"Hideous Heidi" Beirich [Email her] of the Southern Poverty Law Center ($PLC to VDARE.com) is suggesting that John Tanton's resignation from the board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which he founded in 1979, is a result of the recent New York Times attack on him. [Immigration Opponent Withdraws From Group, By Jason DeParle, New York TImes, April 29, 2011]But, as a former board member myself—my son, Don Collins Jr., is a current member—I can report that John chose to step down when his five year term ended for reasons of health. At 77, his struggle against Parkinson's disease is intensifying. The long, arduous journey from northern Michigan to FAIR's board meetings in Washington DC has become too much.
The New York Times, an implacable enemy of reasonable immigration laws and their enforcement, managed to slur this noble and important intellectual leader.(See Jason DeParle's Unpatriotic Struggle Against John Tanton And Patriotic Immigration Reform for details.) It barely detailed the enormous volunteer work he accomplished over five decades to reform population and immigration policy and to improve both the environment and quality of life. It missed as usual the point John always makes: "I am not anti immigrant, I am anti too much immigration."
At a recent dinner, another long time colleague of John's, Otis Graham, told me that John once compared his view to not being against food—but simply against eating too much food.
I wrote extensively about my long relationship with John Tanton last year. My own interest in immigration control flowed out of my concern about the population explosion. But another of his long-time admirers, Kathryn Bricker, Past Executive Director of U.S.ENGLISH and of Michigan's Little Traverse Conservancy, both founded by him, wrote me shrewdly (and perhaps surprisingly) after the NYT article as follows:
"I was ...... disappointed at the attempt to imply guilt by association. Tanton introduced me to the work of one of his heroes, social action community organizer Saul Alinsky. Alinsky once said 'sometimes people do the right things for the wrong reasons.' Leaders such as Alinsky and Tanton accept the positive contributions from others on the issue of interest, even if they disagree on other fronts. This key to compromise for the sake of progress is increasingly lacking in our polarized society. If we never cooperate with someone whose past includes something disagreeable, we would not achieve much."
Kathryn Bricker added:
"A person should be able to stand up for the western cultural values of democracy, free public education for all, honest business dealings, police and others held accountable to demands of bribery, womens' and minorities' rights, without risking being tarred a racist."
This amazing man put all his personal papers on file at the University of Michigan's Bentley Library. His life is literally an open book.
John believes in bringing up all views and discussing them. He has a quality of credibility which comes across instantly to his listeners. As our friendship ripened over these many subsequent years, I have often personally seen that quality in action, one which no doubt has made it possible for him to enlist so many voices to pursue immigration reform in various ways.
While some of those voices have expressed views that vicious political enemies have used to try to defame this Renaissance man, his guiding principle remains that American democracy can stand a variety of opinions and indeed must hear them for the comprehensive debate that this issue demands.
This quality of inspiring others to join and help his important vision will certainly be remembered as a primary legacy of John Tanton.
In sharing this highly personal piece on a trusted, honorable, personal friend, let me mention that despite his continuing difficult battle with a degenerative disease, he continues to spur his colleagues to action.
He seeks to engage people from many walks of life, helping them with his broad knowledge to a wider understanding of not only the immigration reform issue, but the quality of planetary life that has been so endangered by human numbers.
Even as his health fails, he remains an active correspondent. I got a letter from him in March to which I replied:
"You are so right about the importance of thinking positively about extending our mortal impact through our successors. You have started so many of us involved in seeking real immigration reform on a path which has been difficult but essential for the nation to grasp and act upon. I am more hopeful now than in some time about gaining real goals."
America needs many more like John. I am proud to have worked with him over so many fruitful years.
Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.