The organization that funded Sheriff Chuck Jenkins’ trip to Texas is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group and described as anti-immigrant with links to white supremacism.
But Jenkins rejected the law center’s claims about the group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
“I don’t believe that myself,” Jenkins said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Texas.
FAIR invited Jenkins to accompany six other sheriffs from across the nation to assess the potential local impact of the recent border surge. They funded his trip to McAllen, Texas, for a firsthand look, according to Lt. Jennifer Bailey, acting spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
Jenkins said he decided to go on the trip because he serves on the immigration and border subcommittee with the National Sheriffs’ Association and because the recent border surge has become a concern.
He said FAIR provided the money but added that the sheriffs were working independently.
“This is our fact-finding mission,” Jenkins said. “I came to see the magnitude of the problem. I feel it’s very important. It’s right that we came down here.”
Today and Thursday, the sheriffs are to meet with state and federal officials dealing with the situation and will call for definitive laws to prevent the influx of illegal immigrants, many of whom are children, according to Bailey.
Founded in 1979, FAIR is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest organization with more than 250,000 members and supporters nationwide. According to its website, the group works to reform the nation’s immigration policies to “serve the national interest.”
Currently, the group is calling for a halt on immigration, except for spouses and children of citizens and some refugees, in order to create comprehensive immigration reform that would control borders and reduce immigration levels to a “more traditional” rate.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which says it works to fight against hate and for the justice of society’s most vulnerable, claims that the reform group’s beliefs are rooted in hate with ties to white supremacists, and their members and leaders have made racist statements in the past.
The Arizona Republic published excerpts of memos written by FAIR founder John Tanton in 1988 in which he wrote about a “Latin onslaught” and Latinos’ low “educability,” according to SPLC. In 1993, he proposed a group called the League for European American Defense, Education and Research, which he felt was necessary after the U.S. Census Bureau predicted that European-Americans would be the minority in the mid-21st century. Tanton still serves on FAIR’s national board of advisers.
Current President Dan Stein has also said and written questionable comments, SPLC claims. He has said he thought the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which reversed quotas that limited immigration mostly to northern Europeans, was a mistake. According to SPLC, Stein said that those who supported it wanted to “retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance.”
SPLC’s website offers other claims of FAIR’s staff, board and financial supporters supporting white nationalism and racist viewpoints.
“They certainly deserve to be on our hate list,” Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich said.
SPLC first listed FAIR as a hate group in 2007.
“People can have differences of opinions, but those differences should not be based in hate,” Beirich said. “They are sullying the complicated issue of immigration reform. Their bias is deeply rooted in racism.”
But FAIR’s communications director, Bob Dane, believes that SPLC members are just “masters at name-calling.”
“SPLC is a far-left political attack machine,” Dane said. “They invented the term hate group that they affix with anyone whom they disagree with politically.”
He said that the comments that Tanton has made were never in the context of FAIR or made on behalf of FAIR and they “do not reflect our views, then or now.”
Karl Bickel, who is running against Jenkins in this year’s election for sheriff, said he thought the trip was a bad idea, even before he knew of FAIR’s sponsorship.
“I think that you’re neglecting your duties here,” Bickel said of Jenkins. “The SPLC, they do track hate groups, and are one of the best sources for that in the country. ... I do think that’s a problem. It further gives Frederick a black eye. It’s the image we’re trying to shake, and he’s not letting us do it.”
Beirich said she has concerns for Frederick County residents because FAIR’s message is “horribly distorted.
“This is a group that has said and written horrible things about immigrants,” she said. “That’s not who you want your sheriff talking to.”
FAIR is “not anti-immigrant in any way, shape or form,” Dane said. “We focus on sensible policies. ... This is important.”
Jenkins said he is not getting into name-calling and will focus on his mission to help solve the “tremendous problem.”