On Monday night, Mary Ann Mendoza told the heart-wrenching story of how her son died in a car accident with a man who was in the country illegally.
The crowd in the convention hall was outraged, just like Maria Espinoza, the national director for The Remembrance Project had seen a dozen times before.
After all, she was the one who got Mendoza there in the first place.
Mendoza was one of three headliners at the Republican National Committee. She’s affiliated with Espinoza’s group—an organization funded by radical environmentalists.
The mainstreaming of their message—once relegated to the darkest corner of the CPAC exhibit hall suggests that the GOP’s increasingly hostile message directed not just to undocumented immigrants, but to legal ones—may be hard to shift.
The Remembrance Project organizes the family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants to push for tougher immigration laws. It’s a 501(c)3 non-profit, which means it can’t officially endorse political candidates or individual pieces of legislation.
But it skirts that line pretty closely. In fact, one of its fliers handed out at the RNC promises it will work to “make America safe again.”
“Donald Trump is the only candidate to pledge his support for The Remembrance Project’s National Program providing needed assistance to victims’ families!” it reads. “Thank you Mr. Trump!”
Espinoza told The Daily Beast on Monday that her group reaches out to the family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants and helps them to do advocacy work.
And, in the age of Trump, they’ve proven incredibly effective at getting their people in front of massive audiences. The three people affiliated with The Remembrance Project—Sabine Durden, Jamiel Shaw, and Mendoza—each had primetime addresses on the RNC’s opening night, reaching millions.
“It is time that we have an administration that cares more about Americans than about illegals, putting all of our children’s lives at risk. It’s time for Donald Trump,” said Mendoza, whose son was a police officer and died in a car accident with an undocumented immigrant.
Durden, whose son died in a motorcycle accident with an undocumented immigrant, gave a similar message.
“Since he got killed no one listened, until Donald Trump,” she said. “Donald Trump is not only my hero, he’s my lifesaver. Hillary Clinton—or as we know her, Crooked Hillary—always talks about what she will do for illegal aliens and what she will do for refugees. What Donald Trump talks about is what he will do for Americans.”
It’s the kind of right-wing red-meat message that conservatives love—especially the kind of conservatives drawn to Trump and immigration restriction. But, as is the case with its ideological fellow travelers, its funders might make some conservative true believers feel a little uncomfortable.
That’s because it’s received funding through an organization backed by retired ophthalmologist John Tanton—an environmental activist who backs groups like Planned Parenthood out of his concern that growing human population poses an existential threat to the planet’s well-being. BuzzFeed reported that one of his charities gave $25,000 in 2014 to a group called The Remembrance Project.
The group’s influence at the RNC has some conservatives concerned.
“That decision reflects either an amateurish vetting process or a willingness to accept the influence of a radically extreme agent like Tanton,” said Mario Lopez of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund.
The group is in interesting company; other organizations reliant on the same sources of funding include the most passionate and effective anti-immigration organizations in American public life. These include the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and NumbersUSA.
These groups are largely relegated to the political fringe, and struggle even to get much real estate at CPAC. But despite that, their members are highly dedicated—willing to take action to oppose any public policy changes that would increase legal immigration, whether that means calling their members of Congress, marching on Washington, or voting out incumbents in Republican primaries.
But they draw criticism from traditional conservative voting blocs. Perhaps most notable was a lengthy piece in the Human Life Review during the 2013 Gang of 8 comprehensive immigration reform debate lambasting them for their population control affiliations.
“Regardless of one’s particular views on immigration, pro-life leaders in particular should denounce CIS, FAIR, NumbersUSA, and any other entities that advance the dark cause of population control,” the piece concluded.
Still these groups are far from denounced. Instead—evinced by the RNC lineup—they’re more powerful than ever.