Anti-Immigrant Groups Target Aid for Unaccompanied Minors

  • October 21, 2014

After spending the summer orchestrating a campaign in opposition to unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America, the anti-immigrant movement has now focused its attention on a new target—agencies that are aiding the children. Both national and local anti-immigrant groups, along with their allies in the right-wing/conspiracy orientated media, are attacking agencies that provide help to unaccompanied minors. Local anti-immigrant groups and conspiracy-orientated media outlets were also the primary perpetrators behind the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric this summer. Many groups and media outlets attempted to cre­ate a cli­mate of fear around immigration by claiming the children were bringing in diseases and were gang members.

National groups’ campaign against agencies aiding children

Many of the large national groups making up the core of the anti-immigrant movement including the extreme anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA, which organizes grassroots activists, are part of the campaign to attack these agencies. In July, NumbersUSA released a continually-updated map listing places where it believes the federal government will look to relocate the children, described by NumbersUSA as “illegal border surgers.” The map not only lists the locations but names the organizations seeking to house the children. The group claims the map provides activists with “actions they can take to help stop the government's dispersal of illegal aliens…” FAIR created a similar map in July also listing the name of the organizations seeking to help the children.

In a July 16 interview with the conspiracy theory-orientated website World Net Daily (WND), Don Barnett, a fellow with the anti-immigrant think tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), told WND he wants to see the federal government “reign in” grants and loans to charities resettling unaccompanied minors. In the same article, another CIS fellow, Dan Cadman, stated, “It bothers me that any private organization is using a government funding stream for that purpose, not only Catholic Charities but Lutheran World Service, the Episcopal Church, they’ve all got their hands in the pie.” He went on to claim the money sought by President Obama from Congress to respond to this crisis is, “not used in any useful way to stop this tidal wave of human beings.”

On October 1, Bob Dane, a spokesperson for FAIR, defended the residents of Lawrenceville, Virginia, after they protested a proposal to bring some unaccompanied minors to the town to be housed at a recently closed private college. Dane told, “Rather, this [sic] a community simply saying ‘no thanks’ to an unfunded federal mandate that would place individuals who have no legal right to reside in the United States within their community and impose additional taxpayer costs for education.”

State and local groups target agencies helping minors

Many of the state and local anti-immigrant groups working directly with national groups are also targeting organizations helping the children. Some of the protests in opposition to the arrival of unaccompanied minors took place outside of charity organizations or places of worship. Many of the local anti-immigrant groups also criticized charities for helping the children, claiming the charities are making money off of the crisis.

On September 18, the anti-immigrant group Help Save Maryland (HSM) circulated its newsletter which featured an article from the Baltimore Sun claiming a total of 2,800 unaccompanied minors from Central America resettled in the state of Maryland in 2014. HSM lamented the move by Maryland officials to relocate children in the state, asserting, “More good news for Maryland taxpayers! And we the people had zero say in the process thanks to the O’Malley/Brown (D) team.”

On August 6, anti-immigrant activists in New Port Richey, Florida, organized a protest outside of the Pasco County Government Center in response to a move to house children at a Jewish Community Center in Holiday, Florida. In the event page for the protest, the organizers stated, “STOP THE ILLEGAL INVASION. Please be advised The Darling Jewish Community Center in Holiday FL is housing illegal aliens through a Federal Government Grant.”

On July 13, activists protested outside St. Joseph’s Church in Fontana, California, in opposition to the Church providing assistance to children fleeing violence from Central America. Robin Hvidston, a participant in the first protests against the children in Murrieta, California, which received national attention due to the visceral anti-immigrant sentiment at the protests, also attended the protest in Fontana. When asked why she opposed the church providing assistance to the children Hvidston claimed it should be helping “American foster children, homeless veterans and unemployed Americans,” instead of providing “resources to foreign nationals who have crossed into the USA illegally." On July 19 in San Bernardino, California, activists including members of Robin Hvidston’s anti-immigrant group We The People Rising protested outside of the San Bernardino Diocese headquarters. The protest was part of two days of national protests in opposition to the children’s presence organized by anti-immigrant activists on July 18 and 19.

In early August, anti-immigrant activists in Houston unveiled a large banner on an overpass in the city. The banner read, “Catholic Charities + Open Borders Activists = Your Tax Dollars.” Stop The Magnet, a Houston-based anti-immigrant group responsible for organizing the banner protest, often writes blog posts criticizing charities for helping immigrants. On July 9, the anti-immigrant group Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now (IRON) circulated a newsletter criticizing Catholic Charities and also called on activists to “arm yourselves” in response to the children fleeing violence.

On July 14 in the town of Vassar, Michigan, anti-immigrant activists, some carrying AR-15 assault rifles, participated in a protest which ended outside of the Wolverine Human Services Pioneer Work and Learn Center – a proposed place of shelter for some of the unaccompanied minors. The organizer of the protest, Tamyra Murray, is FAIR’s state advisor for Michigan.

Conspiracy-orientated media and other outlets  

In a shift from framing the children as disease ridden and gang-affiliated, conspiracy orientated media outlets and anti-immigrant blogs also participated in attacks on agencies helping unaccompanied minors.  On October 4, the right-wing, conspiracy orientated Breitbart News Network published an article criticizing the Department of Health and Human Services for “funneling” money to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide legal aid for the unaccompanied minors.

Anti-immigrant groups often highlight and cite the Refugee Resettlement Watch, a blog started by Maryland resident Ann Corcoran in 2009.  She created the blog in part due to the belief that the U.S. government made a “grievous error” to take in Muslim refugees. Many state-based anti-immigrant groups circulated articles published on Refugee Resettlement Watch throughout the summer during the height of unaccompanied minors fleeing to the U.S. border. Corcoran wrote many articles during this time not only claiming the unaccompanied minors are bringing diseases into the United States, but also naming the organizations reaching out to help the children. In addition Corcoran often highlights anti-Muslim conspiracy theories on her blog.

The racist website, VDARE, founded by racist Peter Brimelow, published a blog on July 7 with the names and phone numbers of each states “refugee coordinator.” The blog encouraged activists to call the coordinators and ask, “Basic questions such as Where? When? How Many? And what’s it going to cost state and local taxpayers?” VDARE also asked activists to email a summary of the responses they received. Though VDARE is not one of the national anti-immigrant groups, many board members of these groups write blogs for the site and Brimelow often attends and participates in events organized by national anti-immigrant groups.

Future projections

According to migration experts, the number of children fleeing violence in Central American and seeking refuge in the United States will increase again in the coming months after a slowdown due to the heat in August and September. When the number of children seeking refuge increases again, the anti-immigrant groups will likely again speak out in opposition not only to the arrival of the children but against those helping them. In anticipation of an increase of children in the coming months, anti-immigrant groups are planning two more “national days of protest” to take place nationwide on October 24 and 25.  While many of these protests will take place on overpasses and other select locations, some of the protests will directly target those aiding the children. In previous protests, some participants carried out intimidating actions.