Analysis Immigration

Lines Blurring Between Immigration Priorities of Trump Administration and Hate Groups

Tina Vasquez

"All of this that we're seeing, threats to undocumented communities, threats to legal immigration, it's been in the works for a long time."

Back in October, President Donald Trump released a series of “immigration principles and policies” that were largely condemned by advocates and attorneys, who focused on Trump’s portrayal of the asylum process as an easy one full of “loopholes” to be “exploited.” The principles and policies spanned the gamut, and included a call to dramatically increase border militarization and implement a “merit-based immigration system” in an effort to end so-called chain migration. Many of these policies—and many of Trump’s original plans for “immigration reform” while on the campaign trail—now form the basis of Trump’s proposed immigration framework, which reportedly will include a 10-12-year pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, so long as Congress agrees to throw the nation’s remaining 9.2 million undocumented immigrants who do not qualify for such status under the bus.

But where did these policies and proposals come from? News outlets have largely credited Stephen Miller, former speech writer, current senior policy adviser to Trump, and longtime anti-immigrant advocate with dictating the White House’s approach to immigration, despite having no experience suggesting he is qualified to do so. (Case in point: Miller cited findings from a hate group when defending the Muslim ban on Meet The Press, though his talking points were debunked by fact checkers.) But the entirety of Trump’s blueprint for the country’s immigration system appears to come from organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated as anti-immigrant hate groups, like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

Put another way, the current president is turning demands from anti-immigrant hate groups, groups that have ties to the eugenics movement and openly advocated for heavily restricting immigration levels in order to maintain a white majority, into U.S. immigration policy.

For example, Trump’s repeated use of the now-popular phrase “chain migration,” which appears in his immigration framework, has deep roots among anti-immigrant hate groups.

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“The concept of ‘chain migration’ was invented by anti-immigrant hate groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA,” wrote Salon’s Amanda Marcotte. “The more accurate term is family-based migration. This policy allows citizens to sponsor immediate family members and, within strict numerical limitations, provides visas for extended family members of citizens or immediate family members of lawful permanent residents.”

A closer look at Trump’s proposals—before and now during his presidency—reveal near-exact overlap with these hate groups.

Blurred Lines

While candidate Trump’s proposed immigration policies are no longer listed on his campaign page, an archive from the Wayback Machine suggests that Trump’s campaign began drafting his immigration proposals in 2015. According to the service from the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization the Internet Archive, Trump began explicitly citing organizations like CIS as a source for his immigration reform proposals by the end of 2016.

Fast forward to September 2017, after Trump implemented his anti-immigrant executive orders that the Washington Post called Miller a “key engineer” of and were largely informed by proposals from anti-immigrant hate groups to curb immigration. That month, the Center for Immigration Integrity released a press release highlighting a McClatchy article in which the reporter noted that the policies and language emerging from the White House were based on the demands of FAIR and CIS.

“McClatchy reports that FAIR sent the White House a list of policies that needed to be enacted around immigration, and CIS asked that those policies be part of any deal offering deportation relief,” according to the press release. “The ‘wish list’ from FAIR and CIS—and soon to be reflected in the Trump administration’s demands to Congress—includes E-Verify, border enforcement, biometric entry-exit screening system, and interior enforcement. This position was previously reinforced by President Trump, who recently stated that he will not back any deal that includes ‘chain migration.'”

And the Daily Beast confirmed that in April 2016, CIS drafted a 79-point wish list and as of today, almost all of the items on that list have either been implemented or shown up in leaked draft proposals from the administration.

Reference points for Trump’s proposed immigration framework go back further than 2016, however. In 2005, FAIR proposed its own wish list for Congress and under its first heading—”Reform Legal Immigration Admissions Policy”—demands are similar to those outlined in Trump’s so-called DACA deal. FAIR asks for the the end of family “chain migration,” saying, “Limit immigration entitlements to spouses and minor children of the principle immigrant.” Compare this to Trump’s, “Promote nuclear family migration by limiting family sponsorships to spouses and minor children only.”

In the same 2005 report, FAIR demands for an end to the visa lottery, writing, “What rational society picks new members out of a hat? By eliminating family chain migration, qualified applicants who lack family members in the U.S. would have a chance to be admitted based on personal merit.” Trump has used that exact language when discussing the visa lottery, as the Guardian reported.

“They have a lottery: you pick people,” he said peevishly, motioning his hand as if drawing a name out of a hat. “Do you think the country’s giving us their best people?” He held out his arms in mock incredulity. “No. What kind of a system is that? They come in by lottery. They give us their worst people. They put ‘em in a bin but in his hand, when he’s pickin’ ‘em, is really the worst of the worst. ‘Congratulations, you’re going to the United States, it’s OK.’ What a system, lottery system.”

The language in Trump’s immigration framework also mirrors FAIR’s 2005 demand regarding the visa lottery. “The visa lottery selects individuals at random to come to the United States without consideration of skills, merits, or public safety,” the White House framework reads. “This program is riddled with fraud and abuse and does not serve the national interest.”

FAIR’s 2005 demands also heavily focus on border security, including a demand to “increase the manpower and technology of the Border Patrol.” Trump’s framework asks for $25 billion “trust fund” for the “border wall system,” including the hiring of more agents. 

