When Did C-SPAN Become A Hub For Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric?

For some unknown reason, on Friday, C-SPAN decided to host Roy Beck, executive director of anti-immigration group NumbersUSA, to talk about immigration policy. And Beck, whose strategy centers on advocating for an immigration system that will leave immigrants with no choice but to depart the United States en masse, appeared on the network's Washington Journal program unchallenged. Not once during the more than half-hour interview did he go head-to-head against an immigrants' rights activist or face off against a caller with an opposing viewpoint. This is odd considering the network and the show's stated aims.

The network states that it “does not endorse” any comments made by guests, and that hosts step in when callers make “ad hominem attacks or use indecent language or obviously racist language.” Moreover, says C-SPAN, "[e]ach program strives to educate the viewing public about national issues and to learn from them." But how is airing the "heir apparent" to an "anti-immigration crusader," whose organizations have been accused of being “in bed with racist hate groups,” educational or even helpful to understanding vital immigration policy?

NumbersUSA is a well-known anti-immigration organization that aims to reduce the overall numerical levels of annual legal and illegal immigration. The group was founded and funded by controversial activist John Tanton, “the anti-immigration crusader” who "spent decades at the heart of the white nationalist movement." According to The New York Times:

[Tanton] increasingly made his case against immigration in racial terms.

“One of my prime concerns,” he wrote to a large donor, “is about the decline of folks who look like you and me.” He warned a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Dr. Tanton acknowledged the shift from his earlier, colorblind arguments, but the “uncomfortable truth,” he wrote, was that those arguments had failed. With a million or more immigrants coming each year -- perhaps a third illegally -- he warned, “The end may be nearer than we think.”

Beck has tried to downplay his close relationship with Tanton, but he nevertheless has welcomed Tanton naming him the “heir apparent” to his vast right-wing, anti-immigration network. Moreover, Beck has spoken at a conference of Tanton's Social Contract Press, a pseudo academic outfit that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists.” Beck's views of immigrants are akin to Tanton's in that he doesn't think too highly of them. For instance, Beck has called them "thieves" because they “are people who came to steal a job.”

On C-SPAN, Beck expressed his approval for the recently passed immigration law in Alabama, which, among other things, makes it illegal for citizens and legal residents to give rides to undocumented immigrants. Beck said: “It's a great new law and it's an example where one state after another is trying to get some control over this. You know, these states are filled with illegal workers. That means they've got thousands, tens of thousands of their own workers that are left unemployed.”

Beck went on to defend the provision in the bill that asks administrators to check the immigration status of their students, saying, “I would say on this -- the school thing: it's about a reporting purposes only. I think they're trying to track to see what the cost of illegal immigration is to the public school system. They're not actually going to keep the children of illegal aliens from attending schools. They're just tracking them for cost purposes.” Critics of the bill, including public school employees, maintain that it serves an additional purpose -- keeping the children of undocumented immigrants out of the classroom. Yahoo News recently reported:

[T]he legislation will likely create a chilling effect on immigrant school enrollment, the law's opponents contend. Telling parents they must provide proof of citizenship of their children within 30 days next September may simply keep worried illegal immigrants from enrolling their kids, critics say.

An attendance coordinator at Elmore County Public Schools told The Montgomery Advertiser that asking the question is “tacitly trying to deny access to school.” Meanwhile, the executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards Sally Howell told the paper administrators don't want to be caught in the “crosshairs” when the court battles begin, and would rather schools be left out of the state's immigration push.

“This really isn't the school board's business,” Huntsville Board of Education President Topper Birney told WHNT. “We should be teaching kids and not enforcing the law. That is someone else's business.”

Later in the show, a self-described NumbersUSA member called into the program and railed against "anchor babies," saying: “According to your charts, we, due to immigration, are going to add another 96 million by the year 2050. That's equivalent to three Californians and just -- in 39 years.” He continued: “Legal immigration represents an addition of 1.3 million a year annually. Illegal immigration has averaged about a million people. Females having anchor babies adds another million. Those three statistics alone count for an increase of 3.3 million per year.” He then claimed that the majority of today's legal immigrants are “low income” and because their “total fertility rate (TFR) is 3 average children,” they represent a heavy economic burden to the country in the form of health care, education, and social services.

The caller concluded by asking: “How are we to educate the American people of this average cost of $1 million per each female, low-income immigrant who will have three children, and we as the taxpayers have to pay for that cost?” Not once during this caller's diatribe did either Beck or host Libby Casey step in to challenge his attacks. Indeed, for most of the interview, viewers were treated to this same kind of rhetoric. Over and over, we heard from callers who agreed with Beck that immigrants are a drain on social services, are stealing Americans' jobs, and are perpetuating chain migration -- all views espoused by the anti-immigrant right-wing.

This is exactly the sort of thing a news program is expected to counter. Giving such prominence to a viewpoint as extreme and misleading as Beck's serves only to attract like-minded callers, who do nothing but further skew the debate. Beck certainly illustrated this when, following the caller's question, he replied by citing a study claiming that “57 percent of immigrant households with children are on welfare.” He added, “Obviously, that means they're very costly.” Unmentioned in all this, of course, is that immigration has been proven to be beneficial to a country's economy.

For her part, Casey did note that a just-released Brookings Institution report shows that better-educated immigrants are now outnumbering the nation's lower-skilled workers. Beck responded, however, that the study is “misleading” because it doesn't count high school grads among the number of lower-skilled workers. “Those who only have a high school degree are also less educated,” he added. He then stated: “Do we really need these foreign-college grads? I would say no, given the terrible unemployment statistics for our own college grads.”

Beck later said he has “some sympathy for the illegal alien families,” especially those torn apart by raids and deportations. He went on to call for Congress to pass E-Verify, which he said would create such an unfavorable climate for undocumented immigrants that it would drive them out of the United States:

BECK: You do have to have some deportations, but we've advocated a softer approach. And frankly, that's the approach that Congress is looking at right now; not mass round-ups, mass deportations, but a soft approach that takes away the jobs, gives the jobs to American workers. It both accomplishes the problem of putting millions of unemployed Americans back to work, and what it does is, it just says if we get a mandatory E-Verify bill passed.


BECK: If that happens, the jobs dry up at the workplace. Nobody's arrested in this process, it's just that the illegal alien workers no longer have the work. That's why they came. Without the work, illegal aliens start to go home and they can put their affairs in order, they can put their own timetable, and they can put their family together, and you see, move in an orderly fashion. So everybody wins.

The American -- the victimized American families get jobs. The families that have illegal aliens in them can put their affairs in order, and in an orderly way, leave the country. We've seen over a million and a half illegal aliens have left the country during this jobs depression. So we know that illegal aliens respond to bad jobs situation. That's primarily because of the economy, but we know that if Congress passes a mandatory E-Verify this year, we will see millions of illegal aliens leaving over the next few years.

But federal government studies show that E-Verify has errors and can lead to discrimination. Moreover, all U.S. companies are already required by law to verify whether an employee can legally work in the United States.

C-SPAN has a duty to present information about hot button political issues in an unbiased way. This includes allowing those with far-right opinions to make themselves heard. But allowing a representative of a group like NumbersUSA to appear with no factual pushback to the policies presented violates the central tenants of what makes C-SPAN a reliable source. Beck's appearance on C-SPAN comes less than two months after the network simulcast the show of virulently anti-gay radio host Jan Mickelson. Programming like this can't help but put C-SPAN's credibility at risk.