Dr. John Tanton, a small-town ophthalmologist who founded or fostered the nation’s leading anti-immigration groups, which have helped shape President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, died July 2019 in Petoskey, Mich. He was 85. He had struggled with Parkinson’s disease for 16 years.
Other groups that Dr. Tanton either directly founded or provided with seed money and logistical support include the Center for Immigration Studies and the Immigration Reform Law Institute, both in Washington, and NumbersUSA, in Arlington, Va.
Though Dr. Tanton had withdrawn from public view in recent years, his nonprofit U.S. Inc., based in Petoskey, on the North Shore of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, helped fund the Remembrance Project. The organization sought out grieving family members whose loved ones had been killed by unauthorized immigrants and repeatedly put them onstage with President Trump during his 2016 campaign for the White House.
Senior personnel from the Tanton-linked groups moved into key positions in the administration dealing with immigration after Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
John Hamilton Tanton was born on Feb. 23, 1934, in Detroit to John Fitzgerald Tanton (who was known as Jack) and Hannah (Koch) Tanton. He spent his early childhood in Detroit before the family moved to his mother’s family farm in Eastern Michigan in 1945. There he learned farming from his father and grandfather.
After graduating from high school in Sebewaing, Mich., on Saginaw Bay, he attended Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he met Mary Lou Brown. They married in 1958. He is survived by his wife, as well as the couple’s two daughters, Laura de Olazarra and Jane Thomson; two grandchildren; and a sister, Liz Faupel.
Dr. Tanton graduated from medical school at the University of Michigan and went into private practice as an eye doctor in Petoskey. After working at a birth-control clinic during his internship at Denver General Hospital, he and his wife became involved in Planned Parenthood, founding the group’s first clinic in Northern Michigan.
He founded FAIR in Washington in 1979 and shortly thereafter took a sabbatical from his ophthalmology practice to work for the organization in the capital.
The Center for Immigration Studies was created in 1985 as a separate think tank to produce research on immigration. FAIR’s litigation group grew into the Immigration Reform Law Institute in 1986.
John H. Tanton, M.D. is publisher of The Social Contract, and served as editor for its first 8 years. He is a retired eye surgeon whose boyhood on a farm made him into an ardent conservationist and advocate for the environment. John's conviction that continued human population growth was a large part of the conservation problem led him to chair the National Sierra Club Population Committee (1971-74), and to the national board of Zero Population Growth (1973-78, including a term as president from 1975-77). In 1979, as immigration grew to be the significant part of the U.S. population problem, John Tanton founded FAIR to address mass immigration reform.