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Anti-immigrant groups decry Trump’s "amnesty" plan, but have pushed for many of its tenets for decades

As President Trump’s immigration plan was formally announced last week and reiterated during his State of the Union speech last night, anti-immigrant groups, notably the “Big Three” Beltway groups, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA have decried, in unison, the plan as an “amnesty,” but the nativist measures in it are initiatives these groups have pushed for decades.

These three organizations are the brainchild of white nationalist John Tanton, the founder of the established anti-immigrant movement we see in the United States today. Tanton’s views are abhorrent; consider this missive from 1993: “I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that." But Tanton was also a visionary, not only setting up and funding these organizations, but also laying out a nativist vision for immigration policies that can be found in the recently-announced White House immigration agenda.

Trump and the anti-immigrant groups want an abolishment of the diversity lottery and an end to what they call “chain migration” the process of reuniting families in the United States. While FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA have vocally called for an end to both policies for well over a decade, Tanton himself has been railing about ending “chain migration” dating back to the early 1980s just as he was launching the burgeoning movement.

“Chain Migration”

In a 1981 memo to his friend, fellow anti-immigrant activist Otis Graham about position papers on immigration, Tanton wrote, “Decrease legal immigration, since immigration is a chain phenomenon.” Tanton cc’ed Roger Connor, FAIR’s first executive director in his note. Six years later, Tanton went into much more detail about his distaste for family reunification in a letter to the board of Population/Environment Balance, another anti-immigrant group still in existence today. Under a heading titled, “Family Reunification,” Tanton wrote in vulgar terms,

“This is the supposed cornerstone of current immigration policy. But it’s a self-defeating prophecy. When we admit a family member who is married (such as a son or a daughter), the spouse’s lineage is broken up and then gains a foothold in this country. Thus the process spreads and feeds on itself to give us never-ending “chain” migration. If just the nuclear family (father, mother, and unmarried minor children) were admitted, this problem would gradually disappear.”

The first mention of “chain migration” on the CIS website took place nearly twenty years later in 2006, in a report titled, “The Connection Between Legal and Illegal Immigration.” But since the election of President Trump, the group has published some 13 reports and blogs dealing with this topic. The group was also quick to blame chain migration for the failed bombing in New York City in December of 2017 when a Bangladeshi-born man attempted to blow up a device attached to him. In April of 2016, more than six months before the election, CIS released a report detailing 79 steps the new administration could take to curb immigration. The report called for polices that would not “engender” chain migration.

FAIR, a group Tanton founded in 1979, released a similar report in November of 2016, titled, “Immigration Priorities for the 2017 Presidential Transition,” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In its report, FAIR called for the new president to “implement a merit-based immigration system and end chain migration,” claiming that the current system is “based on nepotism.” In a blog post published the day after Trump’s victory, Roy Beck, founder of NumbersUSA wrote, “We will do all we can to mobilize the 6 million-plus members of our NumbersUSA Action Network to press the Trump Administration and Congress to eliminate immigration categories that fail to serve any national interests: chain migration, the visa lottery, permanent low-skill and non-extraordinary-skilled workers.”

Ending the Diversity Lottery”

Established to give citizens of countries with minimal numbers of immigrants to the United States a chance of emigrating, the diversity visa lottery allocates 50,000 green cards a year. The Trump administration wants to end this policy and both Trump and the nativist movement sized an opportunity in October 2017 to decry the program — the truck attack in New York City allegedly committed by an Uzbek man who had entered the U.S. after winning the visa lottery. In response, Trump called for an end to the lottery, claiming these nations “give us their worst people, they put them in a bin.”

CIS first wrote about the lottery in 1997 with longtime staffer Jessica Vaughan claiming that “fraud is a serious problem” in the program. But, like Trump, CIS used the New York City attack to make a renewed call to end the lottery, writing a total of 12 pieces in opposition to it since the incident, including one piece from its executive director Mark Krikorian simply titled, “Can We Finally Get Rid of the Visa Lottery?”

