NumbersUSA, based in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va., is an immigration restrictionist organization that was founded in 1996 and has been led from the start by former journalist Roy Beck. It describes itself as “moderates, conservatives & liberals working for immigration numbers that serve America’s finest goals,” and it claims an “online network” of more than 9 million Americans. The group is focused on grassroots lobbying and in 2007 was able to spur its supporters to send more than 1 million faxes through its website to the U.S. Senate, helping kill a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform measure. It also helped to scuttle a similar reform bill in 2014.
NumbersUSA has worked hard to distance itself from John Tanton, the racist architect of the modern anti-immigration movement. Beck has repeatedly claimed that Tanton never had any influence on NumbersUSA, and the group’s website makes no mention of him. And NumbersUSA does prominently reject demonization (“no to immigrant bashing”), criticizes discrimination of any kind, and says that it wants to protect African Americans and other workers who it says are harmed by competition from immigrant labor. Beck, a longtime environmentalist (like Tanton) who says he always supported the civil rights movement, has centered much of his opposition to high levels of immigration on the assertion that he wants to protect the environment and the American working class.
But NumbersUSA is not so far from Tanton as it claims, even though Beck says he alone is the group’s founder. In fact, Beck went to work for Tanton’s funding umbrella organization, US Incorporated, in 1992 and worked there for five years before NumbersUSA was started as a US Inc. program. (During that time, Beck was the Washington, D.C., editor of The Social Contract, a racist journal also created by Tanton that is notorious for its white nationalist and anti-immigration views. Tanton has said Beck guest-edited entire editions of the journal, and in 1993 Beck also helped edit The Immigration Invasion, a book by Tanton and journal chief editor Wayne Lutton that was so vicious in its immigrant-bashing that Canadian border officials banned it as hate literature.) Beck remained an employee of Tanton for six more years after NumbersUSA’s founding. Only in 2002 did the group become independent.
Beck was certainly aware of Tanton’s racist and eugenicist views. When Tanton was embarrassed by the leak of several of his racist internal memos in 1988, Beck wrote about the incident and was thanked by Tanton for his friendly coverage. And in 1997 — three years after public criticism finally convinced Tanton to stop accepting money (after receiving $1.3 million) from the Pioneer Fund, a eugenicist outfit formed to promote selective breeding of the descendants of America’s white colonizers — Beck was taken by Tanton to dine with John Trevor Jr., a member of the Pioneer board of directors. (Eugenics scholar Barry Mehler has described the Pioneer Fund as a “neo-Nazi organization, tied to the Nazi eugenics program in the 1930s, that has never wavered in its commitment to eugenics and ideas of human and racial inferiority and superiority.”) Trevor was also the son of a key promoter of the 1924 Immigration Act, a racist quota system that limited immigration almost entirely to northern Europeans. A year before that dinner, Tanton wrote to Beck to describe Trevor and his position with the Pioneer Fund.
Here are a few memorable comments involving NumbersUSA:
“The aim should be to halt all immigration possible.”
—Beck, in a 2016 essay arguing that that is the most effective way to prevent terrorism that he argues is largely produced by immigrant communities
“[T]here are people out there that really want to destroy the very fabric of what this country was made of. Illegal immigration has been a great vehicle to do that.”
—Roan Garcia-Quintana, in a 2009 video produced by NumbersUSA and titled “Immigration 103—American Trauma: Jobs and the Economy.” Garcia-Quintana is a lifetime member and for years was a member of the board of directors of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind” and once called black people a “retrograde species of humanity”
“While some of those calling for refugee resettlement undoubtedly are sincerely motivated to help people in peril, bringing refugees to the United States is a big business.”
—2015 NumbersUSA essay that argues that “the more refugees the United States admits, the more public money accrues to private agencies” that resettle refugees and are “headed by executives who have large salaries”
“The large unassimilated number of a nationality in a foreign land provides space for the bad guys to swim with much less chance of detection.”
—Beck, in a 2016 NumbersUSA blog post, arguing that the only way to stop domestic terrorism is to halt the “large flows of new foreign citizens” to the United States
“[I]t is time to acknowledge how the economic, political and social advances of Black Americans in general accelerated when immigration numbers were reduced throughout our history.”
—Beck, in a 2013 article published by NumbersUSA, making an exceedingly unusual argument about the reasons for the success of the civil rights movement
“Friday’s executive order on refugees is not a Muslim ban.”
—Erik Ruark, NumbersUSA director of research, in a 2017 article defending President Trump’s order by saying it only covers seven countries and does not specifically mention Muslims
“Well, I think I would like the definition of intimacy.”
—Beck, downplaying his relationship with Tanton under questioning during a 2004 Congressional hearing. In fact, Beck was recruited by Tanton, remained a Tanton employee for 10 years, helped Tanton edit one of his books, vacationed with the Tantons, and at one point was designated by Tanton as his “heir apparent”
“I have no doubt that individual minority persons can assimilate to the culture necessary to run an advanced society, but if through mass migration, the culture of the homeland is transplanted from Latin America to California, then my guess is we will see the same degree of success with governmental and social institutions that we have seen in Latin America.”
—1996 Tanton letter to Beck
NumbersUSA, even as it has portrayed itself as a kindler, gentler opponent of immigration, has supported such drastic changes as the elimination of birthright citizenship, an artifact of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed former slaves full citizenship. It has backed many harsh Trump-era proposals, such as the 2018 Fund and Complete the Border Wall Act, which would have funded a wall on the Mexican border and also penalized foreign aid to that country by $2,000 for every “illegal alien” apprehended in America. The group also donated at least $110,000 to a legal defense fund for the city of Farmers Branch, Texas, which passed an ordinance requiring landlords to ensure their tenants’ legal immigration status (a concurring opinion in the final decision striking down the ordinance noted that its “purpose and effect” was “the exclusion of Latinos from the city of Farmers Branch).” In sum, even as NumbersUSA decries racism and demonization in the immigration debate, its basic policy positions align closely with those of racist nativist organizations in the network originated by John Tanton.