Federation for American Immigration Reform
Formation1979; 45 years ago (1979)[1]
FounderJohn Tanton
Otis L. Graham Jr.
Sidney Swensrud
Founded atWashington, D.C., U.S.
Legal statusNon-profit tax exempt
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
United States
Key people
Daniel A. Stein, President (1988-)
AffiliationsImmigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) (est. 1987)[2] FAIR Congressional Task Force (FCTF) (est. 2004)[3]
Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) (est. 1985)[4]
Revenue: $11,157,713
Expenses: $11,246,727
(FYE December 2016)[1]

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a nonprofit, anti-immigration organization in the United States.[6][7] The group publishes position papers, organizes events, and runs campaigns in order to advocate for changes in U.S. immigration policy. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies FAIR as a hate group with ties to white supremacist groups.[8][9][10][11][12]

FAIR was founded in 1979 by Michigan surgeon and white nationalist John Tanton.[13][14][15] Other co-founders include Otis Graham and former Gulf Oil CEO, Sydney Swensrud. It is currently headquartered in Washington, D.C.


The "founder of the modern immigration reform movement"—John Tanton, an ophthalmologist in Petoskey, Michigan—"saw a threat coming in the soaring rates of immigration" and that the "environment was threatened by overpopulation".[16]: 174  Frustrated by the lack of interest of his "liberal colleagues in groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club where he was actively engaged, he helped establish "three major national groups"—FAIR, Numbers USA and the Center for Immigration Studies—to fight to reduce [legal and illegal] immigration."[17][18]

Tanton—along with University of North Carolina professor Otis Graham and former Gulf Oil CEO, Sydney Swensrud—established FAIR in 1979.[19][15] In 1982 Tanton also established U.S. Inc, a foundation chaired by Tanton with financial support from Cordelia Scaife May which would over the years, serve as a funding conduit for FAIR, Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies, and many other groups.[20][21][22]

FAIR's first executive director was Roger Conner.[23] Other co-founders included Sharon Barnes, Jay Harris and Stewart Mott (of the Stewart R. Mott Foundation) and William Paddock, dean of Zamorano the Pan American School of Agriculture.[15][24] Dan Stein has been president of FAIR since 1988.

In American Immigration: An Encyclopedia of Political, Social, and Cultural Change, Brian N. Fry described Tanton as the "leader of the drive to restrict immigration" starting in the mid-1970s. Fry described those who favored maintaining or increasing immigration numbers as "expansionists" and those who sought to reduce them as ""restrictionists." Fry traced "restrictions roots" to a surprising surge in illegal and legal immigration—the "new immigration"—following the 1964 termination of the Bracero Program and the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.[25]: 281–84 

Tanton as President of Zero Population Growth from 1975 to 1977 attempted to get members to "support immigration restrictions." When they were unwilling, he launched FAIR with seed money in 1979.[25]

Throughout the 1980s FAIR's lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill met with more success as did their direct mail campaigns. FAIR received funds from donors such as Cordelia Scaife May (1928–2005) through her Laurel Foundation[26]: 283 (1928–2005)[27] and the Pioneer Fund which contributed $1.2 million to FAIR in the 1980s and early 1990s.[19]: 195 [26]: 291 [25]

Following negative publicity about FAIR receiving funds from Pioneer Fund when they were revealed in a Los Angeles Times article,[25]: 282 [28] FAIR stopped "receiving grants" from Pioneer that required "public disclosure." The SPLC claimed FAIR continued to "receive private financial support from Pioneer's leaders for several years."[28]

Tanton had wanted FAIR to focus on issues related to Hispanics in the United States, such as "cultural division" and bilingualism. He was unable to convince FAIR's board of directors to shift their focus. However, FAIR helped Tanton establish U.S. English as the umbrella organization for "projects pertaining to overpopulation, immigration, and the environment."[25]: 281  Through the work of Senator Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa (R-CA) (1906–1992)[29] and Tanton, U.S. English became a well-organized and well-funded official movement resulting in twenty-two states enacting official language laws to protect English between 1981 and 1997.[25] From 2007 to 2015, Julie Kirchner was FAIR's executive director.[30]

