Update: Following the publishing of this blog, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has announced that the event featuring Cissna is now closed to the public. In response to Cissna’s appearance, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland sent a letter to the USCIS director, urging him to cancel his visit. Citing CIS’s long history of circulating white nationalist and antisemitic writings as well as its demonization of immigrants, Hoyer wrote, “It would be a shame for the hardworking men and women of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be tainted by your address to this hate group.”
Cissna is the third Trump administration official to take part in CIS’s “Immigration Newsmaker” events this year, following appearances by the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s director James McHenry, and former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan.
Cissna’s scheduled appearance reaffirms the cozy relationship between the Trump administration and the organized anti-immigrant movement in the United States. This relationship goes well beyond anti-immigrant hate groups advising the President, as former hate group members join the administration on a regular basis. The same month that Cissna was approved by the Senate to take up his position as USCIS director, Robert Law left another anti-immigrant hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to join USCIS as a senior policy advisor, according to a report by Media Matters for America.
Both CIS and FAIR were founded by white nationalist John Tanton, a population control and eugenics advocate who created the network of anti-immigrant groups we see in the Beltway and beyond today. Tanton’s worldview and reason for creating this network can be summed up by a line he wrote to a friend in 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.”
For over three decades, CIS has published a litany of reports and blog posts demonizing immigrants and blaming them for virtually all of the United States’ ills. CIS has also circulated white nationalist content thousands of times. Its staffers and leadership have referred to immigrants as “Third-World gold-diggers,” blaming immigrants for “the burgeoning street gang problem” in the United States. Longtime CIS head Mark Krikorian wrote the following after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed an estimated 160,000 people. “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”
Cissna is no stranger to CIS. In 2015, while working for Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, he attended a CIS panel discussion and asked a question. CIS publishes the transcripts and videos for each of its panel discussions, but the transcript for the event that Cissna attended is missing from its website. An earlier version of it that was published on the CIS site can be viewed here, with video available here.
Since joining USCIS, Cissna has won praise from nativist groups for changing its mission statement and removing the sentence that the U.S. is a “nation of immigrants.” The new statement, unveiled by Cissna in a February 2018 letter, instead emphasized “protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”
Homan’s appearance at the CIS event in June came under scrutiny from immigrant and civil rights organizations and prompted New York Congressman Joe Crowley to write a letter to ICE asking him to reconsider his speaking engagement. In a climate where anti-immigrant hysteria is on the rise, Cissna’s speech next week will unfortunately further lend legitimacy to CIS.
Photo by AP Images/Alex Brandon