Here is a list of demands from FAIR’s 2005 wish list that has either been accomplished or is currently being proposed by the Trump administration, much of which was also outlined in Trump’s October immigration principles and policies, as the links show:

From Fringe to the White House 

FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA have influenced immigration policies for years after John Tanton founded each. Tanton is a white nationalist supporter of eugenics who is considered the father of the modern anti-immigrant movement and who once infamously warned of a Latino “onslaught.”

Anti-immigrant bills that have emerged in the last year and received Trump support can be traced directly back to misinformation, unfounded reports, and rhetoric propagated by these hate groups, whose members now also hold powerful positions in federal immigration agencies.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who was part of Trump’s transition team and head of the recently-disbanded voter fraud commission, is also a long-time nativist. Kobach was behind Arizona’s notoriously anti-immigrant racial profiling law SB 1070 and since 2004, he’s served as counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR. 

Former FAIR executive director Julie Kirchner was welcomed into the Trump administration as chief of staff of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that oversees Border Patrol, but is now ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Kirchner also reportedly assisted with the crafting of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, which advocates called “inherently racist” for the ways it seeks to specifically eliminate the traditional paths Black immigrants have taken to legally enter the United States. Miller, who reportedly worked with white nationalist Richard Spencer while they attended Duke University, defended the RAISE Act by citing the work of CIS.

Speaking of CIS, Jon Feere, a former analyst for the hate group, was hired as an adviser to Thomas D. Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Heidi Beirich, the director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which tracks the radical right in the United States, told Rewire that it “doesn’t even need to be questioned” that anti-immigrant hate groups are deeply embedded in the White House. 

“All of this that we’re seeing, threats to undocumented communities, threats to legal immigration, it’s been in the works for a long time,” Beirich said. “All of the language that has emerged from the Trump administration around immigration can be traced back to FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA. They’ve been pushing these ideas since the 1970’s. And all of this really disgusting rhetoric—depicting immigrants as terrorists, rapists, and criminals, implying immigrants bring disease, depicting dark-skinned people as undesirable to this country—that’s all them too, except now we have a president who believes it.”

Members of these groups are also routinely invited to testify as experts at congressional hearings, despite their practice of manipulating numbers, using questionable sources, and citing virulently racist authors, white nationalists, and anti-Semites.

An April House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security hearing focused on a debunked CIS report by the organization’s director of research, Steven Camarota. Despite promoting a widely-denounced report by Heritage Foundation researchers, Camarota is routinely called on as an immigration expert.

As Rewire reported, one of that report’s authors, Jason Richwine, argued in his dissertation that genetic differences in intelligence and aptitude exist between white people and other populations. Camarota referred to the Heritage report as the “most detailed and exhaustive ever done on this topic.” Camarota also had bylines at Tanton’s Social Contract Press, a white nationalist journal that published the English translation of the “stunningly racist” novel The Camp of the Saints—the book former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon cited in interviews explaining his views on immigrants.

Even more recently at an October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on DACA, CIS’ director of policy studies, Jessica Vaughan, was featured as an “expert witness,” highlighting her report on “chain migration” and how a potential bill providing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients would ultimately increase immigration levels—something her organization is vehemently against.

Media Complacency

These groups’ rhetoric is becoming increasingly normalized by the mainstream media, which treats them like credible news sources.

The New York Times recently published a deep dive into the phrase “chain migration” and never once mentioned its association to these groups. But the publication also routinely gives space to these same anti-immigrant hate groups in its immigration coverage, presenting them as “immigration hard-liners” on topics such as workplace raids and the plight of young, undocumented immigrants.

“These aren’t serious organizations; they’re anti-immigrant hate groups that are ideology-driven. We want journalists to know who they’re really citing,” said Arturo Burciaga Alcala, an advocate with the Center for Immigration Integrity, which created a website to debunk CIS’ “flawed, disputed, and frequently false research.”

Cristina López, a senior researcher with Media Matters, a nonprofit that monitors and analyzes “conservative misinformation” in U.S. media, told Rewire that CIS is “a case study in normalization.” Lopez has followed CIS’ anti-immigrant campaign closely and written extensively about how deeply embedded anti-immigrant hate groups have become in the White House, including the White House’s use of CIS research to back its support for the RAISE Act.

Lopez said that after Trump won the election, Media Matters had a number of internal conversations about how the media would begin normalizing things that are extremist—perhaps taking a cue from Congress, which has greatly aided to the normalization of anti-immigrant hate groups. 

The problem is two-fold, according to López. There’s a whole legion of mainstream media outlets all-too-willing to present these hate groups as legitimate, and a bulk of the Republican Party has co-signed their anti-immigrant proposals by citing their research and supporting Trump’s proposals. Combating the reach of these hate groups will now be an uphill battle, given that their rhetoric is being cemented into U.S. immigration policy.

“It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the media normalize these groups because Congress has or does Congress normalize these groups because the media has?” López said. “The thing is, they cleverly disguise their racism, nativism, and bigotry as science and what the media does is also very deceptive. They’ll feature an undocumented immigrant or advocate in the article and then a member of CIS or FAIR. Journalists believe you have to ‘hear both sides,’ but the other side isn’t a hate group. Hate groups shouldn’t even have a seat at the table.”

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