FAIR is more blunt about its reasons for opposing the lottery. In a section on its website, FAIR claims the lottery is “reinventing our nation.” The section soon after reads, “The visa lottery was crafted to satisfy narrowly focussed [sic] ethnic interests. The designers knew that today's immigrants become tomorrow's sponsors for other immigrant family members under the chain migration system that characterizes our overall system. They apparently were not satisfied with the dramatic demographic change the nation has undergone over the past 25 years and is expected to undergo over the next 25 years. In both the past and the future, the major vehicle for ethnic change is immigration, but rather than a fairly gradual, passive process of change, as in the past, the lottery designers increased the pace of change in our society.”

As reported by Tina Vasquez in ReWire, FAIR also called for an end to the lottery in a 2005 report titled, “An Immigration Reform Agenda for the 109th Congress.”

The Role of Stephen Miller

There is no doubt that Stephen Miller, Trump’s speechwriter and senior legislative aide, acts as the bridge between the administration and the nativist movement. Miller has a documented history of working with hate groups, dating back to when he invited anti-Muslim financier David Horowitz to his high school. Before joining the Trump team, Miller worked as an aide for now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch ally to nativist groups. Miller cited CIS on more than one occasion since Trump has taken office, but is his introductory remarks at a 2015 CIS event where he served as a keynote speaker eloquently detail his affinity for the group:

I’d like to thank everyone here today, and especially at the Center for Immigration Studies for everything they do to illuminate a debate that far too often operates, like illegal immigrants, in the shadows. (Laughter.)

So in particular, let me thank Jessica Vaughan, who is seated back there. There is no one in America who knows more about immigration enforcement than Jessica Vaughan. And, if she were to take, like, an island vacation for a year, I don’t think we would have a single worthwhile investigative report done in the course of that year on what’s really happening on our border.

Then, of course, we have Steve Camarota, who knows more about immigration numbers, history, demography, the economy than anyone I’ve ever worked with. And one of the great pleasures of my professional life is just being able to get on the phone with Steve and just talk, just have a conversation and just explore what’s in his thoughts, what he’s studying, what he’s researching. And for those of us who’ve had a chance to do the same, they’ll understand that completely.”

Miller’s praise of CIS is significant and came only months before he left to join the Trump campaign. It’s obvious that his feelings for CIS haven’t changed, as Vasquez points out in her January 29 piece. Miller has routinely cited CIS including the debunked claim that 72 terrorists came from countries covered under the Muslim ban.

This is far from the only debunk of CIS’s shoddy statistics. In a March 2017, piece in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard economist Robert Putnam took Mark Krikorian to task for “misleadingly” citing Putnam’s research before writing, “Mr. Krikorian is entitled to his own opinions, and he is entitled to cite or not to cite relevant scholarship, but he isn’t entitled to distort the findings of research that he chooses to cite.”  Also in early 2017, Alex Nowrasteh, an Immigration Policy Analyst at the CATO Institute criticized Krikorian and CIS, exclaiming, "Oh, I'm convinced that [CIS executive director Mark Krikorian is] wrong about all the facts and issues. They're wrong about the impact of immigrants on the U.S. economy and on U.S. society.”

Will Trump’s Plan Become a Reality?

It has been reported that Miller was pulled from at least one of the recent meetings Trump had with lawmakers to try and hash out a deal on immigration, with Democrats claiming the inclusion of Miller would be a non-starter.  But Miller jumped on the phone with anti-immigrant groups to explain Trump’s plan to provide least some sort of status for approximately 1.8 million undocumented people in the United States. Roy Beck and Mark Krikorian, who were both on the call with Miller, were obviously disappointed with the plan and voiced their concerns when Miller sought input from nativist groups. While Trump’s proposal is far from a done deal, the next deadline for a government shutdown is in less than two weeks, so some sort of compromise is likely imminent. It remains to be seen how many nativist provisions will be in the final product. 

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