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Families First On Immigration
T he newly-formed Families First on Immigration is a coalition of such long-time conservative notables as former Republican Party presidential hopeful Gary Bauer, who heads American Values, former Bush advisor Deal Hudson of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture, and David Keene of the American Conservative Union. Families First is aiming to advance what it calls “religiously grounded positions on immigration.”
The Family Research Council, a Christian conservative lobbying group, sponsored a member poll that found that 90 percent of respondents chose forced deportation as the appropriate fate for the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. When Joan Maruskin, liberal director of the Church World Service Immigration Program, called the Bible “an immigration handbook” and argued in favor of amnesty at an April immigration conference organized by the FRC, observers noted that she received a decidedly tepid response.
In January Families First on Immigration sent letters to President Bush and leaders of Congress urging them “to adopt a grand compromise on the divisive issue that includes strong border security, an amnesty for illegals already here who are relatives of citizens and an end to birthright citizenship,” the Washington Times reported.
“Our position really is consistent with Christian teachings and with the rule of law,” said Manuel Miranda, chair of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of over 150 leaders that brought together more than 30 top conservatives on this issue. “Out of concern for keeping families together, the religious leaders propose granting citizenship to any illegal aliens in the country who are related to U.S. citizens. This would include anyone who has had a child born here, often referred to as an ‘anchor baby’” ( Washington Times ).
“In return, the federal government would end birthright citizenship, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of his parents’ legal status. The 14th Amendment says ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States’.”
“We weren’t surprised that leaders of the religious right finally got into the game,” Devin Burghart, program director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Chicago, Illinois-based Center for New Community, said in a phone interview. “The organization is trying to stake out a more moderate position than the Minutemen and other extremist anti-immigration organizations, and it is using a religious frame to try and woo supporters…. Although they claim to be in line with traditional religious teachings, they seem to be ignoring much of the Bible, particularly passages about welcoming strangers.”
“It’s a disingenuous attempt to appear to be not anti-Latino while at the same time pandering to their right-wing base,” Mark Potok, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said in a recent interview.
E arlier Miranda, former judicial nominations counsel to then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and to the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), “Until now, religious leaders have been criticized for staying uninvolved in the immigration debate…. This new coalition is bigger and broader than the Secure Border Coalition that dominated the debate on the right in the last go round.” Miranda, a key spokesperson for the coalition, “had one foot in the political graveyard” in 2004, according to a November 2005 report in the Hill . “In the wake of a Washington scandal, he had resigned his congressional post as lawmakers questioned his ethics and federal authorities investigated him. Most political observers believed that Miranda’s days as a player in the Republican Party were over,” the Hill noted.
By 2005 Miranda was once again “a widely respected leader among conservative activists” due to the “leading role” he played “in thwarting the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination.” Miranda told me in an interview that, “We are asking the president to reopen the debate [on immigration]. We have been circulating a policy paper for comment and review called ‘Good Stewards Good Neighbors’.” The policy paper will definitely “add something to the debate,” he said, but lamented that the “Democratic-controlled congress doesn’t seem eager to address immigration.”
A s mentioned earlier, at the heart of the Families First on Immigration proposal is the elimination of birthright citizenship. “Illegal immigration is a human tragedy that disrupts lives and separates families,” Families First on Immigration wrote in the letter to Bush, a letter that also places blame for the problem on officials in Mexico. “It is a failure of two governments: the one that fails its people and the one that invites their departure for cheap labor’s sake.”
In its letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Families First said that it “believe [s] that there is a need for such oversight [on immigration] as soon as possible. Our hope is that such oversight will lead to a better considered reform and a cohesive immigration policy that goes well beyond Band-Aid politics.”
Other conservatives have joined the coalition, including direct mail guru Richard A. Viguerie, Rev. Donald Wildmon of American Family Association, Rev. Louis Sheldon of Traditional Values Coalition, Rabbi Aryeh Spero of Caucus for America, and Paul Weyrich, one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement and current head of the Free Congress Foundation.
T he most abhorrent aspect of Families First on Immigration’s agenda is this removal of birthright citizenship, said Burghart, who has been tracking developments around immigration for several years. “It is an attack on civil rights in general and on the 14th Amendment specifically, which is a cornerstone of our democracy.” According to Burghart, Families First on Immigration “is hungry for new members and hopes to tap into a new funding stream. They saw how successful the Minuteman Political Action Committee was in raising money and they hope to strike while the iron is hot.” The organization appears to be “aimed at bridging the gap between the hard core anti-immigration movement and the religious right,” Burghart said.
Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potek believes that it is unlikely the group will have any “chance in a Democratic controlled Congress.” However, while the group may not have an immediate impact via legislation, it will no doubt try to “inject immigration issues into the heart of 2008 presidential campaign,” Burghart said. “If it is able to accomplish that, it will be seen as a success.”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative politics and movements.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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