In 1991 historian Eric Hobsbawm explained the rise of FAIR, US English and English first in the United States in the 1980s as part of a larger political phenomenon of xenophobia that "feeds on hostility towards the new mass migrations".[31]: 556  He quoted a Czech historian, "Where old social relations become unstable, amid the rise of general insecurity, belonging to a common language and culture may become the only certainty in society, the only value beyond ambiguity and doubt."[31]: 537, 555–56 [32]: 168 

In 1994, FAIR supported California Proposition 187.[33]

In 2004, the Federation for American Immigration Reform cooperated with the group called Protect Arizona Now in order to support the passage of Proposition 200, which shares similarities with California's Proposition 187 as to which undocumented immigrants are restricted from public benefits and voting because they are most likely unable to provide the required proof of citizenship. It also made the crime of a public official not reporting illegal status a class 2 misdemeanor.[34]

In 2007, FAIR successfully campaign against Bush's proposed Immigration Reform which represented "a systemic overhaul including a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants."[18] "FAIR rallied talk show hosts...The Center for Immigration Studies published "studies of the bill's perceived flaws" and "Numbers USA jammed the Capitol's phones." FAIR had become the "most important organization [in the United States] fueling the backlash against immigration"[18][35] and Tanton was perceived as the leader. As a result, liberal groups who opposed FAIR focused on Tanton who was at that time "in his 32nd year on the board." Tanton was concerned that US birthrates had dropped "below replacement level."[16]: 174  In 1986 Tanton wrote memos to FAIR colleagues—which became known as the WITAN memos—predicting a "Latin onslaught" and worried that high Latino birth rates and low US birthrates would lead "the present majority to hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile". He was concerned Latinos would "bring with them the tradition of the mordida ['bribe'], the lack of involvement in public affairs." He asked, "What are the differences in educability between Hispanics (with their 50% dropout rate) and Asiatics (with their excellent school records and long tradition of scholarship)?" The memos—which became known as the WITAN memos—were leaked to the press in 1988.[36]: 23 

He warned that unless Latino immigration was restricted it would ultimately "lead to linguistic, economic, racial and religious "apartheid" in the United States."[37][16]: 174  He cautioned, "I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that."[36][38]: 203  When the WITAN memos were leaked to the press in 1988,[36] Tanton eventually had to resign from U.S. English.[39] although he denied the accusations.[40]

FAIR has created several affiliated groups, including the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI)[2] and the FAIR Congressional Task Force (FCTF) as a 501(c)(4).[3] The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) was spun off from FAIR in 1985.[41]

FAIR has held an annual "Hold Their Feet to the Fire"[42] (F2F) event since 2007 in Washington, D.C.[43] In 2008, Lou Dobbs, a regular (F2F) attendee, broadcast on live television from the event's rally, commended FAIR. He was fired from CNN in 2009 and hired at Fox the next year, to run a similar show.[44][45]

In September 2009 two divisive issues—immigration and health care—became "politically linked" when partisan health reform opponents challenged what they perceived as subsidized health care for illegal immigrants.[46] By early September the bipartisan Gang of Six negotiations on a compromise for the health care reform bill,[47] had fallen apart. Senators who had previously "embraced the framework" were convinced by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that they were being politically unwise. Their rhetoric turned "shrill" and "anti-reform" with one Senator talking about "death panels that would kill grandma."[48] The furor on immigration "escalated" into what The Washington Post called a "proxy war." FAIR's annual "Hold their Feet to the Fire" event" in Washington on September 14 and 15, was described by The Post as a "Capitol Hill lobbying push..[with] 47 conservative radio hosts holding a 'town hall of the airwaves'... [highlighting] the costs of illegal immigration."[46]

