Since launching FAIR [Federation for American Immigration Reform] in January of 1979, the board has adhered steadfastly to one of the possible models for changing U.S. immigration law and practice. Our plan emphasized the national (rather than the state and local) nature of the immigration question, and, therefore, concentrated on building a national office and staff rather than working at the grassroots.
It emphasized the need for changes in immigration law rather than using and defending existing statutes and regulations. Hence, we concentrated on legislative lobbying, rather than administrative lobbying of the executive branch of government, or use of the courts. We recognized the need to overcome the taboo that in 1979 proscribed discussion of the immigration issue, so we hired a writer as one of our initial staff persons to produce pamphlets, speeches, op-ed pieces, etc.
In my judgment, grassroots work has not been a major emphasis. On the media side of this question, I believe we get high marks for good and consistent effort throughout our existence.
We have relied upon the correctness and cogency of our argument, rather than upon raw political power. We cannot make it "snow on the Hill" as the saying goes for an organization such as the National Rifle Association, which can on short notice produce hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters from irate members. We have spent some time, money and effort trying to build a membership for purposes of political validity and power, but this has not been a major emphasis. Indeed, there has been disagreement among board members on whether this needed to be done.
We’ve also concentrated on illegal immigration versus legal, on the sweeping solution rather than the incremental approach, on the "quantity" of immigrants rather than their quality or the social effects of immigration.
Financially, FAIR grew rapidly its early years. The table shows our total revenues since its founding:
1986 1,600,000 (estimated)
GRAND TOTALS: 8 years & $8,500,000
Our financial growth was heavily based on a small number of major donors, who rapidly increased their contributions in the early years, but have now leveled off. We have found few new donors, as reflected by the plateau in our budgets. We’ve discussed but have had no meeting of the minds on whether this budget is adequate, or whether additional resources are needed for the task, given its size and complexity.
Our original plan called for a small board with one level of decision making. We’ve stuck to this, and in my judgment, it has worked well. We have had little turnover in the board membership, and even less among the officers, the undersigned in particular. We need to discuss how healthy a practice this is.
I would summarize our effort as under-capitalized, Washington-based, and focused on comprehensive reform of immigration law, with success measured in new laws passed. Judged by that standard, our plan has not worked very well, though we must give ourselves good marks for defeating initiatives of the opposition and securing a big increase in the Border Patrol’s appropriation. Unfortunately these successes are of the incremental variety and less satisfying and less saleable to members and donors than a comprehensive victory.
There are a number of reasons why we have not succeeded with comprehensive legislation, but chief among them has been the opposition to our ideas of one of the most senior members of Congress, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, "Mr. immigration" himself, Peter Rodino.
Speaker O’Neill has also been less than helpful, but he’ll be gone after this year. We have no idea how long Mr. Rondino will last, but his health is good, he’s filed for another term, and the House of Representatives is his whole life now that his wife has passed away. We must assume that he will be there for some years to come, and will remain a formidable obstacle.
As a result, I propose we stop banging our collective heads against that immovable wall, and that until Mr. Rodino moves on, we adopt a new strategy of working around him. Here are some proposals:
A. Congressional Strategy
A1. Work with other committees. For instance, we could go to the Ways and Means Committee to make sure that the earned income tax credit (the negative income tax that Mr. Nixon got through) is not available to illegal aliens. We could work with Henry Hyde -- the opponent of many of us on abortion -- on his interest in reducing document fraud.
We can continue our work with the Appropriations Committee to help assure good funding for the Immigration Service and modernization of their computer capacities, or with the committee that oversees passport matters, to help the State Department achieve their goal of a machine-readable passport. We could encourage the committees that oversee military and drug enforcement affairs to share equipment and the intelligence they gather with the Immigration Service.
We could try to assure that any protectionist trade legislation that passes requires, as a condition of the protection, that the employers hire only legal U.S. residents. What’s the sense of saving American jobs, if Americans don’t fill them?
The possibilities for going to other committees, while not endless, are substantial, and offer the chance to educate other members of Congress on immigration problems in their areas of interest and responsibility.
A2. Infiltrate the Judiciary Committees. This is a long-range project. We should make every effort to get legislators sympathetic to our point of view appointed to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and their Immigration Sub-Committees. Think how much different our prospects would be if someone espousing our ideas had the chairmanship! If we secure the appointment of our people as freshmen members of the committee, we will eventually secure the chairmanship. Remember: we’re in this for the long haul.
A3. Focus our grass roots and direct mail efforts in Congressional districts that are of particular importance to us: Jim Wright of Texas who will likely be the next Speaker, the majority and minority leaders, and selected other key individuals.
A4. Block the bills that our opposition wants. In our legislative system, it is far easier to stop a measure than to pass it. To pass a measure, one must be successful at the sub-committee, the committee and the full house level in both houses of the legislature, following which the House and Senate conferees must each vote separately to resolve differences, following which each chamber must adopt the Conference Committee Report before the President signs it. Count them up: it takes eleven positive responses in a row to pass a bill. To stop it, only a negative vote in one of the eleven places is needed. Passing a bill is almost as difficult as bowling a perfect game of ten pins.
