Yesterday’s hearing on immigration in Grandville, organized by West Michigan House of Representatives member Dave Agema featured a considerable amount of testimony that attempted to equate undocumented immigration with terrorists. This is not a new technique for Agema, as he has previously equated immigrants with Hamas and al-Qaeda. This has been coupled with other xenophobic rhetoric coming from Agema and the rest of the his Republican colleagues from the Michigan House of Representatives’ Michigan Task Force on Border Security & Immigration Reform, including comments asserting that immigrants are taking jobs from Michigan residents.
This rhetoric has been used by Agema to push for a bill in the Michigan House of Representatives that would require people to prove their citizenship or immigration status before receiving a driver’s license. In order to advance his argument that undocumented immigrants are associated with terrorists, Agema brought Connecticut resident Peter Gadiel of 9/11 Families for a Secure America. According to Gadiel, 9/11 Families for a Secure America is a membership organization of people “who lost loved ones in those attacks, survivors of those attacks, as well as people who have been victims of violent crimes committed by illegal aliens and their survivors.”
Gadiel’s comments were both some of the harshest and most polished of those made by the individuals invited to speak at the hearing. Gadiel began by talking about how the United States’ government has failed to “stem the tide of illegal aliens” and to prevent Americans from suffering “needlessly at the hands of people who have no business being in the United States.” As part of his testimony, Gadiel urged Michigan to pass Agema’s bill to prevent issuing of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and “the violent felons and terrorists among them.” He asserted that “every illegal alien is a person who’s true identity has never been verified and therefore any illegal alien may be a terrorist or violent felon” and repeatedly explained that the “9/11 terrorists” were “illegal aliens.” Gadiel had no qualms about associating undocumented immigrants with the 9/11 attacks; even going so far to state, “I will say with a great degree of confidence that had they not had driver’s licenses, my son and 3,000 other people would be alive today.”
He asked the Task Force if “the people of Michigan really want to be guilty of aiding and abetting the next terrorist attack?” He argued that “Americans can be confident that the next 9/11 terrorists will be illegal aliens” and claimed that the “people of Michigan have moral obligation” to strengthen the state’s laws regarding driver’s licenses. He further claimed that:
“Michigan’s legislators and governor Granholm have a clear choice–you either fight terrorism by denying licenses to illegal aliens or you help terrorists by granting licenses to illegal aliens and the unknown terrorists and violent felons among them. You can do one or the other, you can’t do both.”
Gadiel also explained that one of his 9/11 Families for a Secure America’s board members had a daughter that was stalked and murdered by an “illegal alien” who had three previous arrests while others across the United States have lost their lives to “illegal aliens” who were “driving drunk.” As with his other assertions, there was no evidence provided to support his claims.
Near the end of his testimony, Gadiel told the Task Force “I have been called a Nazi, a KKK, other horrific names.” He asserted that he was of Jewish heritage, but did not explain why he had been called such names and why he chose to share the story. Had Gadiel disclosed some of his own connections and the connections of his organization with the organized anti-immigrant movement, those it the audience would have understood why he was concerned about being termed a racist.
Gadiel is a former board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) an organization that was formed in the 1980s to oppose immigration. Since its founding, FAIR has been accused of maintaining links to white supremacist groups and holding racist views. Many of these accusations center around the fact that from 1985 to 1994 FAIR accepted money from the Pioneer Fund, an organization that funded research on eugenics and the so-called superiority of the white race. FAIR’s founder John Tanton, who now lives in Michigan, somewhat notoriously used racist terminology to describe Latinos in a series of memos outlining his strategy for the anti-immigrant movement. In addition, Tanton runs a publishing company called Social Contract Press that publishes and distributes a wide range of anti-immigrant literature.
Currently, FAIR and 9/11 Families for a Secure America share two advisors–David Schippers and Alan Weeden. Weeden is on FAIR’s board of directors while David Schippers is listed as a member of FAIR’s “National Board of Advisors.” Additionally, Richard Lamm–one of 9/11 Families for a Secure America’s advisors–is a former member of FAIR’s board of directors. Lamm, who is a former governor of Colorado, once gave a speech asserting that turning the United States into “a bilingual or multi-lingual and bicultural country” would destroy the country by valuing “multiculturalism.” The fourth member of 9/11 Families for a Secure America’s “Advisors” is Michael Cutler, who is on the board of the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that was founded as an offshoot of FAIR in the 1980s.
Additionally, 9/11 Families for a Secure America links to a variety of anti-immigrant websites from its own website, including Vdare.com and American Patrol, both of whom have been accused of racism by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Moreover, Gadiel’s writings have appeared on Vdare.com, with Gadiel writing about the “invasion of law-breaking illegals” in Connecticut who “evade taxes.” Gadiel founded but is no longer with Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control and also spoke recently at a rally attended by white supremacists.
9/11 Families for a Secure America website lists “endorsements” from to individuals associated with the far right spectrum of the immigration debate in Congress–Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner who in 2005 pushed a punitive immigration “reform” package through the House and Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo. The group describes its purpose:
“To focus their [the public’s] attention on the dangers of unsecured borders, visa waiver programs, loose standards for issuing drivers’ licenses, acceptance of matricular cards. We will make sure the public understands that illegal immigration and terrorism are inseparable issues.”
To this end, 9/11 Families for a Secure America has used the emotion associated with the 9/11 attacks to call for stricter border controls. The group asserts that “the failure to keep out unauthorized aliens led directly to the 9/11 attacks and the deaths of our loved ones” and prioritizes its work in the areas of “border security” and “driver’s license reform.” This has included endorsing legislation such as Agema’s that would prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses as well as supporting measures such as assigning troops to the United States-Mexico border. The group takes a number of other stands including calling for the enactment of “English-only” laws, ending the practice of awarding citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants when they are born in the United States, and ending affirmative action programs for immigrants. Many of these positions go far beyond addressing “secure concerns” and instead reflect a larger anti-immigrant bias.
Despite these positions, 9/11 Families for a Secure America has been able to position itself within the mainstream of the immigration debate. Just as they did at the hearing yesterday in West Michigan, the group has delivered testimony before Congress and has appeared in the media without disclosure of their connections to the far right. This in many ways reflects the successes of the organized anti-immigrant movement. That movement–despite ties to the racist right–has been able to have considerable influence on the political debates over immigration in the past twenty years, despite its ties to the racist right.