When a major newspaper publishes an opinion piece from an ostensibly authoritative source who reduces a fraught policy issue to tendentious shambles, that paper does a disservice to its readers and to the policy debate. The hatchet job recently published by the Washington Post regarding the most prominent immigration restrictionist organizations should not have passed editorial muster.
In its coverage of immigration, the Post has long struggled to honor its commitment to basic journalistic principles. It has tended to see immigration as part of the race beat, which at most newspapers has become more prominent, while the labor beat has faded into oblivion.
The Post flopped again with the piece written by Carly Goodman of the American Friends Service Committee. Identified as an historian of immigration, Goodman shows no indication of scholarship or civility as she attacks the Center for Immigration Studies as part of "a shadowy network" that includes the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA.
Instead, Goodman plays the role of polemicist and prosecutor. Her essay, as long on hostility as it is short on evidence, levels a series of sweeping, unspecified allegations that these groups have "deep ties to white supremacist groups" and to "white nationalist organizations".
Goodman's evidence of "deep ties" is worse than shallow. It's invisible. In her world, perhaps, believing is seeing. But the Washington Post usually sets the evidentiary bar a bit higher than that.
Goodman fails to identify any of the noxious organizations with whom we are allegedly tied. Nor does she make any acknowledgement of our position that while carefully regulated immigration can be a boon to the country, mass immigration, especially of millions of unskilled and poorly educated migrants, has come with a downside. She is on a mission to discredit, defame, disqualify. She wants to blow things up. She's not interested in nuance. So much for the American Friends Service Committee's motto: "Quaker values in action."
Goodman compounds the injury with snarky insult aimed at the Center for Immigration Studies. Scoffing at CIS's very name, she makes the contradictory observations that it is both "academic sounding" and "banal sounding". How Post editors let this nonsense into their paper is beyond me.
Goodman's worst offense is her attempt to reduce CIS's work — research papers, opinion pieces, blog posts, and congressional testimony — to clumsy, insensitive, and even reprehensible statements made decades ago by a man named John Tanton.
Among militant activists for immigrant rights and open immigration, Tanton is the ultimate explanation. He's all they need to feel justified in their dismissal of every restrictionist concern as ideologically contaminated, therefore morally reprehensible, therefore not worthy of consideration. For the smear-with-a-broad-brush crowd, Tanton offers one-stop shopping for the tools of their trade. For them, seeing is believing, and the sinister image of John Tanton fills their troubled field of vision.
Tanton, who is 84 and has struggled for years with Parkinson's, is a Michigan ophthalmologist by profession and environmentalist by passion. He was once an organizational dynamo whose interest in immigration policy grew out of his conviction that unchecked population growth is an existential threat to life on the planet.
We at CIS have written elsewhere at length about Tanton and the effort to discredit immigration restriction by shrinking it to the size of his most indefensible remarks. One such remark, cited by Goodman, was his joking observation that because of high Latino birth rates, "Those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down."
Tanton's comments, though decades old, are constantly cited by partisans and polemicists like Goodman, who offer them as proof that CIS, FAIR, and NumbersUSA are tainted, their arguments bogus, their concerns illegitimate.
I came to work at CIS after a three-decade reporting career that took me deep into the immigration story across the United States, Mexico and much of Central America. I thought CIS served the valuable civic function of immigration skeptic in a debate in which the expansionist side is far better financed.
My CIS role model was Otis Graham, the organization's founding chairman. A former Marine and a history professor, Otis identified himself as "a liberal restrictionist". Dissenting from the biases of most members of the liberal arts faculty, he observed that "immigration is an emotion-generating topic that puts some people, even scholars, into an intemperate frame of mind."
In his 2008 memoir, Immigration Reform and America's Unchosen Future, Otis wrote proudly of his advocacy for policies that would reduce immigration "without disparaging immigrants or their cultures, reserving condemnation for our own incompetent and shortsighted public officials and ethnocentric lobbyists rather than the immigrants caught in the mighty currents of globalization."
Of his work with CIS and FAIR, he wrote: "Immigration reform brought me into association with people who had glimpsed a problem ahead for our nation and our children and made time in their lives to try to steer the nation in a different and better direction, at the cost of attacks on their character and values."
There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the immigration debate. The Washington Post's decision to publish Goodman's malicious essay is another example of its difficulty in recognizing that fact. The Post is a world-class newspaper whose editors and reporters often seem unable to escape the Beltway bubble of affluent cosmopolitans who disdain the immigration concerns of millions of less affluent Americans.