Several prominent Republicans are trying to push immigration restrictionist groups to the fringe of the debate by challenging their conservative credentials and attacking their stance on population control, The Washington Post reports.
GOP heavyweights like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and power broker Grover Norquist are backing an effort to inform conservatives about the history of groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).
All three groups share a common link: they were incubated by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist whose commitment to the environment led him to an unlikely crusade against immigration that started three decades ago and continues today. Tanton helped found the groups under the belief that immigration threatens nature in the U.S. since it increases the population.
Those organizations are now the leading conservative voices against immigration, both legal and illegal, and have received the endorsement of Republicans like Senators Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). A representative from one of the groups, CIS, testified at recent immigration hearings in the Senate and House.
The push to discredit the groups also involves officials from the Catholic Church, the Post reported.
Catholic groups, as with other faiths, have backed immigration reform in the interests of migrant rights. But in this instance, the history that these restrictionist groups have with population control could also be a factor. Before Tanton started FAIR in 1979, he founded a local chapter of Planned Parenthood in his Michigan community and was president of a national group called Zero Population Growth, The New York Times reported in 2011. The group is now called Population Connection and advocates for access to birth control for women around the world, among other things.
FAIR, NumbersUSA and CIS told The Washington Post they have no official position on abortion and contend that they are focused on immigration, not restricting population growth. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for FAIR, told the newspaper that his organization "is not a population group, it's an immigration policy group."
But opponents within the GOP aren't buying that.
The critics, however, argue that the three groups have misled conservatives. These critics point to reports on the FAIR and Numbers USA Web sites, for instance, that warn of environmental devastation from unchecked population growth, and they are circulating a 1993 report by CIS researchers sympathetic to contraception and the RU-486 abortion pill.
Brad Bailey, the co-founder and CEO of Texas Immigration Solution, a conservative group backing immigration reform, believes that the three immigration restrictionist groups have "hijacked the issue" within the party.
"It hinders our ability to do Hispanic outreach," he said. "I think people finally said, 'Enough's enough.'"