The legal affiliate of a designated "hate group" provided assistance for Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only Arizona-style immigration bill a partnership that has raised a red flag for those who see the measure as racist.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform commonly referred to as FAIR.
FAIR was listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center three years ago on the strength of writings, quotes and correspondence made by FAIR's founder and board member, John Tanton.
Sandstrom met with the law institute's general counsel, Michael Hethmon, on at least two occasions in the spring, but the Orem Republican said he had never heard of Tanton, never heard anything racist coming from Hethmon in their conversations and said he knew nothing of the hate-group designation slapped on FAIR.
"I have to look at my own personal motivations, and I think they're good and sound and they're based on rule of law. They're not in any way racist in any way shape or form," Sandstrom said. "Anything that is based on hate or exclusionary issues for Hispanic people I would absolutely denounce."
The lawmaker, however, said he was "troubled" by a correspondence written by Tanton 17 years ago that said "for American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority and a clear one at that." The Tribune brought the letter to Sandstrom's attention.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based civil-rights group, wrote a withering indictment of FAIR, authored by its director of research, Heidi Beirich. She combed through a trove of Tanton's writings housed in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan and said what she found was "disturbing."
One letter from 1996 had Tanton asking "whether the minorities who are going to inherit California ... can run an advanced society?"
She said the hate group label isn't easily obtained.
"We have a pretty high bar," she said.
But Tanton, a 77-year-old retired ophthalmologist who resides in Michigan, argued the opposite, saying the SPLC needs to list groups like FAIR to continue to raise money and it is simply tarring him with a broad brush by using writings from decades ago to make a case against him and FAIR.
"Who hasn't changed their means and approach of what is acceptable ways of expressing?" Tanton told The Tribune. "One of the errors that gets made in this sort of debate is historicism applying the mode of speaking of one era to other eras when there is an obvious change. So I don't think it's really fair or helps with the understanding of the issue."
However, he didn't deny the writings.
"If it was at the Bentley Library, then I wrote it," he said.
State immigration laws • The debate on Arizona-style immigration bills has inflamed both sides of the issue ever since that state's governor, Jan Brewer, signed Russell Pearce's SB1070 into law last summer. Pearce, recently elected to the Arizona state Senate, has been the face of the state laws trying to enforce federal immigration law.
Sandstrom said he began working on his bill before Arizona's version was signed into law and said he approached Pearce for guidance on crafting similar legislation. He said Pearce referred him to FAIR. In several public forums, Sandstrom has mentioned FAIR as a guide on his legislation, though he noted specifically it was Hethmon who provided assistance.
Hethmon was not available for comment over a period of two weeks.
At one point in September, Sandstrom was handed a flier by Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly Chairman Michael Clara that noted some of the allegations made against FAIR and Tanton. Clara and others opposed to Sandstrom's bill have been quietly concerned about FAIR's involvement.
Sandstrom said he never really looked at the flier left for him by the Hispanic Assembly. But he said he remained comfortable with his bill because he is driving it forward, not FAIR.
"I don't think it affects the bill one way or the other because the bill stands on its own," he said. "It's not in any way hateful or racist because it deals with all people who are here illegally."
But he said he diverged from FAIR on its overall mission, which is to stop virtually all immigration and bring the nation's population into balance.
According to FAIR's website, it "advocates a temporary moratorium on all immigration except spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and a limited number of refugees."
Tanton said having 200,000 legal immigrants a year is workable, and it would take about 40 or 50 years for the population numbers to stabilize. The United States had more than 1 million legal immigrants last year and, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are about 11 million people living here illegally.
Tanton's sprawling network has made immigration a top priority and, by his own account, it has attracted attention from groups with other agendas including racists.
Tanton, however, offers no apologies for meeting with individuals from those extreme elements.
"People who are way off the edge usually stay out there and fall off on their own accord," he said. "I'm interested in hearing what other people have to say, and if I have a fault, maybe that's a fault."
