The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is under scrutiny in Lake Worth these days. As we reported yesterday, residents packed a small room at Monday night's CRB meeting to hear a presentation on local "hate groups," including FAIR.
In part, the recently passed Arizona Senate Bill 1070, one piece of what Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacy has called "a national attack on Latino immigrants coordinated by FAIR," is prompting a new look at immigration initiatives here in South Florida. The Arizona bill directs law enforcement to round up and jail undocumented Mexicans. But the renewed scrutiny in Lake Worth also comes because FAIR claims to have influenced city decisions. The group claims to have helped defeat a 2002 ordinance allowing consular ID cards to be accepted as valid identification by Mexican residents.
Commissioners voted down the proposed ordinance that year. The ID cards, issued by the Mexican consulate, would have provided more than 2,400 Mexican residents in Lake Worth with a photo ID card with which to conduct bank business, obtain library cards, and apply for credit and utility services.
Critics of the cards claim they simply make it easier for undocumented workers to remain in the U.S.
Scott Maxwell, a city commissioner at the time who was reelected to the commission last year, voiced his concern at the time that "the ordinance would have put the city at risk of being cited for aiding illegal immigrants." Here's what FAIR had to say:
FAIR worked with Lake Worth officials to emphasize the legal issues raised by the acceptance of the cards and hopes that the town will become a model for other communities faced with this issue to follow.
"Because consular ID cards are only needed by people who aren't legally in the U.S. in the first place, communities that accept the cards as valid ID are undermining immigration enforcement," said FAIR executive Dan Stein.
Although the card is not a new document, it has recently been publicized as a benefit to Mexicans who are illegally in the U.S. Lake Worth's decision is contrary to the current trend.
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Maxwell came under fire during last year's election campaign when activists claimed he had strong ties to FAIR, via his WBZT radio program, Connecting the Dots, and his website Bordercontrolnow.com. And FAIR, his critics claimed, is a racist organization.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit that tracks U.S. hate groups, agrees. In a damning 2009 report, The Nativist Lobby, Three Faces of Intolerance, SPL chronicles the ties between FAIR founder John Tanton and white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and pro-eugenics organizations (download the full SPL report here.)
Brooke Bailey, who presented the PowerPoint lecture to the CRB on Monday, says that FAIR and another anti-immigration organization, Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, also worked behind the scenes to squelch Lake Worth's Resource Center and, farther north, Jupiter's El Sol Center. Both centers are devoted to integrating migrant workers into the community by providing job opportunities, language and technology classes, and academic mentoring.
Not everyone agrees that FAIR is a racist organization. "Racism is an easy word to use," says Lake Worth blogger and immigration reform activist Lynn Anderson. "It's a way to discredit legitimate immigration reform movements, which only ask that people obey federal law and emigrate legally. The criticism is that bills like the one in Arizona are going to lead to racial profiling. But racial profiling is against the law. It's not going to happen. We don't have a great problem with racial tension here in Lake Worth. It's not like we're in any danger of having race riots."