Anti-Immigrant Group’s Membership Balloons

The anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA is crowing about its amazing growth: According to the New York Times, the group’s membership has reached 447,000, compared with less than 50,000 in 2004.

The “little-known” outfit has become a key player in the immigration debate, according to the Times, coordinating daily with well-known groups like Eagle Forum and the Heritage Foundation and working closely with Congress. “We’re involved in weekly discussions with Numbers USA and other immigration-control groups as part of a team effort,” said Rep. Brian Bilbray, the successor to Tom Tancredo as head of the Immigration Reform Caucus.

NumbersUSA’s success in capitalizing on opposition to comprehensive immigration reform bills considered in Congress recently stems in part from its efforts to channel raw anti-immigrant sentiments, which congeal around NumbersUSA’s explicitly restrictionist stance, into what Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a “kinder, gentler” movement:

“Numbers USA initiated and turbocharged the populist revolt against the immigration reform package,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy group. “Roy Beck takes people who are upset about illegal immigration for different reasons, including hostility to Latino immigrants, and disciplines them so their message is based on policy rather than race-based arguments or xenophobia.”

But it also stems from a savvy – and numbers-intensive – use of the Right’s Internet marketing industry. During the debate over immigration, it’s been hard for conservatives on the Internet to avoid NumbersUSA. Those who subscribe to right-wing e-mail lists – such as those of GOPUSA, NewsMax, and Human Events – have received countless “sponsored” or “third-party” e-mail messages from NumbersUSA over the past months, sometimes multiple copies in the same week. Here’s one received via Human Events, and another similar message sent through GOPUSA. Both feature an “instant poll” on whether “Kennedy’s Illegal Alien Amnesty Should Fail” (95 percent of respondents agree), taking you to a site where you can send a fax to Congress and join NumbersUSA.

These spurts of faxes and e-mails, driven by NumbersUSA e-mail, can have a heady impact on members of Congress. “You have to give them credit: The phone calls, the faxes, the people who show up at town halls and meetings — you have to say NumbersUSA is behind a fair amount of that,” said Sharry of the National Immigration Forum.

Sharry acknowledged NumbersUSA’s influence on lawmakers, pointing to Georgia’s two Republican senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss. The two, who helped write the immigration bill, were immediately in NumbersUSA’s crosshairs. Both have withdrawn their support, saying the bill fails to provide adequate border security.