1601 N. Kent Street
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: (703) 816-8820
NumbersUSA, founded in 1997, is one of a trinity of closely related policy organizations dedicated to restrict immigration flows. It describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy organization that favors an environmentally sustainable and economically just America.”
The other two major restrictionist organizations based in Washington, DC area are the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
NumbersUSA was the lead organization is mobilizing grassroots opposition to the proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate was considering in June 2007. Its organizing efforts proved a tremendous boost to its membership base. It now boasts that it counts on 640,000 members with an average of 1,300 members in every congressional district.
The executive director of NumbersUSA is Roy Beck, a former environmental journalist who has become one of the leading voices for immigration restrictions. Beck is the author of one of the major books advocating immigration restrictions. The Case Against Immigration (1996) catapulted Beck into the national spotlight, and a year later Beck founded NumbersUSA.
NumbersUSA “opposes efforts to use federal immigration policies to force mass U.S. population growth and to depress wages of vulnerable workers.” It is “is pro-environment, pro-worker, pro-liberty and pro-immigrant.” Simply put, Numbers USA says it is an “immigration-reduction organization.”
NumbersUSA defines two goals: 1) “To examine numerical levels of annual legal and illegal immigration; and 2) To educate the public about immigration-reduction recommendations from two national commissions of the 1990s, namely the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (headed by Barbara Jordan) and the report of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development—both of which recommended reducing immigration flows.”
NumbersUSA explicitly disassociates itself from the type of nativist and racist immigrant bashing of many local anti-immigrant organizations. Beck focuses on the numbers of immigrants – legal and illegal – and takes care in his pronouncements, reports, and videos to say that immigrants themselves are not the problem but rather a failed immigration system that he says has allowed too many immigrants into the United States in the past few decades.
According to Beck, “Nothing about this website should be construed as advocating hostile actions or feelings toward immigrant Americans. Even illegal aliens deserve humane treatment as they are detected, detained, and deported.”
Moreover, Beck says that “not only is it ethically wrong to engage in such stereotyping, it is tactically short-sighted. There is much to suggest that most immigrants already among us would support reductions in immigration numbers. The reasons are not surprising. Virtually any reduction would be even more beneficial to foreign-born Americans.”
NumbersUSA and Elections
Commenting on the Obama and McCain candidacies, Beck told the Los Angeles Times, "These two guys were pretty much at the bottom of all the candidates. They're the worst, the bottom of the barrel, that ended up winning."
“That's the reality we're dealing with: a choice we don't consider a choice," said Beck. "The chances of influencing one of these two guys to take a pro-worker, pro-environment position are very low.” However, he said that "bringing public pressure to bear to not dismantle enforcement and improve border security has some chance of success."
NumbersUSA tracks the immigration positions of congressional candidates and members, as well as presidential contenders. It sponsors the Americans for Better Immigration website (www.betterimmigration.com) that grades candidates and notes the ones that are “True Immigration Reform Candidates.” While not endorsing candidates, NumbersUSA does promote the reelection of the members of the Immigration Reform Caucus.
Americans for Better Immigration “believes the problem with immigration today is not the individual immigrant but the numbers. ‘Better’ immigration is lower immigration.”
While Beck, like other restrictionist leaders, is not pleased with either presidential candidate, he says NumbersUSA is focusing on building local opposition to liberal immigration reform and support for such restrictionist bills as the SAVE Act.
In Beck’s view, a Democratic Congress "doesn't necessarily mean bad things for us." He points out that some freshman Democrats who beat Republican incumbents in 2006 are tough on illegal immigration because "they need a way to show people that they're different from the party leadership."
NumbersUSA and the Environment
From its beginning, NumbersUSA has stressed the links between immigration, population growth, and environmental loss. The banner of its website features the high peaks of a Rocky Mountain range, implying that increased numbers threaten that pristine environment.
In 2008, however, NumbersUSA has stepped up its educational efforts around immigration and environment themes. It is a member of the new restrictionist coalition called America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning, which in June 2008 placed large ads in such national publications as the New York Times and The Nation. One ad shows an eight-lane highway clogged with stalled traffic with the caption: “One of America’s Most Popular Pastimes.” Another ad shows a bulldozer plowing through a forest with the provocative caption: “One of America’s Best Selling Vehicles.”
Since its founding in 1996 NumbersUSA has sought to make immigration one of the leading culprits for environmental loss and urban sprawl. Its latest promotional video is called, “What’s Causing All the Traffic?”
In collaboration with the Center for Immigration Studies, Numbers USA published a series of reports linking immigration-fueled population growth with urban sprawl.
Authored by Beck and NumbersUSA analyst Leon Kolankiewicz, the reports contend the immigrants cause sprawl in the following four ways: 1) Direct settlement by immigrants in the suburbs; 2) High fertility creates larger second generation of households, and children of immigrants desert urban cores by higher margins; 3) Immigrants facilitate movement of natives to outer edges; 4) Natives flee immigrant concentrations.” Not mentioned is the fact that most immigrants settle in urban centers, where in many cities they have been central to urban revitalization in abandoned downtown districts.
