New York-based community groups have taken up a national campaign to fight Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law by targeting a local pro-environment foundation that they say backs groups supporting the law. About 40 protesters gathered in front of a midtown office building on 3rd Avenue last week to draw attention to ties between the Weeden Foundation, a major supporter of global land and wildlife conservation efforts, and the organizations, which the protesters consider racist, anti-immigrant hate groups. Protesters based their allegations on Apply the Brakes a report by the Chicago-based Center for New Community that explores the relationship between certain anti-immigration groups and environmentalists.
In 2010, Weeden made a grant to Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that supports Arizona's new anti-illegal immigration law, SB1070—a law immigration activists said threatened, before a federal judge intervened last week, to subject people of color in Arizona to racial profiling.
Protesters also accuse Weeden of financially supporting the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which helped craft SB1070. However, according to Weeden's website, Weeden hasn't given any grants to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), in the past ten years.
In 2010, Weeden also made grants to Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, groups opposed to increasing U.S. immigration.
Protesters said Weeden justifies its opposition to immigration by blaming immigrants for America's rising consumption and pollution levels. “It’s sad that companies like BP can have a huge oil spill, ruin the environment and the focus is still on immigrants,” said protester Adama Foneh, a leader of Sistas and Brothas United (SBU), one of the organizers of the event.
Teresa Andersen, Board President of the Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), one of the organizers of the event, echoed Foneh. “It isn’t the immigrants who created the toxic waste and pollutants in this country,” she said. “Those are the corporations. I think it’s actually the opposite. A lot of the immigrant cultures are the ones who live in harmony with nature.”
A Weeden spokesperson said the organization's executive director was traveling abroad and unavailable to comment. Nor did the Center for Immigration Studies respond to requests for comment.
But in interviews with City Limits, FAIR, NumbersUSA and Californians for Population Stabilization deny being anti-immigrant hate groups. “Those comments have been discredited and proven false,” said NumbersUSA media coordinator Peter Robbio. He added that the organization advocates for “immigration reduction” rather than an end to all immigration.
“This is what we’ve descended to in this immigration argument,” said Rick Oltman, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization. “They cannot say mass-illegal immigration will help the country, they cannot say it will decrease crime, all they can say is that the opposition is racist.”
“That is a tactic used by people who have run out of other arguments in this debate,” said Ira Mehlman, national media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “We draw a very clear distinction between immigrants and immigration. Immigrants are people and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect just as much as anyone else. Immigration is a policy.”
Weeden was founded in 1963, according to the mission statement on its website, and “embraces the protection of biodiversity as its main priority.” It also focuses on over-consumption and over-population. On the website of an organization called Apply the Brakes, a group that advocates for a halt to “unsustainable U.S. population growth,” Don Weeden, the foundation's executive director, explains the connection he sees between over-consumption, over-population and immigration. “America's ballooning population, unique in the developed world, is largely driven by historically high immigration numbers” he says. “Prescriptions for reaching a population-environment balance need not be anti-immigrant: The U.S can still accept immigrants, just not at the current rate.”
In 2010, the Weeden Foundation gave a $25,000 grant to NumbersUSA and $20,000 to Californians for Population Stabilization, according to the foundation's website. NumbersUSA's 2010 grant was their seventh consecutive annual grant from the foundation, totaling $185,000 since 2004, according to Weeden's website. The foundation also gave a grant—whose amount the website does not disclose—to the Center for Immigration Studies in 2010.
Alan Weeden, a Weeden board member, has served on the board of directors of FAIR since 2002. Don Weeden serves on the board of directors of NumbersUSA.
The foundation has also made grants to major environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and to the Pew Campaign for America’s Wilderness, neither of which responded to multiple requests for comment.
Three other Weeden grantees who did respond to City Limits' request for comment differed in their view of Weeden's stance on immigration.
The chairman of the Oregon-based Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, one of Weeden's 2010 grantees, expressed disbelief at the protesters' conclusion that Weeden is affiliated with anti-immigrant hate groups or white supremacy organizations. Dave Willis, the chairman, said the accusation doesn't comport with anything he knows about Weeden.
“I met Don Weeden once and their foundation has helped our little citizens' wilderness group help protect a national monument and get a wilderness area designated here and we've been grateful for their help,” he said. “But white supremacist, I would be shocked. I can't really believe there's any substance to something like that. And I know nothing about any involvement with the Arizona law. And I would be very surprised if they were involved with that either.”
Greg Costello, executive director of the Oregon-based Western Environmental Law Center, another Weeden 2010 grantee, said in an email that he didn't know Weeden made grants focusing on immigration and human population. But now that he knows, he doesn't think it's a problem.
“In all of my dealings with the Weeden Foundation, and Don Weeden specifically, I have found the organization and the man to be highly professional, extremely well prepared and knowledgeable about the regions we were working to protect, the conservation issues involved and the nature of our work as an organization,” he said. “Based on my personal interactions I have the highest regard for the foundation and for Don. And as a private foundation they can choose to support whatever and whoever they like. We are thankful they support out work.”
A representative of a third Weeden grantee, the California-based Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), said she didn't know whether Weeden was connected with racist or anti-immigrant hate groups. But she said it mattered to her and she would do some research to find out. “Our role is to protect biodiversity. That's not just about white people,” said Kerul Dyer, EPIC's outreach director. “It's plant and animal species. It's for everyone.”
Last week's protesters, comprised primarily of youth organizers from SBU and organizers from NWBCCC, two Bronx-based social justice organizations, shouted chants at the rally. A sign read, “Weeden populates the world with Hate and Racism. We are not the problem. We are the solution.”
The group blocked a good portion of the sidewalk in front of the building, but the event was peaceful, with no Weeden representatives present..
“I can either sit in my room at home and be mad about [the Arizona law] or I can actually get out here and do something about it,” said 20-year-old Miguel Hernandez, an SBU leader who addressed the group a few times over the course of the event.
Tania Romero, a South American indigenous woman, read a poem she wrote about her culture's practice of living in harmony with nature.
“Capitalists would cut down a tree and give the pieces to the elitist groups in the country,” she said later in an interview. “Socialists would do the same and split the pieces among everybody. But the Indigenous people would find a way to live in harmony with the tree as it stands.”