Anti-Defamation League • Beirich said the SPLC isn't alone in being bothered by Tanton's writings and communications with different extreme groups.
The Anti-Defamation League has zeroed in on Tanton and FAIR, calling them "problematic."
Marilyn Mayo, director of the ADL's Center on Extremism, said FAIR has done "a good job of appearing mainstream, but they don't hide their ties to John Tanton."
She said the ADL has been concerned about them since the 1990s, when FAIR received $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund between 1985 and 1994. The Pioneer Fund supports the study of eugenics the concept of breeding for race-betterment promoted in Nazi Germany. But FAIR stopped taking money from the Pioneer Fund once it was exposed.
Both the ADL and the SPLC were also concerned by Tanton's relationships with Wayne Lutton and Jared Taylor.
Lutton is the editor of Tanton's quarterly publication, The Social Contract, which features articles from a wide array of writers mostly from the far right on issues of race and immigration. The SPLC designated The Social Contract a hate group after its 1994 republication of a controversial book titled The Camp of the Saints that tells the story of France absorbing more than a million Indian refugees.
Lutton, in the past, has also appeared as a speaker at conferences for American Renaissance, a white nationalist group, and he served on the board of directors for the New Century Foundation, the umbrella organization for American Renaissance, according to Taylor.
Taylor, who has written for The Social Contract, said the opposition to immigration reform and more pointedly to FAIR stems from a desire to "shut down debate."
But he doesn't shy away from separatist ideas, either.
"I like being white, and I think most white people prefer the company and society of whites, and I think it would be a terrible shame if the society that whites create were to disappear," Taylor said. "I think that's an entirely natural, normal thing to hope."
Lutton said he is not a racist and said the ADL mistakenly said he attended the biennial conference of American Renaissance in February. Taylor, who organized the event, said Lutton was not in attendance.
"These groups like the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center often don't do their homework," Lutton said.
Bedfellows • Linda Chavez, who served under President Ronald Reagan as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, had been tapped to head up the Tanton-funded group U.S. English in 1987. That entity, she said, was to advocate English as the official language of the United States.
However, she only lasted a year when she learned of a memo written by Tanton in 1986 that read: "On the demographic point: perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!"
Chavez, a conservative Republican, said she was shocked and resigned.
"I found the memo offensive and I thought it indicated a level of hostility and antipathy toward Hispanics," Chavez said, referring to the memo's context of Latino immigration.
She also grew increasingly alarmed by the connections between Tanton and racist groups.
"I will say that they seem to not be bothered by being in bed with people who are motivated by racial animosity," Chavez said. "I can't see into their hearts, but they seem perfectly comfortable being in bed with people in groups who have very questionable ties extremists groups in Europe to extremists groups in the United States. One does, in a certain sense, have to be judged by the company one keeps."
But Tanton said it's important to remain open to all ideas and that talking to someone doesn't imply a wholehearted endorsement of their philosophies.
Sandstrom tried to make that point as well, saying he actually rejected a suggestion by Hethmon on his bill that would mirror Arizona's attempt to allow police to check the legal status of a group of Latinos gathering in front of a store.
"I thought that was really wrong because, to me, let's say there's 10 or 12 white people hanging out are they going to stop and bug them? But if there are 10 or 12 Hispanic men hanging out, are they going to stop and bug them? And so I saw some real problems with having that," he said. "I saw it more as opening the door for racial profiling. If it was a racist cop, that might give that racist cop the open door to harass Hispanic men he saw anywhere."
Sandstrom's proposed Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act
The draft bill would:
Require law officers to verify the legal status of any person stopped, detained or arrested when there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally.
Ban consideration of race, color or national origin in determining "reasonable suspicion."
Make it a state crime to willfully fail to complete required alien registration documents or to fail to carry an alien registration document required by federal law.
Expand felony law against transporting undocumented immigrants so that the violation could be for any distance, instead of the current provision of 100 miles or farther.
Make it a felony to knowingly or recklessly encourage or induce an undocumented immigrant to come to Utah or to reside in the state.