In Outsmarting Smart Growth, Beck and Kolankiewicz write: “There are three sources of our national population growth—native fertility (in conjunction with increasing life spans), immigration, and immigrant fertility. We know this about their contribution to long-term growth: Native fertility remains well below replacement level and has not been a source of long-term U.S. population growth since 1971. Immigration and immigrant fertility (births to foreign-born mothers), on the other hand, are far above replacement.”
In Forsaking Fundamentals: The Environmental Establishment Abandons U.S. Population Stabilization, Beck is critical of environmentalist for their failure to focus on population growth issues. He asserts population growth is “the neglected dimension of America’s persistent energy/environmental problems.” The underlying message is that the United States could address such related problems as traffic congestion, high energy prices, pollution, and oil-related wars if it only shut off the main source of population growth – namely legal and illegal immigration.
The current focus on the immigration-environment connection is set forward in two new videos produced the NumbersUSA: Immigration Numbers Rise -- Environment Suffers and An Environmental Choice.
Aimed at environmentalists and the environmentally conscious, An Environmental Choice is hosted by Monique Miller from Wild Earth and interviews with former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who bills himself as the founder of Earth Day.
Like other restrictionist groups and their counterparts in the right-wing policy community, NumbersUSA benefits from clear, focused messaging. The view promoted by NumbersUSA is that environmental degradation and the conditions of urban sprawl are the result of out-of-control numbers. In other words, if we control the numbers – immigration-fed population growth – then we are addressing the root of the problems of environmental degration, traffic congestion, endless suburbia, and carbon pollution.
Sticking to interpreting the “numbers” gives NumbersUSA a rational and reasonable gloss that other restrictionist groups often lack because of their extreme rhetoric. Seeing immigration and most other economic and social problems through a numbers prism also creates a tight and persuasive albeit simplistic, educational package to take to U.S. citizens looking for solutions.
However, NumbersUSA’s exclusive focus on numbers and its attempt to explain the problems of 21st century America solely through a numbers framework undermines its credibility as an organization dedicated to environmental preservation. By attributing traffic jams and damaged ecological systems to immigration alone leaves the impression that NumbersUSA is at its core a dogmatic and ideological organization that puts it own political agenda ahead of pragmatic and principled policy solutions.
NumbersUSA works closely with CIS and FAIR in Washington, and it has established itself as restrictionist organization that most consistently approaches immigration reform with a worker and environmental focus.
NumbersUSA shares offices with ProEnglish and Evangelicals for Immigration Reform. It also retains close links with other language restrictionist organizations that are part of a network that John Tanton began establishing in the late 1970s.
John Tanton, former president of Zero Population Growth, was one of the founders of NumbersUSA, which has been funded by U.S.Inc, an funding organization created by Tanton.
NumbersUSA has worked closely the Coalition for the Future American Worker. Like NumbersUSA, the coalition, which is a grouping of high-tech worker groups, opposes visas for high-tech immigrant workers. Among the other organizations closely associated with Beck and NumbersUSA are Social Contract Press (which publishes and distributes books by Beck, who serves as Washington editor for Social Contract magazine) and Midwest Coalition for Immigration Reform.
Attrition Through Enforcement
Anti-immigration groups like NumbersUSA are propagating "attrition through enforcement" as the sensible, practical "middle ground" or "third way" in immigration reform. Rather than calling for a costly and morally repugnant mass deportation of millions of immigrants, the restrictionists have united behind a strategy aimed at wearing down the will of immigrants to live and work in the United States. illegal alien crisis – give illegal aliens amnesty or round them up and deport them.”
NumbersUSA calls Attrition Through Enforcement “the most effective and efficient solution.” It is not a quick final solution, but one that NumbersUSA believes will work over the medium term. “it took 20 years to create an illegal population of more than 12 million, and it may take at least ten years to substantially reduce that number,” says NumbersUSA.
According to NumbersUSA, the goal of the attrition through enforcement strategy “is to make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States. There is no need for taxpayers to watch the government spend billions of their dollars to round up and deport illegal aliens; they will buy their own bus or plane tickets back home if they can no longer earn a living here.”
By increasing the pressure on immigrants through employer verification and immigration enforcement by all law enforcement agencies, local and national, the SAVE Act, according to Beck, is the “middle-ground solution.” It’s what “most Americans want” since the bill offers an option that involves neither “massive legalizations” nor “massive round-ups.” (See: Save Us from the SAVE Act)
“The goal is to make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States,” explains NumbersUSA. “There is no need for taxpayers to watch the government spend billions of their dollars to round up and deport illegal aliens; they will buy their own bus or plane tickets back home if they can no longer earn a living here.”
For NumbersUSA, immigration policy is just an easy math problem. With lots of subraction (“removals” by Homeland Security and self-deportions), no addition (neither legal nor illegal), and the inevitable division (parents taken away from children and spouses), the problem will be solved.
But it is a solution with an awfully large remainder: divided communities, broken families, multibillion dollar crackdown budgets, overflowing detention centers, and a modern America that has turned away from its own heritage and toward one shaped by the hate and resentment of immigrants.
- Tom Barry
(Parts of this profile were drawn from Barry’s profile of NumbersUSA for RightWeb program of Political Research Associates.)