The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has involved itself in Michigan senator Spencer Abraham�s bid for reelection with advertisements criticizing his pro-immigration stance. Senator Abraham is fighting back, and the battle is raising immigration to prominence in anvelection of national importance.
Pat Buchanan complains that Americans don�t get a chance to vote directly about immigration. They may soon, de facto, perhaps with implications for the presidential race. All this is thanks to a curious organization with a mainstream front but a sometimes seamy history and curious allies on both the racist Right and the hard-Green Left.
The battleground is in Michigan, one of the Midwestern swing states that will likely determine who wins the presidency. What the Washington Post calls a �raging air war� was set in motion by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, called FAIR, although in my experience it is usually not. Last year, FAIR ran an ad with this headline: �Why is a U.S. senator trying to make it easier for terrorists like Osama bin Laden to export their war of terror to any city street in America?�
What is the sin of Spencer Abraham, the young Michigan Republican senator in question? In his first term, he has moved his party from its perceived image as a restrictionist, anti-immigration, anti-immigrant, pull-up-the-gangplank party to one that is fairly seen as open-minded, open-hearted, and even ready to give a few more U.S. visas to immigrants skilled in high-technology who can help keep the American economy rolling.
Mr. Abraham is the only Arab-American in the Senate. His team believes that the FAIR ad was purposefully laden with anti-Arab stereotyping. Not so, definitely not so, Dan Stein the executive director of FAIR told me. He actually thought Mr. Abraham was Jewish! Of course, Mr. Stein later publicly called Mr. Abraham a �scum bag,� but Mr. Stein says he has forgotten the context, or forgotten that he ever said it, or maybe he never said it, or regrets it.
Mr. Stein and FAIR do not apologize for the bin Laden advertisement, although Mr. Stein noted three times in our conversation that the ad only ran once. (Japan only attacked Pearl Harbor once.) Anyway, says Mr. Stein, there is a conspiracy to besmirch FAIR.
It is not a secret conspiracy. Mr. Abraham calls FAIR an �anti-immigrant hate group.� Materials from the Abraham office and from the National Immigration Forum provide a paper trail of FAIR�s history. A 1986 internal memo by FAIR founder and board member Dr. John Tanton warns of a �Latin onslaught.� A 1988 Associated Press story quotes Dr. Tanton saying that too many new American immigrants are Roman Catholic. FAIR board member and environmental guru Garrett Hardin favors infanticide to reduce population and says not to worry because the child is killed within minutes after birth, before bonding can occur. He thinks the forced abortion law in China is �not strict enough,� while Mr. Stein describes it as an �international family planning program.� FAIR has received millions from the Pioneer Fund, which backs studies in eugenics and comparative racial intelligence.
Mr. Stein, blustering and aggrieved, and Dr. Tanton, cool and intellectual, blow away the material: Haven�t seen that memo in a while . . . don�t remember that . . . taken out of context . . . no longer take money from the Pioneer Fund . . . this is McCarthyism . . . don�t believe everything you read in the newspapers . . . this is a mainstream organization with distinguished citizens of disparate views . . . Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass opposed immigration . . . we�re all learning a lot more about inheritance since Watson and Crick.
FAIR has dropped Osama. Now their ad headline reads: �Senator Abraham is again poised to import
thousands more poorly paid foreign workers as a payback to big corporate contributors.� Yes, indeed, to line his campaign coffers, Mr. Abraham is taking away jobs from American graduates of, for example, Michigan State, Adrian College, University of Michigan, and Eastern Michigan University. (Unemployment in Michigan is now at 2.5 percent.)
Mr. Abraham says the visas are needed to keep high-technology firms from taking their shops�and jobs�overseas. He believes we�ve been drenched in anti-immigrant palaver and heard too little about the immigration success story that made the United States great. He believes immigration rollbacks would be harmful and that a rationalization of the system would be helpful.
Who�s winning the air war? FAIR is facing harsh and negative scrutiny by Michigan newspapers, radio, and television stations; Republican support in Congress is shriveling; the public resignation of former senator Alan K. Simpson, Wyoming Republican, from the FAIR national advisory board was a symbolic blow.
How Will This Play Out?
And so it goes. Mr. Abraham�s campaign ads now denounce his Democratic opponent, Rep. Debbie Stabenow, for not denouncing FAIR. She says it all proves that we need campaign-finance reform.
How the immigration issue will play out remains to be seen. Mr. Buchanan may get his test. A solid win for either candidate could bring out voters to tilt the presidential race. So far we know this: When the ads started running, Mr. Abraham was about 5 percentage points behind in the polls. Now he�s 3 points ahead. It�s a race way too close to call, and way too good to ignore.
Ben J. Wattenberg is a senior fellow at AEI.