Our story this week on Sheriff Chuck Jenkins’ fact-finding trip to see firsthand the impact of a surge of cross-border immigrants in McAllen, Texas, and our follow-up on the group funding his travel, has landed the sheriff at the center of another dustup over his political views.
At issue is his acceptance of funding to make that journey from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which bills itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group, founded in 1979, which now has 250,000 members. FAIR, as it’s known, has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Set aside valid criticism that the SPLC has its own agenda, what is unequivocal here is FAIR was founded and is headed by two men whose past public statements were clearly racist.
We ran five of those statements with Wednesday’s story, so you can read them yourself. We won’t reiterate them verbatim here. In brief, it was the clichéd jeremiads of declining white power, the contradictory assumption that immigrants hate the U.S., and — relevant to the mission of today’s organization to slow mass immigration — protecting “Anglo-Saxon dominance” and the “European-American majority” from becoming a “minority status in their own land.” This hubris dates from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. John Tanton, FAIR’s founder, still serves as a board member. Dan Stein is the nonprofit’s current president. Do they still hold these beliefs? Well, your guess is as good as ours. FAIR’s present-day incarnation explicitly disavows racism and has committed itself, in its mission statement and other statements of purpose, to arguments against immigration that are not race-based.
Politics is often more about perception than reality. Whether or not Jenkins was aware FAIR was listed as a hate group before he allowed them to pay his way south is not clear. But he rejected the SPLC’s claims: “I don’t believe that myself,” he told News-Post reporter Grace Toohey. Even so, Tanton and Stein’s statements are part of the public record and were uncontested by a FAIR spokesman who instead, in a pot-meets-kettle moment, went on the offensive, labeling the SPLC “masters of name-calling” and “a far-left political attack machine.”
Whether you believe that means FAIR as it is constituted now should be designated a “hate group” or not, the views of its founders and leaders, which echo the sad, discredited ranting of white supremacists, don’t help FAIR’s claims of a being a legitimate voice in the immigration debate. We believe it’s fair to speculate, on the basis of those statements, about whether FAIR was founded by people hoping to legitimize white supremacy under the veneer of a respectable policy group devoted to the legitimate question of sensible immigration reform.
Speaking of motives, we can’t read Jenkins’ mind to discover why he chose to make this lengthy trek with seven other sheriffs to Texas. One of the stated reasons given us by sheriff’s office spokeswoman Jennifer Bailey was that this was a fact-finding trip to assess how the immigrant surge at the border will impact us here in Frederick County.
It’s hard to see what, if any, pertinent revelations this will bring home. This is more of a humanitarian crisis involving children than a question of illegal border crossing. But if it does, we hope Jenkins will share them — and we’re happy to make space for him on The News-Post’s opinion page to explain.
The other reason, from Jenkins himself, is that he made the journey because he serves on the immigration and border subcommittee of the National Sheriff’s Association. That would have been a good reason to take the trip, had Jenkins gone on his own time and dime or that of the association.
In accepting FAIR’s money and taking this trip, Jenkins needs to be mindful of guilt by association — that segments of the public will assume he supports the group, and, by extension, the beliefs at the root of FAIR’s founding. Maybe he doesn’t — but he needs to state it unequivocally.
The debate over immigration is large and complex and, sadly, victim to too much politics, emotionally charged demagoguery and not enough sense. Jenkins may have some intelligent ideas after his trip. He needs to bring them to the table and explain them plainly. Otherwise, this was just a high-profile campaign stunt to play off a high-profile human tragedy, one that is as offensive as it is distasteful.