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Report Spotlights the New York Elites Who Fund Nativist Groups

To these advocates, the Center for Public Democracy Action and Make the Road Action Fund, the Trump campaign's restrictionist immigration policies, backed up by an emphasis on the undocumented’s supposed criminality and the need to “take our country back,” are dangerous and extreme. Early on in his campaign, Trump described Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and “rapists," released a plan for the mass deportation of 11.3 million undocumented immigrants, and called for the abolition of birthright citizenship.

Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is at the right end of his party's spectrum on immigration issues, but according to a new report put out by advocates for the undocumented, titled “Backers of Hate in the Empire State,” he's hardly alone in pushing a nativist agenda in New York. The report names the names of others who help fund and organize the institutions of American nativisim.

To these advocates, the Center for Public Democracy Action and Make the Road Action Fund, the Trump campaign's restrictionist immigration policies, backed up by an emphasis on the undocumented’s supposed criminality and the need to “take our country back,” are dangerous and extreme. Early on in his campaign, Trump described Mexican immigrantsas drug dealers and “rapists," released a plan for the mass deportation of 11.3 million undocumented immigrants, and called for the abolition of birthright citizenship.


The report argues that the prominence of such discourse in our politics does not reflect public opinion, which broadly supports a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. Rather, this rhetoric is driven by the activism of an impassioned minority, which influences immigration politics through organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). And groups like FAIR are driven by New Yorkers like Alan and Donald Weeden.

The Weedens are best known as the directors of the Weeden Foundation, an environmentalist nonprofit based in New York. On its website, the foundation calls the “protection of biodiversity” its top priority. But in the name of “population stabilization,” the foundation and its directors have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on groups that the report asserts are working to limit the ethnic diversity of the United States. 

The Weeden Foundation donated $100,000 to FAIR in 2013, and Alan Weeden has served on the group’s Board of Directors, according to the report. In Washington, FAIR is treated like a legitimate lobby, and its leaders have been invited to testify before Congress on matters of immigration more than 100 times. But the Southern Poverty Law Centerclassifies FAIR as a hate group, and the Anti-Defamation League has called the group reckless and xenophobic.

FAIR was founded in 1979 by John Tanton, a retired ophthalmologist and pioneering anti-immigration activist. Tanton has well-documented ties to several white nationalist leaders, and once authored a paper titled “The Case for Passive Eugenics.” In a letter from 1993, Tanton wrote, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” While Tanton is no longer in FAIR’s leadership, he remains a celebrated figure in the organization. And FAIR’s current president, Dan Stein, appears to share much of Tanton’s basic worldview. In 1998, Stein said, “Immigrants don't come all church-loving, freedom-loving, God-fearing … Many of them hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for. Talk to some of these Central Americans.” FAIR was instrumental in the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when they have “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is not in the U.S. legally — a measure that critics argued would encourage the racial profiling of Hispanic immigrants.

Donald E. Weeden sits on the board of NumbersUSA, and his family foundation gave the group $350,000 in 2013. Founded by Tanton ally Roy Beck, NumbersUSA operates as a grassroots-driven lobby for reducing immigration to pre-1965 levels. One of NumbersUSA’s “sensible solutions” for immigration is the elimination of birthright citizenship, a fringe policy that gained mainstream visibility with Trump’s recent backing.

Former New York University professor and conservative author Carol A. Iannone sits on the Board of Directors at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Spun off from FAIR in 1985, CIS is a putatively nonpartisan think tank whose self-described mission is to provide policymakers with "reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States." The think tank’s research and statistics are often cited by members of Congress and mainstream news outlets, despite falling under perpetual criticism for their distortions. In 2014, a CIS blog post provided readers with a map titled “A Town Near You? ICE Reveals Locations of Convicted Murderers It Freed.” The map underscored the alarmism of a CIS report that claimed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had released 68,000 criminal aliens in 2013. Both ICE and an investigation by the Daily Beast found the report to be significantly misleading, both for the way it grouped traffic convictions with more serious crimes, and suggested that the U.S. government has the authority to indefinitely detain or deport any undocumented immigrant who is guilty of any crime. A 2001 Supreme Court ruling requires the U.S. to release undocumented immigrants who have served out their prison sentences, even if they cannot be deported because of their home country's denial of reentry.

In her own work, Iannone has echoed Tanton’s concerns with immigration’s threat to American culture, writing in The American Conservative that the 1965 Immigration Act brought about a “significant change in our national character,” as it allowed for mass immigration “to overwhelm our assimilative capacity.”

Among the other individuals singled out in the report is Barbara Winston, president of the Bruce Winston Gem Corporation and a prominent donor to the GOP, who Newsmax once put on its list of 2015’s “75 Most Influential Jewish Republicans.” Winston sits on the board of Keep Identities Safe, a group founded in the wake of September 11 to lobby for restricting access to driver's licenses, so as to prevent future terrorists from being able to board airplanes. However, the group has gone on to advocate for policies combating “ID fraud” of all kinds, including the fake IDs that allow teenagers to purchase alcohol. While much of the group’s advocacy is founded on the premise that the undocumented are more likely to commit acts of terrorism than non-U.S. citizens, Keeping Identities Safe is less intimately tied to the broader American nativist movement than the other organizations the report derides.

But the group has had a profound impact on the lives of undocumented New Yorkers. In 2007, while operating under their former name, Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, the lobby helped defeat a bill that would have granted undocumented immigrants access to state licenses in New York. At the time, that opposition was hardly limited to hard-core nativists — current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton came out against the measure during her last presidential campaign.

This time around, Clinton is campaigning in support of state licenses for the undocumented. Her reversal is a testament to the success that groups like Make the Road Action Fund have had in shifting the boundaries of the immigration debate within the Democratic Party.

With its new report, the group hopes to extend its influence to the other side of the aisle. The true target of the report is not the individual donors and activists it names, who are all perfectly familiar with their own associations and work. Rather, the research is aimed squarely at the New York GOP.

“We think that the Republican Party of New York should dissociate themselves, not only from the candidates that are pushing this hateful rhetoric, but also from the institutions and individuals that are supporting them,” Make the Road Action Fund co-director Javier Valdés told Daily Intelligencer.

The group will hold a protest outside of a storefront owned by Barbara Winston Tuesday afternoon, with the aim of highlighting the diamond seller’s ties to both the New York GOP and nativist causes.

For now, though, New York’s most prominent Republican continues to push the boundaries of the immigration debate ever rightward, whilesteadily advancing toward a presidential nomination.

Corrections: An earlier version of this story identified Carol Iannone as a current professor at NYU. Ms. Iannone has not been affiliated with the university since 1999. It also failed to properly credit the assertion that FAIR and CIS are organizations that seek to "limit the ethnic diversity of the United States" to the report's authors. Both organizations dispute that characterization of their work.  

Source: New York Magazine