Anti-immigrant hate groups have a long history of worming their way into mainstream media, and they are trying to do it again, this time with narratives seeking to undermine Ukrainian refugees.
Mainstream media publications have a history of citing groups founded by or associated with white supremacist and eugenicist John Tanton, including the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), NumbersUSA, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Two of those groups, CIS and FAIR, have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Small local outlets have been known to host op-eds written by Joe Guzzardi of Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), an “astroturfed” anti-immigration organization with ties to Tanton groups. Guzzardi has also previously written for the white nationalist website VDare.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a refugee crisis in Eastern Europe, with 3 million displaced Ukrainians relocating to Poland, Romania, and elsewhere on the continent. Tanton groups are already trying to wiggle their way into the media to influence public opinion against accepting refugees in the U.S. None of the following articles mention that these individuals and groups have a history of pushing racist and hateful rhetoric against immigrants to the United States.
Tanton group perspectives in mainstream media
At least two mainstream media publications have quoted or platformed Tanton groups in coverage of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Representatives from Tanton groups are discouraging the United States from issuing Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows people fleeing a disaster to live and work in the United States. From Politico:
Others, like Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, advocate being stricter with TPS. Ukraine certainly qualifies for protected status under DHS criteria, she says, but she argues that the Biden administration is using TPS to loosen immigration standards without congressional approval.
“TPS has come to be viewed by those who favor amnesties and immigration increases as a vehicle to enable more people who would not otherwise qualify to stay here, the ability to stay here with a work permit,” Vaughan said.
While Politico quoted Vaughn, The Hill published a full op-ed from FAIR’s president, Dan Stein, who also argued that giving Ukrainians the full benefits of TPS should be limited or offset with other anti-immigrant policies, such as ending TPS for other nations. Neither The Hill nor Politico mentioned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had designated these organizations as hate groups, and The Hill didn’t note that Stein previously called the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended the racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to white Europeans, a “mistake.”
PFIR’s Joe Guzzardi’s misleading columns turn to Ukraine
While perspectives from larger Tanton groups have started to leak into mainstream media, some local outlets have published editorials from PFIR columnist writer Joe Guzzardi (as outlets have done in the past) including a piece questioning whether the U.S. can handle increased refugees. His editorial appeared in the Gettysburg Times, The Columbus Telegram, and the Cleveland Daily Banner. From the piece:
But with the Russia-Ukraine war coming just weeks after the U.S. airlift that took Afghan nationals to overseas U.S. military bases and the American homeland, and with the illegal immigration invasion ongoing, many question how the country can environmentally sustain itself.
Groups like PFIR and its larger cousins often use environmentalism as a justification for virulent anti-immigrant sentiment — a technique called “greenwashing” which has no basis in reality. Guzzardi is using it to try to dissuade the U.S. from accepting refugees, and multiple local outlets are letting it into their papers, apparently making no effort to fact-check the enormous claims.
Mainstream and local media outlets don’t have any excuse for publishing ultra-nationalist perspectives, especially from SPLC designated hate groups. These groups and the people associated with them have a long history of racism, and they have often targeted immigration at the southern border, but that does not mean they won’t aim their vitriol at Ukrainians.