Anti-Immigrant Movement Implements Nativist State Strategies in 2014

March 20, 2014

While immigration reform did not pass at the federal level in 2013, the immigrant rights movement won many major victories at the state level.  Eight states passed laws extending driver’s license eligibility to undocumented immigrants, four states made undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition, and California passed a series of laws greatly expanding immigrant rights. In response, in 2014, the anti-immigrant movement is implementing a multi-pronged nativist strategy at the state and local level with several key goals in mind:  targeting President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order by attempting to undermine DACA provisions at the state level, such as driver’s licenses, in-state tuition and other public benefits for undocumented youth; using tactics to repress voting through voter-ID legislation to address the “danger” of alleged voter fraud; trying to block and overturn pro-immigrant legislation; and helping to draft and introduce anti-immigrant legislation, such as English-only laws, in states and municipalities where it feels the climate is ripe.

Attempting to Undermine DACA at the State Level

In June 2012, President Obama issued an executive order titled “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA). The pol­icy allows some eli­gi­ble undocumented youth who were not born in the U.S. but who were brought to the country at a young age to apply for tem­po­rary work autho­riza­tion, and calls for ICE agents to refrain from deporting them. In response, the anti-immigrant movement hopes to undermine DACA by attempting to block legislation at the state level granting in-state tuition, driver’s licenses and other public benefits to DACA recipients. This strategy starts at the national level with the extreme anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA, the anti-immigrant movement’s grassroots mobilizing arm.  The two groups track inclusive immigration legislation at the state level and then advise their members and activists in that state on how to push back against it by informing members about hearings, providing talking points in opposition to the legislation or drafting testimony or letters to be read at the hearings. At the state level, a number of well-established anti-immigrant groups, many formed with the help of groups like FAIR, also mobilize against the legislation. Both FAIR and NumberUSA have staff dedicated to coordinating with local anti-immigrant groups and activists on the ground around pro-immigrant bills. In 2012, FAIR hired staff to fill two newly created positions in the organization: a state and local associate as well as a state and local director. One role the associates play is to draft letters to key state level officials, agencies and universities urging them not to provide services to DACA recipients.

In-State Tuition

Since the enactment of DACA, there has been a major push throughout the country to provide DACA recipients with in-state tuition. The anti-immigrant movement sees banning in-state tuition for DACA recipients as a key strategy in its attempts to undermine the executive order. In December 2013, FAIR sent a letter to the Arizona Board of Regents encouraging it not to extend in-state tuition to DACA recipients. In the letter, FAIR argued among other things that granting in-state tuition for DACA recipients would “serve as a perverse incentive for illegal aliens to move to Arizona.” In Virginia, when DACA recipients sued the Council of Higher Education for Virginia in order to receive in-state tuition, NumbersUSA published an article on its website about the move, arguing the DACA recipients’ “lack of legal status” would impact the case. Ultimately, the Council of Higher Education for Virginia denied the request by DACA students and on January 28, 2014, FAIR sent a letter thanking the Council for its decision.

Along with attempting to stop DACA recipients from receiving in-state tuition, the anti-immigrant movement is also actively working to block bills granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, regardless of DACA eligibility. In December, FAIR sent letters to four universities in Florida in response to a call from students to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants in the state. In North Carolina, FAIR and the most active anti-immigrant group in North Carolina, NC Listen, sent letters and documents to the state’s attorney general encouraging him to issue an advisory opinion stating that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for in-state tuition.  In an opinion citing state and federal law, the attorney general advised that all undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients, are ineligible for in-state tuition.  In another example of national and state-based anti-immigrant groups coordinating in an attempt to derail pro-immigrant legislation, a New Jersey-based anti-immigrant activist recently testified at a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing in opposition to an in-state tuition bill and also read a letter from FAIR’s state and local director, Dale Wilcox.  In New Jersey, the anti-immigrant movement’s attempts to thwart the in-state tuition bill were unsuccessful.   In January 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the bill into law.