B. Increased emphasis on better enforcement of laws already on the books: agency lobbying.
B1. Secure changes in the administrative rules governing immigration. For instance, the Immigration Service allows persons admitted for legal resident alien status to commute daily across both the Mexican and Canadian borders. This adds about 50 million border crossings a year to the total of 350 million, and makes the border that much more difficult to enforce. Let’s get them to stop this practice. Let’s follow up on Bob Park’s finding that employers of illegal aliens may be liable for withholding thirty percent of their wages in lieu of federal income taxes. This would get the IRS on our side, always an important ally. Let’s reverse Carter’s debilitating administrative rules on asylum.
B2. Develop strong relationships with the INS, and with the Bureau of Counselor Affairs in the State Department (which supervises the issuance of visas). Here I’m speaking of not just the people in Washington, but the workers in the field. We should recruit field people to membership, and get their ideas on how to change things, drawn form their perspective of daily work with the problem. The Departments of Labor and Education also have a piece of this pie, and we should get to know them as well.
B3. Secure employer sanctions by using legislation already on the books. Let’s get the INS to adopt and enforce our much more restrictive view of the Texas Proviso and the "protection" it offers to the employers of illegal aliens. If we can get employee sanctions this way, then suddenly our opposition will be on the outside looking in and will need to change the law. Here I have in mind the narrowing of the interpretation of the Texas Proviso.
B4. Secure appointments of our friends to positions on the Board of Immigration Appeals, to the Commissioner’s Post if Mr. Nelson leaves, as he will eventually, to other advisory boards in the INS and Justice Department.
B5. Look for other ways to enforce current laws. We’ve already done the background work with Dan Stein’s massive enforcement study. If we back away from our commitment to legislative lobbying, we’ll have the resources to do some of these other things.
C. Increased emphasis on litigation to prevent further weakening and increase enforcement of current laws.
C1. Challenge the Texas Proviso in court if necessary. If wecould get it thrown out, we would have employer sanctions without the amnesty that has been appended to it in Congress. Then we would have the same reversal of burdens that happened with the Supreme Court decision on abortion. We would then be king of the mountain. Our opposition would have to try to pass legislation to narrow employer sanctions, or to get amnesty passed without the bargaining chip of employer sanctions. The burden would be on their shoulders, and we’ve already seen above how difficult it is to pass something.
C2. Use the court system. We’ve done some of this, but we could work both harder and smarter. Our opposition has whittled away at many good laws, wounding them. We could help make good law by pursuing our own cases. And as we’ve learned, this research often shows ways to achieve changes without going to court, by working with the responsible agencies.
D. Shifting the emphasis of FAIR’s current programs: building for the long haul.
D1. Build the organization for the long term. This means strengthening our fund-raising, finding new major donors, funding the Endowment Fund and building our direct-mail membership.
D2. Work at the grass roots. This is difficult in immigration matters, where the federal government preempts the field. State-level employer sanction laws don’t seem to have worked very well. But perhaps we need to take some grass roots activity like picketing the plants of employers of illegal aliens. States could be encouraged to use the good offices of the INS to screen illegal aliens from their welfare and other benefit rolls, using the computer methods now available. In California for instance, the system is all set to go, but the political will is lacking to implement it. We could encourage our members to meet with the INS in their local areas to give moral support to balance their detractors.
D3. Build the political strength of the organization. Increasing our budget will do this, but so will finding more members through direct mail who can write, contribute and act on the local level.
D4 De-emphasize our media effort. This will be controversial, but Roger now spends a great deal of his time in this area. Will we need as much of this for the low-key behind-the-scenes approach suggested here? I think not, and we won’t have the time to undertake these measures unless Roger is freed up.
D5. "Go with the Flow." Governmental emphasis is now on balancing the budget, cutting expenditures and, where possible, increasing revenues. Let’s make proposals consistent with this emphasis, such as a system of user fees for immigration services. For instance, the government now charges $100 for the issuance of an immigrant visa, but nothing for non-immigrant visas, as many other countries do. Let’s change that. And let’s use the Grace Commission to help publicize the way in which we can cut government costs by getting illegal aliens off benefit rolls. In these times, such measures should attract wide support in these times [sic].
D6. Continue to build the intellectual basis for immigration law reform. Ideas will win out in the end, or so I believe. We should continue to produce thoughtful monographs, op-ed pieces and participate in conferences that enrich the intellectual base form which we operate. The advent of the Center for Immigration Studies is a major step forward in this regard.
These suggestions don’t exhaust the possibilities, but I believe they do show a way in which we can work around the current impasse of Mr. Rodino, accomplishing useful work, and maybe even achieve our goals in a different way. I recommend we give it a try.
cc: R. [Roger] Conner