Families First On Immigration




T

he newly-formed Families
First on Immigration is a coalition of such long-time conservative
notables as former Republican Party presidential hopeful Gary Bauer,
who heads American Values, former Bush advisor Deal Hudson of the
Morley Institute for Church & Culture, and David Keene of the
American Conservative Union. Families First is aiming to advance
what it calls “religiously grounded positions on immigration.” 


The Family Research Council, a Christian conservative lobbying group,
sponsored a member poll that found that 90 percent of respondents
chose forced deportation as the appropriate fate for the estimated
11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. When Joan Maruskin,
liberal director of the Church World Service Immigration Program,
called the Bible “an immigration handbook” and argued
in favor of amnesty at an April immigration conference organized
by the FRC, observers noted that she received a decidedly tepid
response.  


In January Families First on Immigration sent letters to President
Bush and leaders of Congress urging them “to adopt a grand
compromise on the divisive issue that includes strong border security,
an amnesty for illegals already here who are relatives of citizens
and an end to birthright citizenship,” the

Washington Times

reported. 


“Our position really is consistent with Christian teachings
and with the rule of law,” said Manuel Miranda, chair of the
Third Branch Conference, a coalition of over 150 leaders that brought
together more than 30 top conservatives on this issue. “Out
of concern for keeping families together, the religious leaders
propose granting citizenship to any illegal aliens in the country
who are related to U.S. citizens. This would include anyone who
has had a child born here, often referred to as an ‘anchor
baby’” (

Washington Times

). 


“In return, the federal government would end birthright citizenship,
which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born here,
regardless of his parents’ legal status. The 14th Amendment
says ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States…are
citizens of the United States’.” 






“This
is a real compromise,” Miranda claimed. “On the one hand,
there is legalization of a large number of people, but conservatives
get the settlement of the thorniest issue for them in the immigration
debate.” 


“We weren’t surprised that leaders of the religious right
finally got into the game,” Devin Burghart, program director
of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Chicago, Illinois-based
Center for New Community, said in a phone interview. “The organization
is trying to stake out a more moderate position than the Minutemen
and other extremist anti-immigration organizations, and it is using
a religious frame to try and woo supporters…. Although they
claim to be in line with traditional religious teachings, they seem
to be ignoring much of the Bible, particularly passages about welcoming
strangers.” 


“It’s a disingenuous attempt to appear to be not anti-Latino
while at the same time pandering to their right-wing base,”
Mark Potok, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s
Intelligence Project, said in a recent interview. 



Miranda Meanderings 



E

arlier Miranda, former judicial nominations
counsel to then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and to
the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Christian Broadcasting
Network (CBN), “Until now, religious leaders have been criticized
for staying uninvolved in the immigration debate…. This new
coalition is bigger and broader than the Secure Border Coalition
that dominated the debate on the right in the last go round.”
Miranda, a key spokesperson for the coalition, “had one foot
in the political graveyard” in 2004, according to a November
2005 report in the

Hill

. “In the wake of a Washington
scandal, he had resigned his congressional post as lawmakers questioned
his ethics and federal authorities investigated him. Most political
observers believed that Miranda’s days as a player in the Republican
Party were over,” the

Hill

noted. 


By 2005 Miranda was once again “a widely respected leader among
conservative activists” due to the “leading role”
he played “in thwarting the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination.”
Miranda told me in an interview that, “We are asking the president
to reopen the debate [on immigration]. We have been circulating
a policy paper for comment and review called ‘Good Stewards
Good Neighbors’.” The policy paper will definitely “add
something to the debate,” he said, but lamented that the “Democratic-controlled
congress doesn’t seem eager to address immigration.” 



Birthright Citizenship 



A

s mentioned earlier, at the heart of the
Families First on Immigration proposal is the elimination of birthright
citizenship. “Illegal immigration is a human tragedy that disrupts
lives and separates families,” Families First on Immigration
wrote in the letter to Bush, a letter that also places blame for
the problem on officials in Mexico. “It is a failure of two
governments: the one that fails its people and the one that invites
their departure for cheap labor’s sake.” 


In its letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker
of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Families First said that it “believe
[s] that there is a need for such oversight [on immigration] as
soon as possible. Our hope is that such oversight will lead to a
better considered reform and a cohesive immigration policy that
goes well beyond Band-Aid politics.” 


Other conservatives have joined the coalition, including direct
mail guru Richard A. Viguerie, Rev. Donald Wildmon of American Family
Association, Rev. Louis Sheldon of Traditional Values Coalition,
Rabbi Aryeh Spero of Caucus for America, and Paul Weyrich, one of
the founding fathers of the conservative movement and current head
of the Free Congress Foundation. 



T

he most abhorrent aspect
of Families First on Immigration’s agenda is this removal of
birthright citizenship, said Burghart, who has been tracking developments
around immigration for several years. “It is an attack on civil
rights in general and on the 14th Amendment specifically, which
is a cornerstone of our democracy.” According to Burghart,
Families First on Immigration “is hungry for new members and
hopes to tap into a new funding stream. They saw how successful
the Minuteman Political Action Committee was in raising money and
they hope to strike while the iron is hot.” The organization
appears to be “aimed at bridging the gap between the hard core
anti-immigration movement and the religious right,” Burghart
said. 


Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potek believes that it is
unlikely the group will have any “chance in a Democratic controlled
Congress.” However, while the group may not have an immediate
impact via legislation, it will no doubt try to “inject immigration
issues into the heart of 2008 presidential campaign,” Burghart
said. “If it is able to accomplish that, it will be seen as
a success.” 





Bill
Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative politics and
movements.