William Gheen, founder of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), claims he is organizing 50 “tea parties” this coming Saturday in an attempt to stop efforts to “destroy America through mass illegal immigration and amnesty.” Gheen says his rallies are joining ranks with the Taxpayer Tea Party and 9/12 Movements. However, while the events do pose a great organizing opportunity for Gheen, they may not attract the support of all tea partiers. Apparently tea bagger-operative and FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey takes a more politically savvy approach to immigration. This weekend, the New York Times wrote:
He [Armey]also has a more liberal view of immigration than many in his party. “Reagan went to Berlin and said, ‘Tear down this wall,’ ” Armey said. “We went to San Diego and said, ‘Build a fence.’ It was just stupid. You have Hispanics saying, ‘I’m not going to vote for those guys because they don’t like me.’“
While Gheen warns that American “hospitality and values are being strained” by “illegal aliens,” Armey has long been opposed to anti-immigrant fear mongering, stating:
More and more these days, immigrants are being viewed as if they were the source of America’s problems. It seems the old Malthusian notion that people are a drain is making one of its regular revivals…
Anti-immigration has always been ironic, because throughout our history newcomers have been a source of strength, not weakness. America still attracts the world’s best talent. And surely that is no liability. Think of it. We can avail ourselves of much of the world’s intellectual wealth simply by opening our doors…The impulse to limit immigration is really a manifestation of the protectionist impulse. And it’s misguided.
During the 2006 immigration debate, Armey referred to anti-immigrant xenophobe, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), as the “cheerleader of jerkiness in the immigration debate.” Armey has proposed privatizing the US immigration system to allow in immigrants who love liberty and are willing to obey the law.
Nonetheless, Armey’s immigration views are probably motivated more by his pocket book than the goodness of his heart. A few months ago, Think Progress reported that corporate lobbyists were playing a big role in orchestrating tea party protests. That might help explain why Armey’s FreedomWorks was one of the few right wing organizations to support comprehensive immigration reform in 2006. Curiously, his lobbying firm was simultaneously representing the Senado de Republica (Mexican Senate) on “enhancing U.S.-Mexico relations,” specifically on immigration policy. Armey also probably recognizes that opposing immigration hurts his movement more than it helps. Only 9% of Republican voters cite immigration as one of their top issues and 89% of Republicans support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to legalization.
Armey might be pro-immigration, but ultimately he’s at least partly responsible for inspiring anti-immigrant tea party sideshows. In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center warned that hate groups and “nativist extremists” would begin exploiting the anger of tea baggers in an effort to recruit more supporters to join their hateful cause.