Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)

Viewed as the anti-immigrant movement’s key think tank, CIS has published a litany of reports scapegoating and demonizing immigrants. CIS’s Executive Director Mark Krikorian has defended the organization’s circulation of content from VDARE, a site that routinely publishes the work of white nationalists and anti-Semites by comparing it to The New York Times, and counting it as an “important” site for immigration news. 

  • CIS was founded as a project of FAIR in 1985 to provide legitimacy and lend academic authority to its policy proposals. Its role, as stated by Tanton, was to be “a small think tank [that would] wage the war of ideas” of its parent organization.
  • The group traffics in misinformation and blatant anti-immigrant animus. Over the years, CIS staffers have presented unverifiable anecdotes as established fact, manipulated data to generate misleading evidence in support of their policies, appeared on anti-Semitic radio shows, blamed immigrants for teenage obesity, and have stated that being “hung, drawn and quartered is probably too good” for former U.S. President Barack Obama. 
  • Jared Taylor, one of the most recognized and influential white nationalists of the past half-century has attended and participated in multiple CIS events. Following CIS founder John Tanton’s passing, Taylor who runs the group American Renaissance, stated, “Everything I know about immigration I learned from CIS.”
  • CIS holds an unprecedented amount of power and influence in the Trump Administration, and has provided the policy framework for the President’s harsh and unpopular immigration measures. Additionally, current CIS fellow Ronald Mortensen has been nominated to lead the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the State Department agency responsible for protecting refugees, and separately, the group’s former legal policy analyst Jon Feere, now serves as a senior advisor at ICE.
  • The group has hosted several officials including then-Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, then-USCIS Director Lee Francis Cissna, EOIR’s James McHenry, and Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, at their “Immigration Newsmaker” events and staffers have championed the Trump Administration’s cruel policy of separating families.
  • In a 2017 ‘Giving Tuesday’ blog post, executive director Mark Krikorian bragged about being referred to as the Trump Administration’s “go-to source for immigration research,” and that the Administration’s immigration principles were “developed and advocated” by CIS. Krikorian said in a blog, “The White House has also submitted to Congress a wish list of 70 immigration improvements, most of which we have developed and advocated.”
  • According to NPR, emails, obtained during discovery in the 2020 Census citizenship question lawsuit, revealed that Trump Administration officials suggested CIS staff members Mark Krikorian and Steven Camarota be contacted for advice and support.
  • The group regularly circulates white nationalist content, including from VDARE. In a May 2017 analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for New Community, it was revealed that CIS had done so more than 2,000 times in the last decade.
  • CIS has championed the doctrine of “self-deportation,” which argues that laws should be enacted to make life so difficult for immigrants that they are forced to return to their countries of origin. The group has been so successful in promoting this doctrine that it has appeared in the policy platforms of senators and GOP presidential candidates. Policies to encourage self-deportation have been found unconstitutional and a violation of individuals’ civil rights.
  • CIS often participates in events with elected officials including Mo Brooks, Jeff Sessions, Steve King, and Lou Barletta among others. 
  • In May 2015, CIS hosted an awards ceremony that honored Breitbart reporter Neil Munro and featured Stephen Miller as a keynote speaker at the event. Breitbart, Fox, and other media outlets often give CIS a platform by interviewing its staffers on immigration issues. 
  • A number of CIS staffers have also spoken at Tanton’s Social Contract Press Writers Workshop event, including Mark Krikorian, Jessica Vaughan and John Miano.

Anti-immigrant Views

  • CIS staff members have a long track record of using demonizing rhetoric in regards to immigrants. .
  • CIS Fellow Dan Cadman called for an expansion of expedited removal due to the “around 11 or 12 million aliens residing and working illegally in the United States.”
  • Krikorian has also called for radical immigration cuts, targeting Muslims: “So alongside ideological screening we need to cut immigration overall, focusing on the categories most likely to cause problems. That means eliminating the visa lottery, an absurd program in its own right but also the source of a disproportionate share of Muslim immigration; limiting family immigration to the closest relations, to prevent a cascading chain of relatives; dramatically curbing refugee resettlement…and reducing the number of foreign-student admissions, the feeder program for a large share of new permanent immigration from the Islamic world.”
  • Krikorian, who frequently makes disparaging statements about immigrants and communities of color, once said that Mexico’s “weakness and backwardness has been deeply harmful to the United States.”
  • Stephen Steinlight, a Senior Policy Analyst at CIS, stated publicly that he believed that being “hung, drawn and quartered is probably too good” for then-President Obama. Steinlight still works for CIS and is a frequent spokesperson for the organization.
  • Beginning in January 2016, CIS began publishing reports and blogs authored by discredited policy analyst Jason Richwine. In 2013, Richwine resigned from The Heritage Foundation following revelations that his Harvard dissertation included appeals to limit immigration based on intelligence.
  • CIS Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan once wrote that the TPS program has contributed to “the burgeoning street gang problem in the United States.”
  • In a piece for Time Magazine, CIS Director of Research Steven Camarota stated that, “even if immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, their children and grandchildren may be more likely to end up on the wrong side of the law.”
  • In 2008, CIS published a report by fellow David Seminara which alleged widespread fraud among marriages between Americans and immigrants in which it referred to the latter as “Third-World gold-diggers.”

