Cordelia Scaife May
Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times has a featured article this morning describing how a Mellon/Scaife family heiress evolved as a major funder of the anti-immigration movement in this country. As reported:
“Cordelia Scaife May found her life’s purpose: curbing what she perceived as the lethal threat of overpopulation by trying to shut America’s doors to immigrants.
She believed that the United States was “being invaded on all fronts” by foreigners, who “breed like hamsters” and exhaust natural resources. She thought that the border with Mexico should be sealed and that abortions on demand would contain the swelling masses in developing countries.
An heiress to the Mellon banking and industrial fortune with a half-billion dollars at her disposal, Mrs. May helped create what would become the modern anti-immigration movement. She bankrolled the founding and operation of the nation’s three largest restrictionist groups — the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies — as well as dozens of smaller ones, including some that have promulgated white nationalist views.
Today, 14 years after Mrs. May’s death, her money remains the lifeblood of the movement, through her Colcom Foundation. It has poured $180 million into a network of groups that spent decades agitating for policies now pursued by President Trump: militarizing the border, capping legal immigration, prioritizing skills over family ties for entry and reducing access to public benefits for migrants, as in the new rule issued just this week by the administration.
From 2005 to 2017, the Colcom Foundation gave millions to anti-immigration and population-control groups, some with close ties to the Trump administration.
Mrs. May’s story helps explain the ascendance of once-fringe views in the debate over immigration in America, including exaggerated claims of criminality, disease or dependency on public benefits among migrants. Though their methods radically diverged, Mrs. May and the killer in the recent mass shooting in El Paso applied the same language, both warning of an immigrant “invasion,” an idea also promoted by Mr. Trump.
In many ways, the Trump presidency is the culmination of Mrs. May’s vision for strictly limiting immigration. Groups that she funded shared policy proposals with Mr. Trump’s campaign, sent key staff members to join his administration and have close ties to Stephen Miller, the architect of his immigration agenda to upend practices adopted by his Democratic and Republican predecessors.
“She would have fit in very fine in the current White House,” said George Zeidenstein, whose mainstream population-control group Mrs. May supported before she shifted to anti-immigration advocacy. “She would have found a sympathetic ear with the present occupant.”
Unlike her more famous brother, the right-wing philanthropist and publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, Mrs. May largely stayed out of the public eye. A childless widow who lived alone outside Pittsburgh, she instructed associates not to reveal her philanthropic interests and in some cases even to destroy her correspondence. While her unlikely role as the quiet bursar to anti-immigration organizations has been previously reported, her motivation and engagement in the immigration issue remained largely hidden.”
Excellent reporting and timely!