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Meet Jessica Vaughan, the anti-immigrant movement’s representative at tomorrow’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on DACA

A representative from the anti-immigrant think tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) will once again testify before Congress on Tuesday. 

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear witness testimony as they ostensibly consider a legislative replacement for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program the Trump administration heartlessly ended several weeks ago.

Lawmakers won’t hear from the CIS figure who has claimed Mexico’s “weakness and backwardness has been deeply harmful to the United States” or another who gleefully said “being hung, drawn, and quartered is probably too good” for President Obama. Nor will it be the organization’s research director, who sneers at our supposedly “equality-obsessed society” and supports limiting legal immigration because “children and grandchildren of immigrants are committing a lot of crime, making this a long-term problem."

Instead, it will be Jessica Vaughan, CIS’s Director of Policy Studies. Following tomorrow’s hearing, CIS representatives will have testified before Congress eleven times since the beginning of 2016. Vaughan will have represented the group on five of those occasions.

Like her colleagues, Vaughan, too, has a history of bigoted public statements and extremist associations. Among other things:

  • Vaughan has disparaged the humanitarian Temporary Protected Status program for supposedly contributing to “the burgeoning street gang problem in the United States.”
  • She has praised anti-immigrant sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s bigoted proposal to send inmates in his Massachusetts prison to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist in constructing Trump’s border wall. “If any of the inmates working on the wall are criminal aliens from south of the border, they’ll be that much closer for deportation,” Vaughan said. “Not only that, they can use their new skills to support themselves in their home country.”
  • Vaughan has previously discussed her work with The American Free Press, a virulently anti-Semitic newspaper founded by Willis Carto, a Holocaust denier who was active on the radical right for over five decades before his death in 2015.
  • She has also been a featured speaker at multiple extremist events including white nationalist publisher The Social Contract Press’s annual Writer’s Workshop and the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Sheriff Border Summit. At the Writer’s Workshop, white nationalist Peter Brimelow of the racist website VDARE also spoke.
  • In 1996, Vaughan appeared on an episode of “Borderline,” a show produced by FAIR, alongside Chilton Williamson, a longtime editor of Chronicles magazine, a publication with strong neo-Confederate ties that caters to the more intellectual wing of the white nationalist movement.  

More importantly, however, Vaughan has been integral to CIS’s poisoning of the immigration debate with misinformation and obfuscation. One prominent example the Center for New Community has previously highlighted is Vaughan and CIS’s blatant misrepresentation of sanctuary policies. In this area, Vaughan’s relationship with the truth is particularly egregious. In 2015, CIS published a map listing over 270 jurisdictions as so-called sanctuaries that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Vaughan and her colleagues willfully omitted crucial information regarding the legality of so-called detainer requests federal immigration enforcement agents issue to state and local police. Courts have ruled that honoring such requests can lead to detaining individuals in direct violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

Vaughan and CIS’s work in this area has dangerously shifted the terms of public debate away from facts and toward the anecdotal and heuristic. Law enforcement officials in some of the jurisdictions targeted by CIS have objected to sanctuary characterization, clarifying that their actions follow court orders. Vaughan has defended these reckless and dangerous allegations she and her organization have made against law enforcement officials. “If being listed as a sanctuary causes people in the community to complain, well, that’s a good thing,” she told The Washington Times earlier this year. “They should have to explain themselves to the public. That’s called accountability.”  

More troubling, the country’s top law enforcement official has internalized this incomplete legal analysis. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with sheriffs this spring. One sheriff in attendance recently told The New York Times that Sessions seemed completely unaware of the legal issues surrounding detainer requests. “He was still living in 2014,” the sheriff said of Sessions. “He had no idea what we were talking about.”

Sessions, of course, has been one of the anti-immigrant movement’s most strident allies in Washington. Once could expect him to uncritically accept CIS’s claims, but the fact that the country’s Attorney General appears unfamiliar with well-known issues with laws he is tasked with enforcing remains deeply troubling.

Tomorrow before Congress, Vaughan is sure to continue deriding the now-ending DACA program, one she has previously described as “a huge problem.” Vaughan attacked the program in a new report last week published by CIS. Her report positions any potential legislation to regularize the status of DACA beneficiaries as a launch pad for so-called “chain migration.”

The concept of chain migration has long been promoted by the anti-immigrant movement to drum up hysteria over immigrants going through legal channels to secure visas for family members. Most people scoff at this reading, rightly acknowledge this as merely how the U.S. immigrant system works. To the anti-immigrant movement, which has preyed on racial anxieties for decades, family reunification presents an existential threat. Never mind the fact that current backlogs mean the process for most would take a decade or longer.

Vaughan’s record suggests she is sure to continue peddling such fearmongering mistruths before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. Senators should be ready to countervail her false assertions and misrepresentations before they toxify the immigration policy debate even further, causing additional harm to vulnerable immigrant communities in the process.

Photo credit: SHFWire photo by Luke Torrance

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