In late 2013, FAIR published an updated guide for its activists titled, “Building a Political Movement: A Guide for Community-Based Activism.” The updated guide contains numerous talking points for activists to use when voicing opposition to in-state tuition, including claiming the policy would “promote illegal immigration” and arguing that granting in-state tuition would create “competition for scarce resources.” As the push for granting in-state tuition for DACA recipients and undocumented youth continues, the anti-immigrant movement will likely oppose legislation at the state level through continued coordination between state-based and national anti-immigrant groups.

Driver’s Licenses

As immigrant rights groups push for more states to offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, there is also a concurrent push for states to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The anti-immigrant movement is also actively working to block this legislation. The Georgia-based anti-immigrant group Dustin Inman Society (DIS) is working to halt the issuing of drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. DIS is encouraging its members to call their elected officials and demand that DACA recipients not receive driver’s licenses. In a recent email to supporters, DIS founder D.A. King urged members to warn elected officials that they will be voted out of office if they continue to provide this service for undocumented immigrants.  FAIR’s new activist toolkit also contains a sample letter with talking points to use in opposition to providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.  The sample letter claims providing licenses “cannot be effectively implemented while guaranteeing the safety of our communities” and also asserts that undocumented immigrants “often depend on foreign or forged documents.”

In some cases, the anti-immigrant movement continues the fight against pro-immigrant bills even after the measure has been signed into law. In 2013, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), the state’s major anti-immigrant group, with the help of national anti-immigrant groups, gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the 2014 ballot repealing the state’s law that granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. In its January 2014 newsletter, FAIR announced its field, legislative and media teams will be assisting Oregon-based anti-immigrant activists with the referendum election. OFIR announced it plans to start a voter education campaign after its next monthly meeting in March. The successful petition drive organized by FAIR and OFIR could be replicated in other states in 2014 and beyond. After the recent passage of a number of pro-immigrant laws in California, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), the largest anti-immigrant group in the state, told members it is “exploring and pursuing ways [lawsuits, referenda] to fight the current slew of state legislation promoting endless population growth.”

Voter ID/Voter Suppression

Voter ID legislation

In 2014, the anti-immigrant movement plans to push for greater voter registration restrictions in the form of voter ID legislation, all in the name of combatting voter fraud. Though the myth of rampant cases of voter fraud in U.S. elections has been widely discredited, the anti-immigrant movement continues to claim that undocumented immigrants are voting in elections. Elected officials with ties to the anti-immigrant movement are also pushing this agenda. Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and a lawyer for the anti-immigrant Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of FAIR, is the anti-immigrant movement’s most vocal proponent of voter ID legislation. The movement is also looking at the 2014 elections as an opportunity to select like-minded politicians ready to advance its voter ID agenda. 

In Kobach’s home state of Kansas, where he led the efforts to pass a strict voter ID law in 2011, he is now proposing a two-tiered system of voter registration. Last year, in Arizona v. The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law that required people to show proof of citizenship to register to vote, finding that because federal voter registration forms require a signature affirming citizenship, the state could not require further proof.  In the wake of that decision, both Kansas and Arizona are suing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in an effort to force residents of the states to present proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. At the same time, the states are attempting to create two voter rolls, allowing people who have not provided proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections, but barring them from voting in any state elections. Kobach is also actively seeking to spread his “Interstate Voter Registration Cross-Check” program. The program allows participating states to cross-check voter rolls in participating states to identify and remove voters registered in more than one state. In January 2014, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Kobach ally, announced that his state will participate in the Cross-Check program.  

Kris Kobach is not the only politician with a history of anti-immigrant activity advocating for voter ID legislation. In Pennsylvania, for example, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge recently ruled that Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s voter ID law was unconstitutional. Metcalfe is the founder of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a coalition of anti-immigrant state legislators who work directly with FAIR and IRLI to draft and introduce anti-immigrant legislation. As a major shift towards the introduction and passage of pro-immigrant legislation continues at the state level, SLLI’s membership and activity has declined dramatically. In 2014 however, the anti-immigrant movement hopes to push voter ID legislation at the state level and Kris Kobach has continued to recruit other secretaries of state to join his Cross-Check program.

