Supporters of an initiative to tighten state immigration laws got a significant portion of their funding from a man described by human rights organizations as the driving force behind “immigration hate groups.”
John Tanton, a retired physician from northern Michigan, has set up a network that tries to use fear to change immigration policy, the Southern Poverty Law Center contends. The center’s list of hate groups nationwide includes several of the groups Tanton founded.
Tanton, however, said it is the Alabama-based law center that’s intolerant, misrepresenting his views and playing a “gotcha game” over the issue of immigration. To the claim that he is a white nationalist, he replied: “I flatly deny the charges.”
In April, Tanton gave $5,000 to Respect Washington, which supports Initiative 1043. That was about a third of what the campaign raised through early June, when it made its most recent report to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Tanton and campaign coordinator Craig Keller both acknowledged the amount this week.
Tanton said Friday he gave the money to Respect Washington because of his interest in immigration and because he supports the initiative process. He has supported other proposals, including so-called English-only initiatives in Colorado and Arizona.
Over the last month, Respect Washington paid to print and distribute more than 100,000 copies of I-1043 in newspapers, including The Spokesman-Review.
The group wants the state to verify citizenship of people seeking government services such as driver’s licensing. The initiative also would require employers to verify citizenship when hiring workers. Respect Washington sponsored a similar measure as an initiative to the Legislature last year, but it didn’t get enough signatures to turn it in.
Pramila Jayapal, executive director of One America, said she is concerned the proposal will make the ballot. The Seattle-based immigrant rights group opposes the initiative, saying it doesn’t address the real problems with the immigration system.
Jayapal, who researched and wrote about Tanton for Yes magazine, considers the anti-immigration groups that Tanton founded to be extremist.
The Center for New Community, a Chicago-based human rights organization, considers groups founded by Tanton to study or support controls on immigration to be “hate groups,” communications director Jill Garvey said.
“They really only go after immigrants of color,” Garvey said.
Not so, Tanton said. His concern about immigration centers around economics, as the United States and other nations face massive migration of people from poorer countries willing to work for far less.
Much of the objections of One America, Center for New Community and other immigration rights groups are based on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s research, which characterizes 13 groups founded or funded by Tanton as hate groups. About seven years ago, the law center published a report calling Tanton a “puppeteer” who built a network of organizations opposing U.S. immigration policy that has links to racist individuals and groups, and who supports eugenics.
Tanton accuses the law center’s researchers of digging through decades of records to find anything possible to tie him to racists or eugenics, which is a discredited theory of improving the human race through breeding.
“I’m interested in genetics, and where it’s taking medicine today,” he said, not eugenics. He said he is not a racist.
By calling him a racist, Tanton contends, the law center and other groups avoid talking about what he considers the real questions of immigration policy, such as how many immigrants a country should admit, who should get those admission slots, and how a host country enforces its rules.