January 09, 2017

Immigration Nonprofit Rejects Questions About Its Charity Designation

To the Editor:

On December 22, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article with the ridiculous title, "Dozens of ‘Hate Groups’ Have Charity Status, Chronicle Study Finds." According to the article, "The federal government has granted tax-exempt status to more than 60 controversial nonprofits branded by critics as ‘hate groups.’ " The article attributes the source of these designations as the Southern Poverty Law Center and further notes that the SPLC’s list is heavily skewed toward organizations that are generally perceived to be right of center.

The article has two main problems: It permits one particular 501(c)(3) charity to label and smear other charities, and it appears to expect the federal government to accept an SPLC designation as if it has some independent legitimacy.

The first questions that should come to mind when considering the SPLC’s designations is, Who made the SPLC the arbiters of the term "hate group"? Their designations are, at best, arbitrary and subjective.

Journalist Ken Silverstein noted in Harper’s magazine in 2010 that "the Law Center is essentially a fraud and that it has a habit of casually labeling organizations as ‘hate groups.’ (Which doesn’t mean that some of the groups it criticizes aren’t reprehensible.) In doing so, the SPLC shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all raises a pile of money, very little of which is used on behalf of poor people."

The list of independent journalists and journals accusing the SPLC of shameless opportunism, engaging in smear campaigns, and institutional racism within its own walls, include some unlikely sources, among them, JoAnn Wypijewski in The Nation, Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn in Counterpunch, and Jim Tharpe, the former editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, which ran a series of investigative articles about the Montgomery-based SPLC.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is a frequent target of the SPLC. Even under the well-documented politicization of the IRS under the Obama administration, FAIR’s operations and its integrity have never been called into question by the IRS.

Moreover, independent watchdogs, like the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator, consistently give FAIR their highest marks for the way it uses its tax-exempt status to fulfill its educational mission.

Further, the SPLC has repeatedly and intentionally engaged in willful misrepresentations of facts with respect to our organization, and misrepresented our program, purposes, and motivations.

FAIR has been around since 1979, and over that 38-year span we have established a clear record of who we are and what we stand for. FAIR advocates for more limited immigration and enforcement of laws against illegal immigration because we believe such policies would best serve the interests of the nation. We draw a clear distinction between immigrants (who are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity irrespective of their legal status) and immigration, which is a public policy that is ostensibly formulated and implemented to serve the American public interest.

Countless public-opinion polls show that FAIR’s views on immigration policy are shared by a significant majority of Americans.

No doubt, there are many people who strongly disagree with FAIR’s positions, the conclusions we have drawn from our research, and policy reforms we advocate. Disagreement, however, does not equate with hate.

Disagreement is the essence of political discourse and healthy democracy. Malicious accusations intended to stifle those whose views one disagrees with are the enemies of political discourse and are attacks against the essence of our democracy.

Dan Stein

Federation for American Immigration Reform