African-American Coalition Provides Cover to Nativist Lobby

The anti-immigrant lobby has long enjoyed influence in Washington but in recent years has been forced to defend itself against charges that it represents the narrow interests of white nationalists who fear the “browning” of America.

So it may have surprised some when a new coalition of African-American activists, called the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), announced its opposition to legislation that could provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented Latino immigrants.

In a June 3 letter to members of Congress, BALA claimed the proposed bill “will harm black American workers more than any other group” because “[m]ass immigration and amnesty puts African Americans from all walks of life out of work and suppresses wages, causing them to compete with aliens willing to work in poorer working conditions for cheaper pay.”

What BALA did not say in that letter — or during a press conference in April when it called itself the African American Leadership Council — was anything about its provenance. There’s a good reason for that. It turns out that BALA is simply the latest front group for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the flagship of a network of anti-immigrant organizations formed by the white nationalist John Tanton.

When it first emerged in April, BALA was openly sponsored by another FAIR front called Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), purportedly an organization concerned about the environmental impact of immigration. As late as June, the media spokesperson and phone number listed on BALA’s press releases were associated with PFIR.

BALA is not the first African-American front group formed by FAIR. In 2006, an organization called Choose Black America (CBA), appeared on the scene. Its black “members” were selected, flown to a press conference in Washington and lodged there by FAIR. The group’s spokesman was a white FAIR official.

Though CBA fell apart soon after its debut, the Tanton network’s dream of appearing to represent a rainbow coalition did not die with it. In 2011, FAIR briefly sponsored Blacks for Equal Rights Coalition, a Los Angeles-based anti-immigration organization that has been celebrated by the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.

BALA’s members include a familiar cast of Tanton allies, notable among them Leah Durant, an African-American lawyer who is also PFIR’s executive director. Durant, who once worked for FAIR’s legal arm, also spoke at a press conference held to announce the creation of CBA.

Durant is not the only former CBA member on BALA’s roster. Others are Jesse Lee Peterson, an African-America pastor who once thanked God for slavery, and Frank Morris, who is sometimes described as BALA’s leader. Morris, a veteran anti-immigration activist with a doctorate in political science from M.I.T., is also a board member at both FAIR and the Tanton-affiliated Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). T. Willard Fair, also a BALA member, sits with Morris on the CIS board.

Fair, who has a respectable history of advocating for African Americans, has worked with Tanton-linked front groups before. In 2007, he lent his face to an anti-immigration ad campaign by the Coalition for the Future American Worker, a purportedly pro-labor organization whose constituent members included not a single union but did include an alphabet soup of nativist groups founded and/or funded by Tanton’s network.

BALA’s other members include Vernon Robinson, a North Carolina politician who once accused President Obama of subscribing to “loony, vile, anti-America, anti-Whitey, anti-Semitic, pro-reparations, black liberation theology”; pundit Leo Alexander, who claims black people were better off under Jim Crow; Charles Butler, a conservative Chicago radio host and gun rights activist; and Kevin Jackson, executive director of The Black Sphere, a black conservative group that claims to desire an end to “identity politics.”