America's Voice's Director Frank Sharry said, "conservative activists" had attempted to "intimidate" Congress by "tapping into a thin but vocal vein of populist anger... We didn't call them out last time, we thought we were in a political debate. Now we realize it's part political debate and... part culture war. These talk-show guys and FAIR, this isn't about immigration policy, as much as they think there are way too many Latinos in this country and they want to get rid of a couple of million of them."[46] The SPLC strongly denounced FAIR and its founder. FAIR president Dan Stein stated in The Post article that the SPLC had "decided to engage in unsubstantiated, invidious name-calling, smearing millions of people in this movement who simply want to see the law enforced and, frankly, lower levels of immigration" and that "America's Voice and allied groups were 'juvenile mud throwers who seem unprepared to engage in serious public debate'.[46]

In a 2011 article in The New York Times, a former aide to President Ronald Reagan, Linda Chavez, was cited as saying that 77-year-old Tanton was "the most influential unknown man in America."[17][18] In a 2011 interview published in The New York Times and The Houston Chronicle, FAIR's President Dan Stein said, "Is FAIR responsible for everything [John Tanton] said in his private correspondence? No, I love John, but he's had no significant control over FAIR for years."[18]

By the end of 2016, FAIR's annual budget reached $11.2 million.[49]

In May 2017, Julie Kirchner, FAIR's executive director since 2005, was named as ombudsman of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman reporting to the Department of Homeland Security.[30]

A 2017 FAIR report claimed that undocumented immigrants in the United States cost taxpayers approximately $134.9 billion. This report included the children of undocumented immigrants, even those who were U.S. citizens, in the cost calculation. According to the Associated Press, "the estimate was criticized for making broad generalizations and other major methodological flaws."[50]


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) currently classifies FAIR as a hate group, citing among other things the organization's anti-Latino and anti-Catholic attitudes, its acceptance of $1.2 million from a racist foundation, the Pioneer Fund, its hiring as key officials men who also joined white supremacist groups, having board members who also write regularly for hate publications, its promotion of racist conspiracy theories, and the white supremacist beliefs of its founder. In 1982, John Tanton wrote "As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion."[8][51] The SPLC issued an intelligence report in 2007, after which they added FAIR to its list of hate groups.[51]

FAIR responded to this charge by stating that there is no factual basis for the accusation; that FAIR has compiled a long record of mainstream credibility and respect on immigration issues and has always opposed discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion; and that the accusation is an "act of desperation, resulting from the SPLC's failure to convince the American people of their viewpoint."[52][53]

In August 2018, FAIR's former press secretary, Joe Gomez, filed a complaint with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights, alleging racist, xenophobic, and ableist harassment at FAIR.[54] Gomez's attorney, Chris Bell, accused FAIR of misrepresenting the settlement to media outlets by wrongly saying the D.C. Office of Human Rights dismissed the complaint because it had no merit. Instead, the office dismissed the complaint because a settlement was reached, according to Bell. "If they continue to misrepresent the truth, I'm going to set the record straight," Bell said. "There was never an agreement [FAIR] could go out and misrepresent the truth."[55]