Anti-immigrant Activity

  • CIS’s A Pen and a Phone: 79 Immigration Actions the Next President Can Take report has provided a blueprint for the Trump Administration to make life for immigrants and refugees in the United States and those hoping to enter the country as difficult as possible. Policies such as restricting the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, an expansion of public charge, ramping up interior enforcement measures, terminating the OPT program, dismantling the asylum system, and ending DACA, are all laid out in detail in the CIS report.
  • In addition to calling for DACA’s repeal, Krikorian has advocated for leveraging protections for DACA recipients in exchange for attrition through enforcement measures and cuts to legal immigration. In a June 2017 blog post, Krikorian wrote, “Though I was initially skeptical, it might even make sense to try to trade a real, lawful amnesty for the DACAs in exchange for important immigration changes only Congress can pass – specifically, universal E-Verify and cuts in legal immigration.” 
  • In a July 2017 interview with Breitbart Texas, Krikorian called for a “legal immigration offset” in exchange for some protections for Dreamers. Krikorian stated, “We’re talking about three-quarters of a million people included in this. There’s got to be a legal immigration offset. The DREAM Act on its own is simply indefensible.”
  • As early as 2010, before DACA, CIS’s Mark Krikorian was outspoken in advocating for harsh attrition through enforcement measures and cuts to legal immigration in exchange legal status for Dreamers. Since DACA’s rescission, CIS has worked to derail all bipartisan efforts to provide legal protections for Dreamers. The group has even sued USCIS for DACA application data which the U.S government committed to keeping separate from enforcement activities.
  • On August 5, 2017, Univision reported that Krikorian’s group helped Stephen Miller, along with the bill’s sponsors Senators Cotton and Perdue draft the RAISE Act, which would slash immigration numbers by half.
  • In the fall of 2017, CIS staffers worked overtime to advocate for severely restrictionist policies in exchange for a legislative solution for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age, propagating and weaponizing the term “Chain-migration.” CIS staffer Jessica Vaughan authored a report entitled Immigration Multipliers: Trends in Chain Migration, and testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on DACA.
  • On December 4, 2017, CIS hosted a panel discussion on the report. The event took place at the National Press Club. Panel participants included Vaughan, as well as RAISE Act co-sponsor Sen. Perdue.
  • In CIS’s 2016 “Pen and a Phone” policy report, the group called on the next president to terminate “TPS designations that have been in effect for years for several nations, such as El Salvador…” and to issue an “EO directing that no TPS designation may stay in effect longer than one year unless vetted and approved through the National Security Council prior to being extended, and only in a one-year increment.” 
  • Mark Krikorian has repeatedly attacked the TPS program on social media and in the National Review. In one instance, he even went so far as to call for the program to be abolished.
  • CIS staffers including Mark Krikorian have for years pushed for the “zero-tolerance” policy which when implemented by the Trump Administration, resulted in children being separated from their parents. In 2014, Krikorian wrote in National Review, “it is now practical to adopt a zero-tolerance strategy along the entire border.” CIS fellow, Andrew Arthur, called family separation an “absolutely crucial” step to “reducing the flow of parents and their children,” saying “there really is no other choice.” Further, Krikorian wrote that critics of the harsh policy were generating a “wave of hysteria” and described widely circulated photos of distressed families as “atrocity propaganda.” 
  • CIS has called for numerous changes to the asylum system such as doing away with protections for children and their families arriving at the border, expanding immigration detention and expedited removal, refusing to release unaccompanied minors to family members who are undocumented unless they surrender themselves for removal proceedings, restricting work authorization for individuals with pending asylum cases, and denying asylum to individuals who pass through other countries en route to the United States.

 

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