Secretary of State (SOS) PAC

With an eye on the 2014 mid-term elections, a new Political Action Committee (PAC) named “Secretary of State PAC” (SOS PAC) announced its launch earlier this year. The PAC is targeting nine secretary of state races in 2014 with a goal of electing or re-electing secretaries who are in favor of “smart voting” policies.  For example, SOS PAC and the anti-immigrant movement have high hopes for Arkansas, where secretary of state Mark Martin, a supporter of strict voter ID laws, filed for re-election in February. Arkansas’s new voter ID took effect law on January 1, 2014, and Martin’s office implemented new regulations. Martin also sits on the national advisory committee of Kobach’s Secure States Initiative, a group seeking to encourage states to take action on immigration issues such as enacting voter ID legislation.  The anti-immigrant movement sees the position of secretary of state as a powerful one with a lot of influence over elections. As the 2014 election cycle starts moving into higher gear in the coming months, Kobach and other anti-immigrant activists plan to announce similar endorsements of candidates who share their ideas on voter ID.

California voter ID ballot Initiative signature drive

In California, a push for a voter ID referendum to qualify for the 2014 mid-term elections is underway. Though not initially started by the anti-immigrant movement, California-based anti-immigrant groups, such as We the People Rising, support the campaign run by the Tea Party organization “Guard My Vote.” The campaign provides an opportunity for Tea Party and anti-immigrant activists in the state to work together to gather the 500,000 plus signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the 2014 election. One of the organizations behind the voter ID signature drive, the Election Integrity Project (EIP), is made up of Tea Party activists working to “protect” elections in the state. EIP’s mentor organization is True the Vote, a national organization dedicated to combating voter fraud. The anti-immigrant movement and True the Vote have worked together in other cities and states, most recently in Fremont, Nebraska, where residents voted to uphold an anti-immigrant housing ordinance in the city.

Other Anti-Immigrant State-Level Tactics for 2014

Promotion of English-only legislation

U.S. English and ProEnglish, two anti-immigrant organizations promoting English-only policies, plan to work with elected officials to introduce English-only measures at the state and local levels in 2014. Instead of introducing a bill at the state level in a state that does not designate English as its official language, the anti-immigrant movement is attempting to get as many counties in that state to pass English-only measures in order to build a case for a statewide English-only law. Already in 2014, Polk County, Wisconsin voted to declare English as the county’s official language. U.S. English and ProEnglish will be looking to mimic that success in other counties in Wisconsin as well as the other 18 states that do not recognize English as the official language.

Targeting Sanctuary Policies

In 2014, the anti-immigrant movement wants to target cities and states introducing and passing sanctuary policies and laws designed to increase trust between immigrants and law enforcement. Legislators in a number of states will likely introduce legislation, commonly referred to the Trust Act, that seeks to limit local law enforcement’s involvement with immigration enforcement. In Maryland, where lawmakers have already introduced a Trust Act, Help Save Maryland (HSM), the largest anti-immigrant group in the state, is actively working with FAIR to try and derail the legislation. HSM activists plan to testify at Trust Act hearings in the Maryland legislature at the end of February and beginning of March. In January, FAIR published a “fact sheet” on the Maryland Trust Act and in February, it published a two- page document of talking points for Maryland anti-immigrant activists to use in their testimony against the bill. One of the talking points claims the Trust Act would “create safe havens that facilitate criminal activity.” FAIR’s updated activist toolkit also includes three pages of talking points for activists to use in opposition to sanctuary policies.  As versions of the Trust Act are introduced in other states during the 2014 legislative session, the anti-immigrant movement will assuredly oppose the bills and encourage politicians not to vote in favor of them.