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The Racist Roots of the Anti-Immigration Tanton Network

Shouting the quiet part to anyone who will listen.
May 14, 2021
The Racist Roots of the Anti-Immigration Tanton Network
A mother and child, 3, from El Salvador await transport to a processing center for undocumented immigrants after they crossed the Rio Grande into the United States on July 24, 2014 in Mission, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In early April the Center for Immigration Studies—one of America’s principal anti-immigration groups—suggested using American taxpayer dollars to promote “family planning” in Central America, worried that Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have a younger-than-average population with more women in child-bearing years and that “the further south one ventures from the States. . . the more births.”

Here’s how CIS put it:

Girls under the age of five currently will, 25 years from now, be in their peak years of fertility, and that cohort will be twice as large as that of the 25- to 29-year-olds now. Even with a sharp reduction in the number of births per 1,000 women, the total number of births in the nation will keep on climbing.

Making birth control more available than it is now—thus giving women in the Northern Triangle more control over childbearing decisions—and using federal dollars to expand these services, would seem to be a cornerstone for any development assistance strategy.

You might think that this is an odd proposal, but these two ideas—opposition to immigration and desire to limit reproduction in populations seen as “less”—-have a long history of keeping one another company.

The three most influential anti-immigration groups in politics today are the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies. All three groups were founded in part by John Tanton).

Tanton was an anti-population crusader who founded local chapters of Planned Parenthood and was president of the group Zero Population Growth. As global fertility rates fell, he focused more on opposing immigration. Bankrolled by a similarly obsessed heiress, Cordelia Scaife May, Tanton established a propaganda machine devoted to criticizing immigration from a perspective that mixed radical environmentalism and white nationalism.

Tanton and May didn’t just want to keep people out of their back yard. They wanted to keep them off their planet.

Thus Tanton, whose groups fight against what he called a “Latin onslaught,” also advocated for government policy to limit the years in which all American women could permissibly bear children, specifically “restricting childbearing to the years of maximum reproductive efficiency, between the ages of 20 and 35.” And May worried that when it came to immigrants, “their most dangerous contribution of all” was that they “breed like hamsters.”

May was arguably the less mentally stable of the two. She lived as a recluse for most of her adult life, had no children, suggested that her brother had murdered her husband, and committed suicide at the age of 76. She was also a big fan of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. In one letter to Sanger, May wrote, “I have always admired and tried to take a part in the work that you started.”

In another letter, May explained to Sanger that “The unwanted child is not the problem, but, rather, the wanted one that society, for diverse cultural reasons, demands.”

All of which sheds light on the new CIS recommendation that the American government work to prevent babies from being born in Central America.

There are other signs that CIS and its sister groups are continuing Tanton and May’s work.

CIS became the landing place for disgraced author Jason Richwine, who left the Heritage Foundation once his preoccupation with painting Hispanics as less intelligent than non-Hispanic whites came to light. “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against,” wrote Richwine.

Richwine was also a contributor to white-nationalist Richard Spencer’s website. Because, of course.

The history of anti-immigration activism demonstrates these recurring themes. The Pioneer Fund, for instance, is an unabashedly racist group started in the 1930s to promote “research in heredity and eugenics.” Over the last few decades, they’ve donated at least a million dollars to groups Tanton founded.

In 1993, Dan Stein, the current president of FAIR, bragged that “My job is to get every dime of Pioneer’s money” while longtime FAIR Board Member Garret Hardin claimed that “it would be better to encourage the breeding of more intelligent people rather than the less intelligent.”

Despite the Tanton network’s very public record of extremism, some Republicans still affiliate themselves with these groups. I was forwarded an email from a Republican Capitol Hill staffer that Jim Jordan’s office circulated in the run up to the recent floor vote on the Farm Worker Modernization Act. Jordan’s office referred to FAIR as a “stakeholder” and included a FAIR-produced document in opposition to the bill. In addition, Jordan previously did a local town hall event with a representative from FAIR.

Tanton network groups have been cited scores of times in the Congressional Record and the groups routinely brag on their respective websites about their invitations from Republican lawmakers. Ted Cruz even hired a FAIR operative to be on his Senate staff.

As the saying goes: when people tell you who they are, you should believe them.

Mario H. Lopez

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a nonpartisan public policy advocacy organization that advances liberty, opportunity, and prosperity for all.