In a tale of two city councils, Los Alamitos and Yorba Linda traveled down different paths towards the same goal of opposing the California Values Act last month. The roaming pro-Trump circus packed Los Alamitos’ tiny chambers on Mar. 19 in supporting the city’s effort to adopt an ordinance opting out of the “Sanctuary State” law to much protest and press attention. The very next day, Yorba Linda enjoyed a very quiet setting with only a handful of local supporters around when it decided to file court documents in support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against the state–a strategy proposed by Susan Tully, the D.C.-based national field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and no stranger to Orange County.
In OC’s anti-Sanctuary State revolt, no other local government has followed the Los Alamitos model–and for good reason. After passing its opt-out ordinance this week, the city’s been slapped with a lawsuit all while the mayor embarrassingly seeks to raise $100,000 in legal defense funds by way of GoFundMe. But investigations by the Weekly have, so far, found no connection between FAIR and Los Alamitos, especially with city council having sought to introduce its ordinance weeks before the Sessions suit. Meanwhile, Tully’s tactic caught fire with several cities joining the cause. Most recently, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point and Lake Forest voted to file court documents in support of the Session’s suit this week.
But what is FAIR and who is Tully?
On its website, FAIR attempts to bill itself innocuously enough as a non-partisan organization seeking to “reduce all immigration to a more normal level” through increased border security. The Southern Poverty Law Center, on the other hand, designates FAIR as an anti-immigrant hate group founded in 1979 by longtime white nationalist John Tanton with a proven track record of racism. The SPLC has also kept a watchful eye on Tully, who’s been with FAIR since 2002.
The “hate group” assessment never registered when Tully blitzed Yorba Linda city council members by email on Mar. 12 just days after Sessions announced his legal challenge to California’s “sanctuary” laws. Instead, mayor Eugene “Gene” Hernandez read a pitch he couldn’t refuse. “We would like to have the City [of] Yorba Linda join our brief, in support of the Department of Justice lawsuit,” she wrote in an email obtained by the Weekly. “We would represent Yorba Linda pro-bono. Yorba Linda would merely be amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) and not a party to the lawsuit. Thus Yorba Linda would have no obligations, financial or otherwise.”
FAIR’s outreach to Yorba Linda came as part of the organization’s stated efforts to find cities and counties to pair with the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), its legal arm. Tully noted a Mar. 26 deadline to file the brief. Accordingly, the mayor submitted an agenda scheduling request form with the city manager to have to matter go before the Mar. 20 council meeting. Hernandez also attached Tulley’s email. Tellingly, the title of the proposed agenda item “Department of Justice lawsuit against the State of California for sanctuary laws” appeared identical to the subject header of Tully’s email soliciting support.
When time came for the council meeting, Hernandez introduced the item. With a white beard making him look like an old-timer Californio, the mayor read Tully’s email without mentioning FAIR’s name. The organization also didn’t appear on the agenda summary, only its legal arm. After finishing the letter, Hernandez opined to mostly empty chambers how the course offered to them by FAIR proved wiser than the path Los Alamitos chose the night before, likening the latter’s move to southern secessionists during the Civil War. He claimed Los Alamitos opened themselves up to being sued by doing so while Yorba Linda had the opportunity to piggyback on the federal lawsuit.
Councilman Tom Lindsey asked the mayor if IRLI was legit. “I believe so,” he responded. Hernandez further vouched for the effort by noting he talked to Tully by phone. She reminded him during the conversation that they knew each other when both worked in Orange long ago. Indeed, before becoming FAIR’s national field director, Tully was a code enforcement officer in Orange from 1989-1993 when Hernandez served in the police department. Prior to that, she worked for four years in Huntington Beach as a city housing inspector.
Since joining FAIR in 2002 after a failed bid for congress in Wisconsin, Tully’s toed their anti-immigrant line with offensive rhetoric. The SPLC kept tabs on Tully in 2006 when she held a question-and-answer sessions with Phil Valentine, an anti-immigrant radio host in Tennessee. During a “town hall meeting” broadcast, Tully retold a story about a Laredo, Texas border patrol agent nabbing the same immigrant seven times. “What do you do on the eighth time?” Tully recounted asking him. Just then, Valentine interjected. “Shoot him!” Tully cackled at the vile joke while the audience erupted in cheers. Valentine took up FAIR’s invitation to its fifth annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event five years later.
The Anti-Defamation League also dinged Tully for promoting bigoted anti-immigrant rhetoric when appearing on The Ruthie Report radio program in 2013. When she wasn’t insinuating that many 1986 amnesty immigrants wound up becoming criminals, Tully trotted out conspiracy theories. “I just got a report that I will be investigating later this year that along the border in Arizona and New Mexico they are running school buses to the border to pick up students who are coming in from Mexico to attend K-12 classes,” she claimed.
That same year, Tully gave a speech to a Wetumpka, Alabama tea party group. She spewed her familiar line on ’86 amnesty immigrants, provided FAIR’s fuzzy immigration statistics and railed against comprehensive immigration reform efforts. “How about no more education to anyone here who doesn’t have legal presence?” she asked. Tully also opposed birthright citizenship as enshrined in the 14th amendment. And she had glowing words for an Alabama senator at the time. “Your senator Jeff Sessions is like Michael the Archangel,” Tully said. “He is one of the few people that I consider a statesman.”
Of course, Sessions is now the attorney general and Tully is riding shotgun on his legal challenge to California’s “sanctuary” laws. Tully didn’t respond to the Weekly‘s interview request, but fleshing out the FAIR connection in Yorba Linda validated groups like Orange County Immigrant Youth United who, like the Weekly, filed public record requests in seeking more information about the driving force behind OC’s anti-sanctuary state revolt. “This is not about the ‘constitutionality’ of The California Values Act and it never has been,” says Erik Garcia, OCIYU’s community engagement and youth organizer. “This is about hate groups like FAIR pushing a political agenda that endorses hate and scapegoats immigrant communities.”
Yorba Linda residents finally challenged the council’s previous actions and tacit endorsement of FAIR during a meeting on Tuesday. They presented a petition with over 75 signatures asking them to withdraw from the court filing, but it may be too little, too late. “The founder of FAIR, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that American remain a majority-white state,” Dr. Priya Shah stated during public comments. “The attorney who filed Yorba Linda’s amicus brief, Dale Wilcox, has been an active driver of anti-DACA attacks. We want you to know that IRLI does not represent us.”
Mayor Hernandez rebuffed claims that council didn’t vet the groups it paired up and gave no indication they planned to scrap the amicus brief. He acknowledged the SPLC’s designation, but described the hate watchers as a left-wing advocacy group. “There’s no question we don’t support racism,” Hernandez said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to agree to disagree.”