FAIR’s comment, attributable to Dan Stein, president of FAIR: “FAIR stands by its position that the allegations made by Mr. Gomez with respect to his treatment here were always without foundation. FAIR believes that this retraction by Mr. Gomez is a vindication of this position. FAIR endeavors to treat all its employees with dignity and respect.”[56]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Charity Navigator Webpage". Charity Navigator. n.d. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "IRLI official webpage". Immigration Reform Law Institute. n.d. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "FAIR Congressional Task Force". FCTF. n.d. Retrieved August 28, 2015. url has security warning
  4. ^ "CIS About Us Webpage". Center for Immigration Studies. n.d. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
  5. ^ Federation for American Immigration Reform: About FAIR, fairus.org; accessed February, 2017.
  6. ^ "A radical anti-immigration group infiltrated the GOP. Now it's in the White House".
  7. ^ "FAIR's About Us Page". www.fairus.org. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Federation for American Immigration Reform". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  9. ^ Heidi Beirich (November 30, 2008). "John Tanton's Private Papers Expose More Than 20 Years of Hate". Intelligence Report. No. Winter 2008. Southern Poverty Law Center.
  10. ^ "John Tanton is the Mastermind Behind the Organized Anti-Immigration Movement". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. 2002 (106). 2002. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  11. ^ Levin, Bess (2019-04-10). "Trump Wants Former "Hate Group" Leader for Top Immigration Job". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  12. ^ Belanger, Ashley (2023-04-27). "WebOps platform Pantheon defends hosting "hate groups" as developers quit". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2024-02-02.
  13. ^ Campbell, Kristina M. (n.d.). "A Dry Hate: White Supremacy and anti-Immigrant Rhetoric in the Humanitarian Crisis on the U.S.-Mexico Border". West Virginia Law Review. 117: 1081.
  14. ^ "John Tanton is the Mastermind Behind the Organized Anti-Immigration Movement". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  15. ^ a b c Gerald Baumgarten (2000). "Is FAIR Unfair? The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)" (PDF). Anti Defamation League. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  16. ^ a b c James Crawford (ed.). "Symbolic Implications of Language Conflict". Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy. University of Chicago Press.
  17. ^ a b Jason DeParle (April 17, 2011). "The Anti-Immigration Crusader: the Evolution of a Political Movement, and Its Controversial Leader". The New York Times. One group that Dr. Tanton nurtured, Numbers USA, doomed President George W. Bush's legalization plan [in 2007] ago by overwhelming Congress with ... the group for four years under his umbrella organization, U.S. Inc. restraints ... he saw a new threat emerging: soaring rates of immigration. Time and again, Dr. Tanton urged liberal colleagues in groups like Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club to seek immigration restraints paywall
  18. ^ a b c d e Jason DeParle (April 17, 2011). "The Anti-Immigration Crusader: the Evolution of a Political Movement, and Its Controversial Leader". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Kathleen R. Arnold (2011). Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313375224.
  20. ^ Rick Oltman (September 30, 2016). "A Tribute to Dr. Tanton". U.S. Inc. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  21. ^ Heidi Beirich (January 31, 2009), "The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance", Southern Poverty Law Center, retrieved May 4, 2017
  22. ^ "John Tanton's network of anti-immigrant groups includes these 13 organizations", Southern Poverty Law Center, retrieved May 4, 2017, Population-Environment Balance 1973, joined board in 1980; Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), 1979, founded and funded; U.S. Inc., 1982, founded and funded; American Immigration Control Foundation (AICF) 1983, funded; U.S. English, 1983, founded and funded; Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), 1985, founded and funded; The Social Contract Press, 1990, founded and funded; American Patrol/Voice of Citizens Together 1992, funded; California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), 1994, funded; ProEnglish 1994, founded and funded; NumbersUSA 1996, founded and funded; Californians for Population Stabilization 1996, funded (founded separately in 1986); ProjectUSA, 1999, funded.
  23. ^ DeParle, Jason (17 April 2011). "The Anti-Immigration Crusader". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Joe Holley (March 13, 2008). "Obituaries: William C. Paddock, 86; Fought Famine". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Brian N. Fry (November 2013). "Anti-Immigrant Backlash: 1965–2001". In James Ciment; John Radzilowski (eds.). American Immigration: An Encyclopedia of Political, Social, and Cultural Change (2 ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7656-8212-3.
  26. ^ a b Robert Wald Sussman (October 6, 2014). "Modern Racism and Anti-Immigration Policies". The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea. Harvard University Press. p. 384. ISBN 9780674417311.
