A historic immigration reform bill passed the Senate last week, approved on a 68-32 margin. The measure now moves on to the House, where its chances are far from certain. The plan would send thousands of federal agents to the U.S.-Mexico border, place millions of current immigrants on a pathway to citizenship, and create a highly regulated guest worker program, along with a a high-skilled worker visa program. It’s a major political issue, and both the Democratic and Republican parties have huge stakes in the outcome.
But what’s that strange silence? Where are the anti-immigration activists, extreme border hawks, and virulent nationalists of yore? Are southwestern sheriffs no longer on Fox News’ speed dial? Have armed vigilantes stopped patrolling the borders?Immigration is a no less important or divisive issue than it has been in years past. But this time around, many of the old reliable anti-immigration reform voices have stayed quiet. A look at the careers of some of the most prominent voices shows that many have not fared well recently. And even those who are still chugging along have seen their sway diminished. The anti-immigration bombast business just ain’t what it used to be.
A one-time school teacher, Chris Simcox reinvented himself in the years after 9/11 as a leader of the border hawk movement. He headed up the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which organized armed patrols along the Mexican border, and he mounted a ill-fated Senate campaign as a Republican in 2009.
Last month, Simcox was arrested in Arizona, on suspicion of child molestation. In a press release, Phoenix police said Simcox denied the accusations.
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) has been a congressman, a presidential candidate, and a gubernatorial candidate. He has also called Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor a member of the “Latino KKK” and warned that Miami was becoming a “third world country.”
In 2007, when he ran for President, his campaign put out an ad depicting a fictional terrorist attack and warning that there are “consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who come to take our jobs.”
The founder of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, Barbara Coe was once named by a local newspaper one of the “scariest” people in Orange County, Calif. In 2005, Coe spoke at an anti-immigration event over Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas, Nev. There, she told the crowd that undocumented immigrants were “illegal barbarians who are cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos,” according to an article published a few months later in The American Prospect.
But Coe is getting up there in years (she turns 80 this year), and, anyway, recently, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center, her attention had focused more on a shadowy “globalist” conspiracy.
Not so long ago, Russell Pearce could make a case for being the most powerful politician in Arizona. He was the state Senate president, and the sponsor of the state’s harsh, controversial, and high-profile immigration law, known as SB 1070.
But in November 2011, Pearce became the first legislator in Arizona history to be recalled. Supporters of the effort called it “a cautionary tale for right-wing extremists. Then, last August, Pearce lost his comeback bid — a state Senate primary battle to a moderate businessman.
“This is the same Russell Pearce who said he’d never lose a primary,” political organizer Randy Parraz told the Arizona Republic at the time. “He misjudged the fact that he was no longer a conservative Republican — he was an extreme tea party Republican. There’s no comeback for Russell Pearce — he’s done.”
When Lou Dobbs resigned from CNN in late 2009, he said that he wanted to be bigger than just a television anchor.
“Some leaders in media, politics, and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN, and to engage in constructive problem-solving, as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day,” Dobbs said at the time.
But the subtext of the move was immigration. At CNN, Dobbs had been one of the country’s most prominent critics of undocumented immigrants. Now, he’s just another Fox News fire breather — he’s got a nightly show on Fox Business Network — and, just a few weeks ago, Megyn Kelly grilled him during a segment on gender issues.
Paul Babeu, the smooth-headed sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., took a star turn in John McCain’s 2010 “danged fence” campaign ad. Babeu anointed McCain “one of us,” and Babeu continued his ascent to national figure. He went on to become a master of drug cartel fear-mongering. In September 2010, a few weeks after Babeu asserted that Mexican drug cartels “literally do control parts of Arizona,” serious questions were raised about Babeu’s role in hyping one of his deputy’s tale of being shot by drug smugglers in the desert.
Babeu’s stock continued to rise until early 2012. He ran for Congress, and served as Arizona co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Then an ex-boyfriend surfaced in the press, publicly outing Babeu as gay and claiming that the sheriff had threatened to deport him. (The ex-boyfriend was an immigrant from Mexico.) Babeu was later cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, but not before he quit the Romney campaign, and called off the congressional run.
Vernon Robinson, a former Winston-Salem, N.C., city councilman, made a splash with a TV ad he ran during his 2006 campaign for Congress.
“If you’re a conservative Republican,watching the news these days can make you feel as though you’re in the Twilight Zone,” the ad’s Rod Serling-style narrator said. “The aliens are here, but they didn’t come in a spaceship. They came across our unguarded Mexican border by the millions.”
Described as “one of the country’s most notorious voices for a crackdown on illegal immigration” in a 2007 Reason article examining why the anti-immigration movement fell flat the previous year, by 2011 he was asking for money from World Net Daily readers and being described as a “perennial” congressional candidate.
Unlike Robinson, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) actually held federal office and, in 2010, he tried to challenge McCain from the right in a Republican primary. His involvement in an infomercial touting “free money” from the government eventually helped derail his Tea Party campaign, but he did succeed in getting McCain to lurch to the right on immigration.
And Hayworth is still hanging around and talking immigration. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, Hayworth implicitly criticized Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s support of comprehensive immigration reform. From The Huffington Post:
“I don’t believe this administration has any intent to enforce the law and I will say, sadly, that I think there are some who aspire to leadership in our party and leadership in the executive branch who, likewise, have no intention,” Hayworth told HuffPost on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation’s largest gathering of conservatives.
Asked if he meant Rubio, Hayworth didn’t give a “yes,” but came close.
Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., has for years been the nation’s most prominent local law enforcement official. He’s also the closest thing the anti-immigration movement has to an elder statesman.
It says something about how extreme the anti-immigration movement has been that a guy like Arpaio — who once enlisted Steven Seagal and Lou Ferrigno to a posse to help “reduce the flow of illegal immigrants into our communities” — has been seen as relatively more mainstream.
While Arpaio’s opponents weren’t able to beat him at the ballot box last November, age and federal investigations have slowed America’s self-proclaimed “toughest” sheriff in recent years. In May, a federal judge ruled the Arpaio had systematically singled out Latinos during immigration patrols.