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Case Study: Tea Party Immigration Coalition

The interlocking of the Nativist Establishment with the Tea Party movement continued apace in 2011. With the creation of the Immigration Tea Party Coalition, it increased significantly.

The Tea Party Immigration Coalition emerged at the end of 2010 when Rick Oltman published an “Immigration Contract with America.” This quasi-manifesto included ending birthright citizenship “by statute,” adding, “The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was not adopted to confer citizenship on those born to illegal aliens.”[64]

Rick Oltman was a one-time member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist organization descended directly from the Jim Crow-era white Citizens Councils. Oltman had worked as a staff member for FAIR (1994 to 2007) and Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) (2007-2011). From his position at CAPS he helped launch the coalition. Two other figures with histories in the Nativist Establishment help lead the coalition. John Stahl, a former Pennsylvania state representative who was active in a FAIR front-group, State Legislators for Legal Immigration, is the chairman. The other principal is Mike Cutler, who currently runs 9-11 Families for a Secure America. Oltman is the vice president.[65]

This new anti-immigrant Tea Party has attracted a mix of at least ten different Tea Party and local nativist groups from the states of Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, and Pennsylvania.[66]

Oltman, particularly, has articulated his hope that this new coalition can help weld a significant segment of the Tea Party movement to the anti-immigrant cause. On a Tea Party radio program he said, “what I want to do is we want to take this Tea Party energy, which is the most powerful voice in politics in America today, and there are a lot of issues out there, and if immigration is not your issue that’s fine, but if it is your issue, give me an email.”[67]

Further, Oltman has been explicit about tying new Tea Parties specifically to the older Nativist Establishment: “TPIC supports the efforts of national immigration policy groups such as NumbersUSA, FAIR, the Immigration Reform Caucus and the Reclaim American Jobs Caucus of the House of Representatives.”[68]

There’s no better example of this new Tea Party-Nativist synergy than in the state of Kansas. Nativists figures like Ed Hayes, who once headed the Heart of America chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and Kris Kobach, who is “of counsel” to the FAIR-connected Immigration Reform Law Institute while also serving a term as Kansas Secretary of State, appeared at Tea Party events as early as April of 2009.[69]

During the past year, the tempo picked up. A November 9, 2011 news conference by a coalition of Kansas Roman Catholic and Protestant bishops was disrupted by activists from the Tea Party Immigration Coalition. The religious leaders had gathered in the state capitol of Topeka to offer their faith-based perspective on balancing the desire for secure borders with the right of individuals to emigrate from their homelands. Renee Slinkard, a Coalition Tea Partier from Paola, Kansas who also runs the group Kansas Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement led the charge. She demanded to know why the bishops would want to make it easier for “illegal immigrants” to gain citizenship “when we are faced with all this terrorism, crime, human trafficking.”[70]

This Tea Party Immigration Coalition is planning to back several pieces of anti-immigrant legislation in 2012, including repeal of the state’s version of the DREAM Act, passage of E-Verify requirements for employers, and legislation modeled on Alabama’s harsh law (which was written for Alabama by Kansas Secretary of State Kobach).[71]

The Tea Party Immigration Coalition won’t be the only Tea Party group promoting anti-immigrant policies in Kansas. The Topeka 912 Tea Party group has been advocating for a bill to repeal the DREAM act this year.

The Salina-based Central Kansas Patriot Action Network (CKPAN) is also jumping on this bandwagon. Local supporter Mary Ann Hartzler encapsulated many of these sentiments, writing on the CKPAN Facebook page, “I’m sick of hearing our [alleged] President criticize Arizona’s ILLEGAL immigration law, I’m sick of hearing other cities, counties and states talk about boycotts…”[72] The group’s Facebook page prominently features as its logo an illustration by an anti-Semitic artist.[73]

In Hutchinson, the Kansas Tea Party group is known as the Patriot Freedom Alliance. It was recently challenged by the local NAACP chapter because of a racist logo depicting president Obama as a skunk. The Tea Party showed the good sense to take the logo down, but its definition of issues shows that anti-immigrant politics are at its the core. It joined with other local Tea Party groups to hold events on December 16 in Overland Park, Kansas and December 17 in Wichita entitled “Freedom’s Big Three: Obama Care – Immigration Reform – FairTax.”[74]

Kansas isn’t the only state where Tea Partiers are intimately involved in anti-immigrant legislative battles. In Indiana, where there is only one active anti-immigrant group (down from seven in 2011), Tea Party groups helped pass S.B. 590 in May, which outlaws sanctuary cities, requires employers to use E-Verify, threatens to close down businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers, and requires state and local governments to ensure that undocumented immigrants do not receive welfare benefits.[75] They also helped pass H.B. 1402, barring undocumented immigrants from accessing financial aid and scholarships to attend colleges and universities in Indiana, and requiring undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition.[76] As if that weren’t enough, local Tea Party groups are also pushing for English-Only Legislation.[77]

In Montana, in 2010 three local anti-immigrant groups functioned. In 2011 only one local anti-immigrant group remained active. By contrast, thirteen Tea Party chapters affiliated with three different national membership factions existed in 2011.

Eleven different Montana Tea Party chapters formed a new umbrella organization in August 2011, the Montana Tea Party Coalition. Their founding document, Montana Tea Party Declaration of Independence, placed the problem of “illegal immigration” at its heart.

The Tea Parties, and the state legislators they supported, latched onto nativism that was both far-reaching and extreme.[78] One bill planned to create an armed paramilitary militia force. A second was a states’ rights “nullification” bill, and a third was a “Birther” bill. A resolution declared the benefits of global warming. All of these were defeated.

State representative David Howard shepherded the passage of H.B. 638, which puts on the November 2012 ballot, a referendum to deny state-funded services to those unable to prove documentation status.[79]

A former FBI employee, David Howard, is from Park City, Montana and represents the 60th district. He’s been very active with the Tea Party. He was a featured speaker at a Tea Party event in Columbus, MT on December 16, 2009, and he gave the keynote address at the April 15, 2010 Tax Day Tea Party event in Billings.[80]

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Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

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