The Nativists Behind the Man Who Called Obama a Liar

ImmigrantsRep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) has received a lot of attention for calling President Obama a liar Wednesday night when he asserted that undocumented immigrants will not benefit from health care reform. Most commentators and politicians have denounced Wilson’s unruly behavior, though not enough have bothered to highlight the inherent fallacy of his accusations. Undocumented immigrants are in fact explicitly barred from receiving any health care benefits under both the House and Senate bills and a closer look at all those who restlessly suggest otherwise sheds some light on the radical nativist underpinnings of their anti-health care reform crusade.

To begin with, Wilson is a member of the Southern heritage group, Sons of Confederate Veterans, which favors secession and defends slavery. Crooks and Liars further reports that, as a state legislator, Wilson went against his own party and voted with seven lone right-wingers to keep the Dixie Rebel flag flying over the South Carolina state capitol building.

As a federal lawmaker, Wilson became a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC), a group of (mostly Republican) representatives founded by former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) with the mission of stopping “the explosive growth in illegal immigration,” “reversing the growth in legal immigration,” and halting “amnesties.” Other notoriously anti-immigrant members of HIRC include Steve King (R-IA), who described immigration as a “slow-motion Holocaust,” and Lamar Smith (R-TX), who equates undocumented immigrants with “terrorist weapons.” HIRC members Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), and King all proclaimed that undocumented immigrants would receive health care benefits long before Wilson’s outburst. The two Republican representatives, Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV), who proposed amendments to the House health care bill that would’ve added stringent citizenship verification mechanisms are active members of the HIRC as well. Heller and Deal also lead the fight to overturn the 14th Amendment and end the policy of automatically granting anyone who is born in the country US citizenship.

Wilson’s reaction last night was certainly out of line, but his indefensible fit of temper was illustrative of a larger discussion taking place amongst HIRC members and anti-immigrant groups who see the health care debate as yet another opportunity to promote their nativist agenda by advancing illogical fears, misplaced anger, and calculated misinformation. HIRC is now headed by Brian Bilbray (R-CA) — a former lobbyist for the anti-immigrant hate group, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Center for New Community reports that FAIR paid him almost $300,000 for work on its behalf between May 2002 and July 2005. Since then, Bilbray has announced his intentions to “work closely” with groups such as FAIR and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), another “FAIR spin-off group” that has been identified as part of the “nativist lobby.”

It comes as no surprise that HIRC’s health care reform haters have regularly relied on the shoddy “expertise” of FAIR, CIS, and their sister-group, NumbersUSA, to promote the myth that undocumented immigrants will be covered under the bill. Another anti-immigrant group, Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC), has gone as far to call Wilson a “brave Congressmen” for calling Obama out on his “lie” and have advised their membership to personally thank him.

andreaWilson has co-sponsored several pieces of English-only legislation and supported efforts to report undocumented immigrants who seek emergency medical care. In 2006, he declared “it is time to curtail the invasion of illegal aliens.”

Andrea Christina Nill

Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress

Published by the LA Progressive on September 11, 2009
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About Andrea Christina Nill

Andrea Nill is an Immigration Researcher/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org and The Progress Report at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Political Science with a concentration in Latin American Studies and Law and Society. Prior to joining the center, Andrea was a Communications Associate at the Immigration Policy Center where she founded the blog, Immigration Impact. Andrea was also a Communications Specialist at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), specializing in bilingual public relations. Andrea was born in Guatemala and grew up in upstate New York.