More than a dozen grass-roots groups that favor stricter immigration controls, including a sponsor of California’s Proposition 187, have formed a national coalition in the hope of rekindling public enthusiasm for tough anti-immigration laws.
Until now, most such member organizations have been low-budget affairs, run by strong personalities with distinct, often controversial ideas and tactics. They’ve had one major victory: Proposition 187, the California initiative to cut public benefits to illegal immigrants, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 1994.
Barbara Coe, the Huntington Beach activist who heads the California Coalition for Immigration Reform and a Proposition 187 co-sponsor, is vice president of the new National Grassroots Alliance. The group is being backed and initially funded by the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.
She said the alliance will breathe new life into a movement that has stalled and been demoralized by legislative and judicial setbacks. “We will force the focus back on immigration,” she said. “Instead of just the [California] coalition, now we will have a national movement.”
But immigration rights activists said the alliance is a desperate attempt to turn back the clock to when economic concerns fueled a backlash against immigrants in California.
“The anti-immigration hostility has crested, in part because the public recognizes that a lot of the anti-immigration legislation went too far,” said Lucas Guttentag, immigrants rights’ director for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The alliance was seeded with a $25,000 donation funneled through FAIR, which has an annual budget of about $3 million.
“Basically, we’re priming the pump,” said Coe. “We finally said, ‘Let’s get smart.’ This is what our opposition has been doing for years, and we have been fragmented and that’s been pretty stupid.”
Members so far have agreed to fight for a stronger military presence at the U.S.-Mexico border, a drastic cut in levels of legal immigration, a foolproof system to verify the immigration status of workers, and an end to automatic U.S. citizenship by birth, said Joe Daleiden, president of FAIR.
Representatives of FAIR and five other national organizations were present at the coalition’s initial meeting in Schaumberg, Ill., six months ago. Two organizational meetings have been held since, including one last weekend at a small hotel near the border in San Diego.
There are 14 member groups and about 20 more are considering membership, officials said. To join, groups must sign a statement that reads in part, “We agree to take no position that implies racism or bigotry. We also renounce the use of violence or illegal actions to achieve our goals.”
Daleiden said one group has refused to join because of that statement.