Amnesty and the Tea Party's Libertarian Friends

After Eric Cantor’s defeat by newcomer Dave Brat, the New York Times ran a dozen articles and blog posts about the election.  This flood of words tried to conceal the primary concern of voters in Cantor’s district: amnesty for illegal immigrants.  One story did address amnesty and the election, but Times reporters mused at far greater length about anything and everything else.

Such papering-over is to be expected of the Times, which does not wish to draw attention to the fact that most American citizens disagree with open-borders politics.  Amnesty’s other cheerleaders also prioritize suppressing the public’s real views on legal and illegal immigration: this motley crew includes the Chamber of Commerce, La Raza, Grover Norquist, Barack Obama, the RNC, the DNC, and even powerful elements within the American Conservative Union.

The Tea Party stands virtually alone in loudly opposing amnesty, and for doing so they are targeted with slurs like “nativist” and “racist.”  While their views represent those of many, if not most Americans, the toxic label “racist” intimidates their potential allies from speaking out.  This is why election results like the defeat of Cantor come as a surprise to the political establishment.  It is also why silencing the Tea Party on immigration is a key ambition of pro-amnesty forces.

Unfortunately, it is not the Chamber of Commerce or even RINOs that threaten to undermine the Tea Party’s courageous stance on immigration.  That danger lies closer to home, in national libertarian groups.  In particular, Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks have been misleading the grassroots on amnesty.  With a vote on immigration a strong possibility in coming weeks, as Erick Erickson warns in RedState, it is time to confront this deception, however unpleasant the confrontation may prove to be.

The official line offered by AFP and Freedomworks is that they are “sitting out” the immigration debate.  But there is no such thing as sitting out such a crucial issue.  Worse, they aren’t really sitting it out.  Behind the scenes and through other organizations, the primary donors to AFP and the primary thinkers at Freedomworks actually advocate for increased immigration and amnesty.  When they say they are “sitting immigration out,” they are being dishonest.

The Kochs, for example, are not just the founders of AFP: they are the founders of the most prominent right-of-center pro-amnesty think tank, CATO Institute.  Through CATO, they subsidize the work of Alex Nowrasteh and others who argue that “unauthorized immigrants” do not strain the welfare system, social safety nets, or the job market.  By speaking from the right, CATO plays a vital role in legitimating the bipartisan nature of the elitists’ push for ever-increasing immigration and amnesty. 

Within the beltway, the Kochs are not shy about using their money to support mass amnesty and open borders, not only by subsidizing CATO but also the open borders, pro-amnesty, libertarian magazine Reason.  So why do they refuse to be consistent with AFP or at least make their real opinion clear to the hundreds of thousands of Tea Party activists who have volunteered with or donated money to AFP?

The answer is obvious: many citizen activists would hesitate to work with AFP if they knew that the organization’s leaders are delivering one set of marching orders to the grassroots outside the beltway while underwriting pro-amnesty campaigns inside the beltway.  And we wouldn’t work with AFP at all if it endorsed CATO’s immigration stance.  So AFP plays us for fools and hopes we swallow the duplicitous claim that they’re just “sitting out” amnesty.  But the duplicity goes deeper that that.

I worked as an independent contractor with AFP in Florida during the 2012 election (I received approximately $1550 for honorariums and donated many more volunteer hours to AFP).  AFP’s Florida key staff included several figures tied to Jeb Bush.  Away from microphones, their attitude towards grassroots Tea Party activists, especially social conservatives, reflected the attitude of Bush and other RINOs, particularly on amnesty. 

Tea Party activists felt pressured to sit down and shut up about amnesty lest they be seen as racists.  And at the crucial moment when Marco Rubio betrayed his promise to voters to oppose amnesty, AFP gave Rubio a prominent platform at their Defending the American Dream Summit.  It was a slap in the face to every Florida activist who had volunteered his or her time for Rubio’s election based on his tape-recorded promise to not back amnesty.    

I know many Florida Tea Party activists who are deeply fed up with AFP’s immigration deception (not to mention their incessant fundraising and their insistence that they speak for grassroots groups who have no reciprocal voice in AFP’s platform – but those are issues for another day).  But with jobs and families to support, few citizen activists feel they can stand up to AFP.  Some also feel pressure to stay quiet lest they attract attention from AFP’s belligerent legal team.         

The consequence of AFP’s meddling is a weakened Tea Party voice against illegal immigration.  Freedomworks is more responsive and respectful towards the grassroots, but they too are using the excuse of “sitting amnesty out.”

Why do we put up with this?  With few friends and many enemies, it is understandable that Tea Party activists wish to trust their political allies.  But amnesty and border control aren’t like other political issues.  They represent an existential crisis that threatens to overwhelm every other cause, from repealing Obamacare to protecting gun rights to returning local control to the school curriculum and reducing national debt. 

It will take years of legislative negotiation to end Obamacare and rein in the federal Departments of Education and Justice.  But if we don’t secure the border first and prevent amnesty, Florida will soon become a permanent blue state with Georgia close behind.  Even Texas will follow in fewer years than anyone wants to contemplate.  After that, there is zero demographic chance of Republicans ever gaining the House, Senate, or Presidency again.

If we don’t put all our current energy into closing the border and defeating amnesty legislation, none of our other fights will matter.  We cannot allow even our best political friends to exert control over our position on immigration and amnesty.  We can’t let them whisper “racism,” for their sake as much as ours: the border crisis is only emboldening radicals’ demands that Americans censor any opposition to untrammelled illegal immigration.  Soon, even voicing any desire for border control will be unacceptable political speech.

What to do?  We need to confront AFP and Freedomworks about their stance on immigration.  We need to talk about the ways their “neutrality” claim undermines our anti-amnesty message and honestly address their collaboration with open-borders agitators. 

Essentially, we need to hold the libertarian nationals to the same standard to which we would hold any elected official. If a friend back home goes to Washington and double-crosses our platform, we impose consequences.  The same must go for any national organization that partner with us.  They are powerful groups, but we gave them that power.  We can also take it away.  The future of America literally depends on it.

Tina Trent is a writer and coalition-building consultant.  She lives in the north Georgia mountains and blogs about crime, politics, and academia at