opthamologist in Petoskey because, he says, even if his patients didn‘t
like his views they weren‘t likely to change doctors. The next eye surgeon was hundreds
of miles away.
So the nature-loving small town doctor developed an extremely active
political life. He became a committed environmentalist and used his education and
organizational skills to protect virgin forest in the U.P. and to establish
the Little Traverse Land Conservancy and the Michigan Environmental Defense
His work to protect Michigan‘s environment has been immense, but this
guy is not your average tree hugger. He has bigger, national reputation
for a very different type of social activism. In a book recently featured in the
Express on April 4 (1) Tanton says that an “instinctive territorialism“ has driven
him to protect the “national culture“ from the threat of fertile immigrant women.
Tanton has served in leadership positions in the Sierra Club and Planned
Parenthood and he founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform,
the Social Contract Journal (2) and U.S. English, which promotes “English
only“ policies. Tanton‘s organizations have budgets in the millions, national
scope and have been invited to give testimony before Congress.
Rightwingers know Tanton as the “dean of the immigration reform movement“.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group monitoring organization,
calls Tanton and his organization FAIR, “racist“ and “anti-immigration“. SPLC
notes that FAIR received more than a million dollars from the Pioneer Fund, a
foundation established by eugenicists to advance genetic arguments for the
superiority of whites. (3)
With the backing of this ultra-rightwing organization, Tanton began to
advance the argument that we must close the national borders for
environmental reasons, and as chair of the Sierra Club population
committee, he was well positioned to do it.
In a scandalous1986 memo Tanton said “ ...will the present majority
peacefully give up its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?
....Sierra Club might not want to touch the immigration issue, but the
immigration issue will touch the Sierra Club! ...These concerns must be
raised by liberals, if conservatives do it the whole issue will be tainted.“
In one of the most divisive debates ever within the environmental
movement the Sierra Club was asked to adopt a policy to reduce the natural population
increase (births minus deaths) and reduce net immigration (immigration
There was a massive lobbying campaign. Tanton‘s Social Contract magazine
sent 20,000 videos to Sierra Club members, urging them to spread the
But in the end, the nations largest environmental group decided in 1998
by a vote of 60.1 to 39.8 to reject the proposal and stay neutral on
In an article by the Environmental News Service, Seirra Club Executive
Director, Carl Pope called the vote a “resounding defeat for a misguided
policy.“ The Club said that global population growth is an environmental
problem but that immigration is a symptom of overpopulation, not the
“Blaming immigrants for environmental problems is a rightwing strategy to
win liberals and traditionally white environmentalists over to the
anti-immigration camp“ said Mitra Ragestar of Political Research
Associates, an independent research center that studies bigotry and
The environmental argument against immigration downplays the fact that it
is the habits of American consumers,the policies of the US government,
corporations, and the current global economic model that is largely to blame for environmental degradation.
According to Rohe‘s book on the Tantons, with only 5 percent of the
population, the U.S. is generating 72% of the world‘s toxic waste.
Why focus on U.S. immigration policy as an environmental issue when other U.S.
policies such as abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol and exempting the
military from environmental laws is causing massive environmental destruction
across the globe?
According to a recent study by the Michigan Land Resource Project, the
rate of land use in Michigan is accelerating at 8 times the rate of population
growth. Michigan‘s forests and farmland are being destroyed as people abandon
cities like Detroit and Saginaw and sprawl across the countryside.
More than expanding population and immigration, patterns of consumption
are eating up natural resources.
U.S. policies force people into migration.
According to Political Ecology Group, a California based immigrant rights
organization, NAFTA alone has displaced 300,000 Mexican farm workers by
dumping corn and rice on the Mexican market at below cost, destroying the
“Immigration cannot be framed as a domestic issue only,“ said Cathi
Tachtaquin, director of the National Network for Immigrant Rights. “it
must be seen within the context of globalization. We must look at the impact of
foreign policies, economic policies and U.S. participation in the World
What “national culture“ are the anti-immigration people defending?
There‘s a long history of distrust of foreigners in this country (4) . A
fear of outsiders combined with a belief in the superiority of one‘s
homeland has bred “nativist“ movements which have argued that those who
are not white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant cannot be real Americans. The
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Palmer raids, and the internment of
127,000 Japanese Americans during WWII are examples of policies brought
about by nativist sentiment.
Nativist movements tend to flourish during economic downturns. Rooted in
racism, these movements mobilize fears and resentment about economic and
cultural issues, and scapegoat immigrants. They say immigrants are
hurting the economy, draining social service resources and stealing jobs.
In reality, liberalized trade laws which allow corporations to relocate
to places where there is cheap labor are a main cause of decline in good
paying, unionized jobs - not immigrants.
Studies by the Urban Institute, a non-partisan economic and social policy
research organization, have found that immigrants pay more in taxes than
they receive in benefits and that they start more small businesses than
the general population, generating new jobs. The Institute found that
among poor families with children immigrants have lower use rates for
welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid both before and after welfare reform. Since 1996
immigrants must wait five years to receive food stamps, Medicaid and
other federal benefits.
Since September 11th there has been a severe increase in hate crimes
against those perceived to be Arabs and Muslims. Racist vigilantes have
burnt mosques and community centers. The Michigan ACLU (6) says their
phones are busy with immigrants reporting discrimination and harassment
on the job, at school and by police who are using racial profiling
against people of Middle Eastern descent. Over 1200 people of Middle
Eastern and Asian descent have been rounded up in mass secret detention
by the INS, mostly for minor infractions unrelated to terrorism. The
PATRIOT Act has contributed to an atmosphere of fear by vastly expanded
government powers of surveillance, detention and punishment. George W.
Bush has signed an executive order allowing non-citizens to be tried in
secret military tribunals.
In the recent Express profile of John Rohe and his book on the Tantons
Rohe describes the fertility of Afgani and Palestinian women as “a powder
keg ready to explode“. Rohe‘s choice of Afgani and Palestinan women as
examples mirrors a trend nationwide. The enviromental argument against
immigration is on its way out. The anti-immigration movement has retooled
its focus to play on national security fears and they are finding a much
1. Mary Lou & John Tanton: A Journey Into American Conservation, John
Rohe, 2002, FAIR Horizon Press
2. Social Contract Press, based in Petoskey is listed by the Southern
Poverty Law Center as a hate group because it publishes racist materials
like the book The Camp of the Saints which describes “kinky-haired“
,“swarthy-skinned“ and “swivel-hipped“ menials destroying the
civilization of white France.
3. In the interest of “uniting people under one nation committed to
freedom and democracy“, on April 30, 1997 the Grand Traverse County
Commission adopted English as the official language of Grand Traverse
County. After public outcry the resolution was amended to “recognize the
wealth and diversity of laguage used by the Grand Traverse County
residents.“ English is now the official “working language“ of Grand
Traverse County Commissioners.
4. Ferris State University professor Barry Mehler has studied the Pioneer
extensively, for more info on the fund or on the history of eugenics in
United States see the website for the Institute for the Study of Academic
5. Info and analysis from Defending Immigrants Rights: An Activist
Resource Kit available from Political Research Associates, 1310 Broadway,
Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144.
6. House Bill 5497, currently before the Michigan House, would deny
driver‘s licenses to many legal immigrants according to William Flory of
the Michigan ACLU.