  27. ^ Johnna A. Pro and Marylynne Pitz (January 27, 2005). "Obituary: Cordelia Scaife May – Reclusive Mellon heiress known for her generosity". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  28. ^ a b "Federation for American Immigration Reform". Southern Poverty Law Center. Montgomery, Alabama. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  29. ^ "From the Archives: Ex-Sen. Hayakawa Dies; Unpredictable Iconoclast". Los Angeles Times. February 28, 1992. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  30. ^ a b "DHS Announces New CIS Ombudsman Julie Kirchner" (Press release). United States Department of Homeland Security. May 2, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  31. ^ a b Eric Hobsbawm (November 10, 1991). "The Perils of the New Nationalism". The Nation. Hobswan was citing another author
  32. ^ Ana Celia Zentella (1999). "Language Policy: Planning and US Colonialism: The Puerta Rican Thorn in English-Only's Side". In Thom Huebner; Kathryn Anne Davis; Joseph Lo Bianco (eds.). Sociopolitical Perspectives on Language Policy and Planning in the USA. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 155–73. ISBN 9789027241238. "This volume is the result of a colloquium on socio-political dimensions of language policy and language planning held at the 1997 American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Conference." [FAIR's rise to prominence in the 1980s has been of interest to linguists and was discussed within the context of the 1997 American Association of Applied Linguistics colloquim. Zentella cited Hobsbaum]
  33. ^ The Republican Party and Immigration Politics - From Proposition 187 to George W. Bush | A. Wroe | Palgrave Macmillan. p. 90.
  34. ^ Wilson, T.D. (2008). "Research Note: Issues of Production vs. Reproduction/Maintenance Revisited: Towards an Understanding of Arizona's Immigration Policies". Anthropological Quarterly. 81 (3): 713–18. doi:10.1353/anq.0.0026. S2CID 144876998. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  35. ^ Heidi Beirich (December 2007). "Federation for American Immigration Reform's Hate Filled Track Record". Intelligence Report. No. 128. After issuing this report in December 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center added the Federation for American Immigration Reform to its list of hate groups.
  36. ^ a b c "Silva Trevino Amicus Brief" (PDF). Latino Justice. June 17, 2015. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  37. ^ "Memo to WITAN IV Attendees from John Tanton". Southern Poverty Law Center. Intelligence Report. January 20, 2009. Archived from the original on November 5, 2014. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  38. ^ Neil Foley (2014). "Fortress America". Mexicans in the Making of America. Harvard University. ISBN 978-0-674-04848-5.
  39. ^ Mark Potok (Spring 2004). "Tanton resignation". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. pp. 59–63.
  40. ^ Tanton, John (October 30, 1988). "U.S. English – it's being victimized by the 'Big Lie'". Houston Chronicle. p. 5.
  41. ^ DeParle, J. (April 17, 2011). "The Anti-Immigration Crusader]". The New York Times.
  42. ^ "Hold Their Feet to the Fire event page". www.fairus.org. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  43. ^ Nick Fernandez (June 21, 2016). "Hate Group FAIR Hosting Annual Event With Anti-Immigrant Radio Hosts". Media Matters. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  44. ^ Weiner, Rachel (2009-08-02). "Lou Dobbs A "Publicity Nightmare" For CNN: AP". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  45. ^ Lou Dobbs' new Fox Business show gets a start date and a name, The Huffington Post, March 3, 2011.
  46. ^ a b c d Hsu, S.S. (September 15, 2009). "Immigration, Health Debates Cross Paths". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  47. ^ "What The 'Gang Of Six' Wants From Health Care Bill". NPR. September 9, 2009. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  48. ^ Norm Ornstein (July 2015). "The Birth of Obamacare". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  49. ^ "Charity Navigator". Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  50. ^ Colvin, Jill (2018-12-05). "AP FACT CHECK: Trump wrong about illegal immigration costs". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  51. ^ a b Beirich, Heidi (2007-11-28). "Federation for American Immigration Reform's Hate Filled Track Record". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  52. ^ "FAIR: Response to the Southern Poverty Law Center". Federation for American Immigration Reform. December 14, 2007. Archived from the original on February 17, 2012. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  53. ^ "Beware the Politicized "Hate Group" Designations by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)". Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Investigative Alert. Federation for American Immigration Reform. n.d. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  54. ^ Janik, Rachel (30 August 2018). "Former press secretary of anti-immigrant hate group FAIR alleges he was discriminated against and taunted for being Mexican American". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  55. ^ Moyer, Justin Wm. (February 21, 2019). "Latino man reaches settlement with immigration reform group where he worked". The Washington Post.
  56. ^ "Former Employee Signs Retraction of Allegations Against FAIR | FAIRUS.org". Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIRUS.org). 2019-02-13. Retrieved 2024-03-13.