Roy Beck is the kinder, gentler face of the contemporary anti-immigration movement. A former journalist and lifelong environmentalist, he has long framed his opposition to anything but very low levels of immigration as a reflection of his concerns about overpopulation, urban sprawl, and boosting employment among lower-paid workers, especially African Americans. He describes himself as a longtime supporter of the civil rights revolution. He is careful to avoid attacks on the personal traits or cultures of immigrants. He is polite and gracious.
But he is very much part of the network of immigration-restrictionist organizations mainly built over a period of decades by the late racist ideologue, John Tanton. Although Beck routinely portrays himself as the man who alone in 1996 founded NumbersUSA, the truth is that he was hired five years before that by Tanton’s funding umbrella, US Incorporated. He worked there until NumbersUSA was created as part of a set of nativist organizations that would perform complementary functions. For the following six years, NumbersUSA remained a program of US Inc., with Beck a paid employee of Tanton, until the group finally became legally independent in 2002. In 1997, during his second year at NumbersUSA, Tanton named Beck his “heir apparent” with Beck’s explicit agreement.
Beck certainly knew about the racist predilections of Tanton and a large number of other leaders in the network of Tanton organizations. He was for years the Washington, D.C., editor of Tanton’s journal, The Social Contract, which regularly published white nationalists, hardline Muslim bashers, and other extremists. He once spoke to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization that opposes “all efforts to mix the races of mankind” — although he insists that he knew nothing of the group when he was invited. A huge slice of his funding over the years has come from the late heiress Cordelia May Scaife, who believed that America was “being invaded on all fronts” by immigrants who “breed like hamsters.” He was introduced by Tanton to John Trevor Jr., whose father helped draft the racist 1924 Immigration Act, and who was a trustee of the eugenicist Pioneer Fund.
But most importantly, Beck and his organization have pursued many of the very same hardline policies also sought by his more openly nativist colleagues — opposing the legalization of “Dreamers” brought to the United States as children, backing “attrition through enforcement” measures, helping fund the defense of a Texas city’s ordinance mandating that landlords certify their tenants’ immigration status, seeking to cut legal immigration by some 75 percent, and promoting a moratorium on refugee admissions. In his lobbying work, despite picturing himself as a liberal, he has been closest to some of the most right-wing members of Congress, including Steve King (R-Iowa), who before leaving office in 2021 was stripped of his committee assignments for defending white supremacy. (Beck said King, who has called immigration a “slow-motion Holocaust,” was a “grade-A Representative.”) And he has shown himself to be a hypocrite. He helped to build up Progressives for Immigration Reform — a Tanton front group meant to attract “progressive” environmental voters — and in 2007 put up a website called Sprawl City blaming immigrants for sprawl. At the same time, he paid $444,150 for ads at NewsMax Media, a far-right outlet that regularly mocks the idea of global warming and claims the deadly DDT insecticide is perfectly safe.
Here are a few memorable comments from Beck:
“The aim should be to halt all immigration possible.”
“[R]egardless of whether these bad guys arrived in a country six months ago or lived their whole lives there, nearly every one of them operated from within immigrant communities.”
—2016 essay suggesting that recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States showed that “promiscuous immigration” had created “enabling pools” of potential terrorists
“Our Chain Migration system operates basically as if you invite one person to be a guest in your house and then tell that guest that he/she is in charge of all future guests — to YOUR house.”
—Essay introducing a 2017 national TV ad campaign opposing “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants
“Refugee resettlement is mainly about some people in rich countries making themselves feel morally superior rather than responding to the greatest needs of the refugees.”
—2006 Reddit “ask me anything” conference
“We did as much as possible to make immigration radioactive in as many places as possible.”
—2014 interview with The New York Times, boasting of efforts to prevent President Barack Obama from using executive orders to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation
“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”