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Anti-immigrant groups clash with sanctuary policies in six states

Parts of southern California have become a recent flashpoint of opposition to the state’s broader “sanctuary” policies.

Around 25 cities in the region have voted to opt out of the California Values Act (SB 54), statewide legislation that prevents local law enforcement from detaining immigrants based solely on immigration status. 

As recently highlighted by the The Los Angeles Times, national anti-immigrant hate groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) have helped orchestrate a campaign to gin up opposition to California’s pro-immigrant policies.

The southern California anti-sanctuary frenzy has received a lot of attention, mostly due to the racism and bigotry that’s been prevalent at city council meetings where the voting has taken place. However, FAIR, IRLI and other anti-immigrant groups across the country have been involved in other legislative and litigation efforts in an attempt to put pressure on and dismantle other sanctuary and “welcoming” city policies.

The anti-immigrant movement has enjoyed unprecedented influence under President Donald Trump’s administration. Groups like FAIR are now witnessing many of their extreme restrictive immigration policy goals being put into action. Former hate group staffers like FAIR’s Julie Kirchner and are also now employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime ally to anti-immigrant groups, is battling with sanctuary cities across the country, including California, but continues to face resistance and setbacks. Sessions, however, recently made it clear that his Department of Justice is more than willing to tear families apart in order to carry out Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.

While nativist groups have more allies and influence at the national level than ever before, promoting anti-immigrant measures at the state and local level has been a long-time strategy. On top of significantly limiting immigration to the country, groups like FAIR have been proponents of mass deportations and other “attrition through enforcement” policies. These policies reflect the vision of FAIR’s founder John Tanton, who wrote in 1993, "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."

Following are some of the other anti-sanctuary efforts FAIR, IRLI, and other anti-immigrant groups have been involved with in other states across the country. 


On April 25, the Tennessee legislature passed House Bill 2315. The bill seeks to further prohibit cities in the state from adopting sanctuary policies, deputize local law enforcement as immigration agents, and encourage residents to report suspected undocumented immigrants to the Department of Justice. Tennessee already passed an anti-sanctuary law in 2009, which questions the necessity of this latest bill. On Monday, Governor Bill Haslam, who had until May 22 to either sign, veto or take no action, said he would allow the bill to pass without his signature. 

HB 2315 passed out of the legislature shortly after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a meatpacking plant in East Tennessee and detained nearly 100 immigrants, many of which had children that depended on them. 

FAIR staffers have been involved in drumming up support for anti-sanctuary initiatives in Tennessee. According to The Tennessee Star, FAIR’s State and Local Director Shari Rendall spoke to the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which supported SB 2332, the Senate companion bill to HB 2315. Rendall reportedly told the committee “sanctuary policies come in all shapes and sizes” and to be wary of some that “masquerade as ‘welcoming resolutions.’”

Aside from being a harsh bill, HB 2315 has been mired in racism. While discussing the anti-sanctuary measure to the House Finance, Ways and Means subcommittee in early April, State Rep. Jay Reedy, one of the co-sponsors, used the racial slur “w------” twice in an anecdote about encountering an undocumented Latino migrant worker when he was a kid. 

HB 2315 faced other criticism as well. David Plazas, the opinion engagement editor at The Tennesseanpenned an op-ed about the bill, claiming, among other things, that it “reeks of overreach.” Plazas also warned, “[e]ncouraging people to make complaints to the Attorney Generals’ office carries the risk of promoting vigilantism and racial profiling.” In a statement released on May 21, Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, a local immigrant rights organization that opposed HB 2315, said Haslam “caved to the most extreme fringe of the electorate. He chose hate and fear over good governance.”


On April 10, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law banning sanctuary jurisdictions in the state. Senate Fil 481, like other anti-sanctuary policies, designates local law enforcement to act as immigration agents and serve as a de facto arm of ICE. A section of the law also says state funds can be withheld from jurisdictions that do not comply with the new anti-sanctuary policy. 

SF 481 was primarily backed by Iowa chapter of the nativist extremist group Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (MCDC). In fact, the Minutemen were one of only two groups to register in support of the bill. MCDC is a group mostly known for its vigilantism on the southern border. Many of the group’s members have a history of violence and extreme rhetoric directed toward immigrants. While a few Minutemen chapters remain active, the group has been in decline since its heyday in the mid-aughts.

FAIR’s Shari Rendall lauded SF 481’s passage. In an article published April 5 on FAIR’s website, Rendall responded to criticism that local law enforcement tasked with carrying out federal immigration laws can sow distrust between immigrant communities and officers. 

She wrote, “most illegal aliens don’t cooperate with police--even in sanctuary cities--because the vast majority come from countries where law enforcement is either corrupt or serves as a tool of state oppression.”

