Immigration Reform Law Institute

A TransBorder Profile



The Immigration Reform Law Institute is the legal branch of the Federation of American Immigration Reform. FAIR, founded in 1979, is a leading immigration restrictionist organization.


IRLI says it is “America's only public interest law organization working exclusively to protect the legal rights, privileges, and property of U.S. citizens and their communities from injuries and damages caused by unlawful immigration.”


It describes itself as “a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to controlling illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration to levels consistent with the national interest of the United States.” In other words, FAIR’s ILRI works not just against illegal immigration but also against most instances of legal immigration.


Typical of well-funded, well-established right-wing policy institutes, IRLI benefits from clear messaging. Central to its anti-immigrant messaging is its focus on U.S. citizens and its claim to be defending the “rule of law.” The “rule of law” framework for its activities routinely appears in statements by its principals and is regularly echoed by the state and local governments that work with the institute to design anti-immigrant laws.


On its homepage, ILRI warns: “The injuries caused by illegal aliens in your community have become a growing crisis in communities nationwide.”  


It then details these injuries:


·         U.S. workers wages and working conditions are hurt when employers discriminate in favor of cheap illegal alien labor.”

·         “Honest businesses suffer lost revenue and profits due to unfair competition.”

·         “Students experience discrimination when illegal aliens take over their schools and colleges and demand special treatment.”

·         “Ordinary Americans suffer life-threatening injury and pain when local police who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities fail to detain drunk driver or criminal illegal aliens.”

·         “Greedy landlords turn neighborhood homes and apartments into modern slums by packing them with illegal alien tenants.”

·         “Civic groups need help to fight nuisance and environmental stress associated with mass influxes of immigrants.”


ILRI seeks out cases that can be used to drive in these particular messages and their overall charge that immigration policy should strictly enforce the rule of law.


ILRI links immigration to environmental loss, and says it “works to prevent degradation to our natural and civic environments caused by rapid expansion of population density, a trend linked in the U.S. to massive levels of immigration.”


It is best known and most effective for its work “to design and promote state and local legislation that enables communities to effectively address problems resulting from illegal immigration.”


“Attrition Through Enforcement”


ILRI made national news in June 2008 with its anti-racketeering lawsuit filed against a property-management company that leases apartments to illegal immigrants. The federal lawsuit filed by ILRI challenges the right of landlords to rent to illegal immigrants. In the suit against a Connolly Properties in Plainfield, NJ, the institute seeks to establish a legal precedent that cities can use to punish landlords who have undocumented tenants. ILRI contends that the company’s practice of leasing to illegal immigrants is tantamount to unlawful harboring and should be considering a criminal enterprise – thus the use of federal racketeering law.

ILRI has previously worked with town officials in
Hazelton, Pa. and Riverside, N.J. to support ordinances that aimed to penalize landlords who rented to illegal immigrants. A judged ruled the Hazelton ordinance unconstitutional, and Riverside officials rescinded the ordinance.


Michael Hethmon, IRLI’s general counsel and director, said his group decided to take the case as part of its strategy of “attrition through enforcement,” or urging illegal immigrants to leave the country by making it more difficult for them to find employment and housing.

“We have felt for a long time that the racketeering statute would be useful in dealing with situations where businesses and commercial enterprises were heavily involved with illegal immigration,” Mr. Hethmon said. “We’ve also felt that individual citizens, communities, neighborhoods and law-abiding small businesses have always needed tools with which they can defend themselves against the harmful effects of illegal immigration.”

Drafting New Laws


Outside the courtroom ILRI is working with a growing number of state governments in designing anti-immigrant laws that hold up to legal challenges.

“Since 2001, state and local governments have played a growing role in the struggle of American citizens against illegal immigration,” ILRI explains. “IRLI lawyers have specialized expertise in the development and drafting of immigration enforcement and relief measures being considered by state legislatures and local governments.”

In the last year and a half, ILRI has assisted
Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia
and other states in shaping anti-immigrant measures.

“We see this state and local activity as not only effective in itself . . . but there's also the long effect as, one by one, these states line up," Hethmon said. "As these jurisdictions confront this issue, it builds up a positive and helpful kind of pressure on Congress."


The signing in mid-July 2008 of a new anti-immigrant law in Missouri by Gov. Roy Blunt is not only a sign of the continuing strength of the backlash against immigration, especially in heartland states, but also another indicator of the strength, depth, and sophistication of restrictionist institutes like FAIR and all its various branches and front groups.


Upon signing the bill, which puts the state in the vanguard of the immigration crackdown, Governor Blunt stressed that his aim was to enforce the rule of law. Echoing the rhetoric of the restrictionist groups, the governor contended that the new law – which instructs the state police to enforce immigration law and denies unauthorized immigrants all state social services – was not anti-immigrant but was only seeking to uniformly apply the rule of law. In other words, illegal immigrants are now considered outlaws in Missouri.


Blunt and the state legislators behind the initiative counted on the assistance of Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal branch of FAIR.


FAIR’s president Dan Stein greeted the new law, saying: “Kudos to FAIR activists in Missouri for this important victory!” He boasted, “FAIR's legal affiliate IRLI, the Immigration Reform Law Institute as well as FAIR activists were involved in making sure that this measure was crafted as well as instrumental in keeping the pressure on to pass it. Kudos to FAIR activists in Missouri for this important victory!”


Before becoming FAIR’s president, Stein was executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute.