinance before it.

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The Tea Party Impact in Wisconsin

On Tuesday, June 5, in a hotel meeting room two thousand miles away from a recall election that was being watched coast to coast, the Washington State coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, Woody Hertzog, regaled a small group of Tea Partiers assembled in the Puget Sound town of Silverdale with tales of his recent campaigning trip in the Wisconsin trenches. Hertzog told the group that he and other Tea Party activists from across the country poured into the state, becoming a door-to-door army in support of Governor Walker. The election was still taking place half way across the country, yet it was all these Puget Sound Tea Partiers wanted to talk about.  Midway through the meeting, the results from the Wisconsin special election came in. When it was announced that Governor Walker and other Tea Party supported candidates were victorious, the room erupted in cheers and applause. One older man in the back of the room commented aloud, “I guess we can put away our guns, for now.”

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The Tea Party Impact in Indiana

The resounding victory of Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock over six-term Senator Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary resurrected the Tea Party movement as a potent force in much of the public mind. Yet some regarded Mourdock's victory as a re-affirmation of their belief that "Big Money" determines all outcomes, and that the Tea Parties had little to do with it.

In IREHR's analysis of these recent events, by contrast, three factors were relevant: the Tea Parties' unanimous choice to support Mourdock; a decision by the Tea Party to begin campaigning more than twelve months before the election date; and the movement's choice of a ground game rather than an air war significantly impacted the low-turnout election. In short, a year of coordinated efforts between national and local Tea Party groups organizing around a set of Tea Party ideas led to a primary victory and put them back into the center of the national conversation.

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Beyond FAIR

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.

Download a printable version of the Beyond FAIR report

 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.

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Tea Party Reactions to the Tucson Tragedy

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been a target long before an assassination attempt that left six dead and fourteen wounded. In 2010, her congressional office in Tucson was vandalized soon after an Alabama militiameister called for Democratic Party windows to broken, as Mother Jones journalist James Ridgeway recalled. A gun was dropped at a Douglas, Arizona town hall meeting on health care reform Giffords held in August 2009. Sarah Palin targeted her district with a gun sight cross hairs (err, landscaping symbol) during the last election cycle. (Robert DePugh's 1960s-era Minutemen used to send their opponents a set of crosshairs in the mail, with an ominous 'We Are Watching You" business card.) Asked who his daughter's enemies were, Giffords' father identified "the whole Tea Party."

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Larry Pratt

Larry Pratt of Virginia is a member of two different national Tea Party networks: Tea Party Nation and 1776 Tea Party. He is also executive director of Gun Owners of America, which bills itself as a "no compromise" organization opposed to all forms of gun control.

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About IREHR

The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) is a national organization with an international outlook examining racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist, and far-right social movements, analyzing their intersection with civil society and social policy, educating the public, and assisting in the protection and extension of human rights through organization and informed mobilization.

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