The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is an immigration restriction organization that insists that it does not “discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, or creed.” But many have questioned that claim since revelations that FAIR’s legal arm essentially wrote the highly controversial Arizona law that critics say is certain to lead to racial profiling of Latinos.
Now comes another clue to the true nature of the organization behind the Arizona statute, which requires law enforcement officials to verify the immigration status of people they come into contact with if there is reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally. Critics, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have pointed out the law will lead to Latinos, including U.S. citizens, being repeatedly questioned by police and forced to continually prove their status.
FAIR files archived in the Gelman Library at George Washington University include a Jan. 9, 1990, note from Sidney Rawitz, then a board member of the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), FAIR’s legal arm. Rawitz, who once served as counsel to the government’s Immigration and Naturalization Service, was reacting angrily to an apparently overly favorable news story discussing the Cubans who came to Miami in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift. Rawitz was writing to Richard “Dick” Higgins, who was then IRLI’s executive director.
“What infuriates me most about this article is the use of Marielitos as examples of beneficial immigration,” Rawitz wrote to the IRLI leader. “There are facts and statistics galore about the criminals, homosexuals and defectives whom Castro visited upon this country when he opened up Mariel. Prisons, hospitals, and welfare rolls are heavily burdened by this influx — as you well know.”
Quite apart from Rawitz’s eyebrow-raising description of “criminals, homosexuals and defectives” — a phrase eerily reminiscent of the Nazis’ descriptions of their own enemies — the note revealed a high level of ignorance on the IRLI board member’s part a full decade after the boatlift. Although there was much publicity during the boatlift suggesting that the Marielitos were serious criminals being dumped in the United States by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the reality is that only about 2%, or some 2,746, of the 125,000 refugees were ultimately determined to be serious or violent criminals. Large numbers, in fact, were simply people who disagreed with aspects of the Castro regime. Economist David Carr also found that the boatlift entailed no negative effect on wages for any groups in Miami.
In recent years, IRLI has been active in helping to write anti-immigrant legislation for both states and localities. IRLI attorney Kris Kobach was a prime mover behind harsh ordinances in Farmer’s Branch, Texas, and Hazleton, Penn., among other places, that essentially punish those who aid undocumented immigrants. Kobach also was a key drafter of the new Arizona law.
Rawitz is far from the only FAIR official (IRLI is merely a program of FAIR, not a legally separate entity) to make disparaging comments about dark-skinned immigrants. For instance, FAIR President Dan Stein, who has long been part of IRLI’s governance structure, said in 1997 that “[i]mmigrants don’t come all church-loving, freedom-loving, God-fearing. Some of them firmly believe in socialist or redistributist [sic] ideas. Many of them hate America, hate everything the United States stands for. Talk to some of these Central Americans.”
John Tanton, the founder of FAIR and a current board member of the group, wrote in a 1993 letter, “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.” The SPLC has listed FAIR as a hate group since 2007 for reasons that are summarized here.