Local law enforcement was opposed to the bill, however. For example, the Iowa Police Chiefs Association publicly came out against it

"This will not help policing at all. It will erode trust and confidence in law enforcement, and we're concerned," Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly told lawmakers during a January hearing on the bill at the state capitol. 


Anti-immigrant groups have also used litigation tactics to go after “welcoming” city initiatives. On May 9, IRLI co-filed its second lawsuit in the state of Indiana against the city of East Chicago. The lawsuit claims that local welcoming ordinances adopted by East Chicago prohibiting local law enforcement from detaining immigrants for ICE is in violation of Indiana's anti-sanctuary law. 

IRLI co-filed a similar lawsuit against the city of Gary, Indiana in December of 2017. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson originally responded with a statement: "We look forward to vigorously defending this lawsuit. This will not dampen our efforts to make Gary an open community." 

Since then, the state of Indiana has intervened with the lawsuit as a plaintiff. Meanwhile, Gary hopes to dismiss the case and has obtained legal help from Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the Public Rights Project.

A common plaintiff in both of the lawsuits filed by IRLI is longtime, Indiana-based anti-immigrant activist Greg Serbon. Serbon is the state director of the anti-immigrant group Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement (IFIRE), which has worked closely with FAIR over the years and was previously listed as a state contact group for the organization. With help from FAIR, Serbon co-founded IFIRE in 2004 with Cheree Calabro, another one of the plaintiffs in IRLI’s suit against Gary. 


The anti-immigrant hate group Oregonians for American Immigration Reform (OFIR) is looking to overturn the state’s sanctuary policy via referendum. OFIR is currently collecting signatures to get “Initiative Petition 22 -- Stop Oregon Sanctuaries” on the ballot in November 2018. The group needs to gather 88,184 signatures by July 2018 to qualify for the ballot. 

To date, FAIR has donated over $60,000 to the anti-sanctuary campaign, with the most recent $30,000 coming in February. IRLI donated $5,000 to the campaign in October of 2017 and U.S., Inc., John Tanton’s umbrella organization, donated $3,000 to the effort in August 2017.


The anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is working with state legislators and other public officials to push back against a proposed budget amendment that would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state. State Sen. James Eldridge recently filed S. 1305 to the 2019 fiscal budget, which seeks to prevent local law enforcement from collaborating with ICE and prohibits officers from inquiring about immigration status, among other things. The amendment has received pushback from immigration hardliners in the state. 

State Sen. Ryan Fattman, known for his controversial stance n immigration, proposed his own amendment that would allow law enforcement to honor ICE detainers and hold immigrants up to 24 hours. On May 17, Fattman held a press conference that featured CIS’s Jessica Vaughn. During the event, Fattman said he worked with Vaughn on the amendment, saying it was her idea to increase the hold time from 12 to 24 hours. During her remarks at the press event, Vaughn called the widely reported phenomenon known as the “chilling effect” among undocumented immigrants, a “myth.”

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson also spoke at the press conference. Hodgson remains a strident law enforcement ally to anti-immigrant groups. The sheriff sits on FAIR’s national board of advisors and has been a regular participant at events organized by the anti-immigrant group over the years. During the press event, Hodgson called Eldridge’s amendment “outrageous” and “anti-citizen.” Last year, Hodgson made national headlines when he offered to send inmates in his correction facility to the border to help construct Trump’s border wall.


Another band of activists in California are trying to attack the state’s sanctuary policies via a different route. On April 18, Donald Rosenberg filed a ballot initiative to repeal parts of the California Values Act (SB 54) and the Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450). 

Rosenberg is part of an activist outfit calling themselves the Fight Sanctuary State Movement. The so-called movement is mainly comprised of four individuals. The outfit’s main spokesperson is Ben Bergquam, a local conservative activist and radio host. Bergquam was affiliated with a recent failed attempt to file a referendum that would veto SB 54. 

The other members, Rosenberg, Agnes Gibboney, and Sabine Durden, all had family members who were tragically killed by undocumented immigrants. All three are involved with another activist group, Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC), which is appears to be tied to FAIR. On June 28, 2017, Susan Tully, FAIR’s national field director, posted a photo with Durden on Facebook with the caption: “Working with our new group AVIAC.” 

AVIAC was officially launched on June 27, 2017, a day before FAIR’s annual radio and lobbying event “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” kicked off. Rosenberg was present at FAIR’s conference, conducting interviews with radio shows that were broadcasting from the event. 

Going after sanctuary and welcoming cities is all part of FAIR, IRLI, and other group’s greater anti-immigrant agenda. As the Trump administration continues its anti-immigrant campaign from the nation’s capital, these groups are more than willing to do their part at the state and local level.


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