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Zuckerberg group skewers 'shocking extremism' in immigration debate

A group founded by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is calling out anti-immigration activists on their tactics and rhetoric .
Mark Zuckerberg sits for audience questions during an onstage interview in Washington, Sept. 18, 2013.
Mark Zuckerberg sits for audience questions during an onstage interview in Washington, Sept. 18, 2013., an advocacy group for immigration reform launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is ratcheting up the fight.

The group is funding national ad campaigns to sell immigration reform to Republican voters. And now, it's calling out the powerful movement opposing immigration reform—accusing it of  “shocking extremism” parading as conservatism.

“While some anti-immigrant voices falsely claiming to speak for conservatives may raise concern over the draft principles, they do not represent the majority of the Republican Party: polls have consistently shown that GOP primary voters support fixing our broken immigration system,” wrote in a memo sent to every member of Congress with a section titled, "The Shocking Extremism Behind Anti-Immigrant Groups."

As the anti-immigration groups gear up to pressure Republican members—yet again—to vote against reform, is name-checking three groups: NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on their tactics and rhetoric. has picked its opponents carefully: Those groups—specifically the grassroots arm NumbersUSA—are widely credited with scuttling President George W. Bush’s reform effort a decade ago when it mobilized members to swamp Congressional offices with their opposition. Since then, NumbersUSA has only grown larger.

The new push comes on the heels of House Republicans' winter retreat last week, where they mapped out a new plan for immigration reform—one the anti-immigration movement already opposes. wants “to make sure all members have polling, research, and relevant resources in the coming weeks as they work to craft legislation,” the group’s communications director Kate Hansen told msnbc. “Relevant resources includes factual information that many of these members may not have about the origins and real motivations of some of the loudest anti-immigrant groups.”

And for, that means illuminating the groups' background.

The targets are the think-tank CIS, an oft-cited source amongst Republicans who oppose reform (Last week, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions sent a 30-page memo which cited CIS twice to all the House Republicans.); the lobby group FAIR; and the grassroots arm NumbersUSA. The movement's contrversial patriarch, Dr. John Tanton, helped found and fund the three groups. 

Tanton was widely criticized for his interest in eugencis; he notoriously warned of a "Latin onslaught" and what he saw as alarming fertility among Hispanics, writing privately once that “those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!” He took money from white supremict group the Pioneer Fund to fund FAIR and was associated with a notorious Klu Klux Klan member. Tanton eventually stepped down from running FAIR, but is still listed as one of the group's National Board of Advisers. 

These groups’ “hateful rhetoric, extreme views, and blatant falsehoods – including ties to white supremacists” are not inline with Republican voters, the memo argues.

The groups routinely deny Tanton's influence, but it's not just the movement's patriarch that has caused concern over the years.

FAIR has been dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks anti-immigration activists. CIS, a FAIR spin-off, declares itself to be non-partisan research body, but insists that a large number of immigrants is detrimental to the country and argues for a drastic reduction. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Roy Beck, NumbersUSA’s founder, espouses views that mirror those of his early benefactor, Tanton.

“On immigration, Beck’s views are exactly in line with Tanton’s," Heidi Beirich, a SPLC researcher, said in 2012. 

In an interview with msnbc Tuesday, Beck rejected the guilty-by-association criticisms. "If the point is that we’ve successfully stopped expansions to immigration, then we proudly own that," he said.

Beck added that Zuckerberg, who was observing the 10th anniversary of Facebook's founding on Tuesday, "wants a loose labor keep his labor costs down." Zuckerberg's views are "more out of the mainstream than ours," Beck said.

Some of the groups claim actually to be pro-immigrant—CIS’s tag line is “low immigration, pro-immigrant” and NumbersUSA's website has a whole section titled "No to Immigrant Bashing." But aims to dismantle the groups' claims by pointing out their ties to Tanton and exposing comments made by some of the groups' leaders. They include remarks  like this one from CIS policy analyst Stephen Steinlight, who told the Washington Times that “Hispanic immigrants are bad for the U.S. because they lack ―strong family values” and that they’ll “cause the unmaking of America."

Bob Dane, FAIR’s communication’s director, slammed Zuckerberg personally for the memo.

“Mark Zuckerberg has no meaningful experience in immigration policies and has resorted to simply cutting and pasting old and false allegations about an organization (FAIR) that works to reinstate credibility and order into our immigration system.   He has nothing to offer to this current debate excepts relentless demands for more immigration flows so he can circumvent the American worker and reduce their wages,” Dane wrote in an email to msnbc. “Mr. Zuckerberg may be the original Facebook friend; he is no friend of the American Worker.”

Facebook and other Silicon Valley employers have long advocated for immigration reform in hopes of creating more green cards for the highly-skilled, foreign-born workers they seek to hire. Microsoft has  opened offices in Canada because the company is better able to employ foreign employees there.

MSNBC reached out to CIS, but did not hear back.