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The Trump administration's 'public charge' policy is the latest of many that reflect the playbook of anti-immigrant hate groups

On September 22, the Trump administration announced a new immigration policy proposal that would restrict people who may rely on public assistance benefits from acquiring green cards.

These restrictions preventing so-called “public charges” from obtaining legal residency have been roundly criticized by immigrant rights groups and social justice organizations around the nation, who argue these rules are a “cruel” measure that targets the vulnerable. Federal law requires individuals seeking green cards to prove they will not be a burden. This new proposed rule, however, takes into account benefits including food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers for the first time. Advocates are worried immigrants who depend on these programs will stop using them altogether so they do not jeopardize their chances of obtaining legal permanent residency. And when these types of programs are targeted, it affects not just individual immigrants seeking legal status, but their families and children.

In fact, this “public charge” policy has been promoted for years by anti-immigrant hate groups. Anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) published a policy “wish list” in April 2016. Item #60 reads:

Make use of the public charge doctrine to reduce the number of welfare-dependent foreigners living in the United States. According to the government, the number of aliens denied admission to the United States as legal permanent residents due to a risk of becoming reliant on welfare has dropped dramatically in recent decades. This is an administrative choice and past presidents have carved out exceptions to the law, exempting many immigrants on welfare from deportation. Currently, DHS admits it does not track immigrants who become welfare dependent and only attempted to remove one welfare-dependent alien in 2012; that case was ultimately dropped. Half of households headed by immigrants use at least one welfare program.

CIS executive director Mark Krikorian lauded the announcement from the White House in an op-ed that appeared in the National Review. The day of the policy announcement, Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the CIS, tweeted: “Interesting how the same people who claim immigrants are such a fiscal benefit are now screaming that a huge percentage will be blocked because they are dependent on welfare benefits. Which is it?”

And more than a month before the announcement, anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA sent two action alerts for supporters praising the Trump administration for what was at the time just a rumored plan to limit green cards to “foreign citizens who can fully support themselves.”

This announcement by the Trump administration is the latest of many policy changes that echo proposals put forward by anti-immigrant hate groups. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a longtime target of anti-immigrant groups, has been imperiled under the Trump administration. CIS has been one of the most vocal critics of the DACA policy, and led calls to scrap it following the election of Trump. In September 2017, Krikorian wrote, “All amnesties encourage future illegal immigration – by sending the message abroad that crime pays, as it were — and they set in motion future increases in legal immigration, as relatives of the amnesty recipients take advantage of the chain-migration provisions of our current immigration program.” However, DACA recipients do not currently have a path to obtain legal permanent resident status. If undocumented immigrant youth were to be granted amnesty, they would still have to wait at least eight years to become permanent residents, during which time they would not be able to sponsor any relatives. On July 17, CIS announced it is suing United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to obtain information about individuals who have applied for the DACA program.

The Trump administration has also increased deportations, item #59 on CIS’ 2016 wish list. In particular, arrests and deportations of noncriminal undocumented immigrants have skyrocketed since Trump took office. In January 2018, President Trump said he plans to terminate the diversity lottery program, a move touted by CIS’ Vaughan back in 2012, who wrote, “The problems it invites (fraud, crime, terrorism) are more than enough reason to end it.” Vaughan first wrote about the lottery in 1997 while at CIS, arguing that “fraud is a serious problem” in the program. Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant hate group, called for an end to the diversity visa lottery in 2005 in a report titled “An Immigration Reform Agenda for the 109th Congress.” FAIR has a page on its site dedicated to disparaging the program, concluding, “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.” President Trump continues to erroneously attack the visa lottery system, which allocates 50,000 visas to people from countries with low immigration rates. CBS News has reported:

Interested and eligible applicants can only apply electronically — which often means long lines at Internet cafes in developing countries during the weeks-long entry period — and they are not, as Trump argues, ‘the worst of the worst,’ handpicked by their country’s government.

CIS devoted two consecutive items on the immigration policy wish list to supporting weakening “temporary protected status” (TPS) for migrants seeking asylum. In 2008, Vaughan wrote, “One legacy of TPS has been its contributions to the burgeoning street gang problem in the United States.” TPS is granted to individuals from designated countries facing ongoing armed conflict, disaster, or other exigent circumstances. The Trump administration has revoked that status for six nations, a decision that has removed protections for more than 400,000 people currently residing in the U.S.

The White House has also strengthened ties to groups that propagate the debunked myth that immigrants commit more violent crimes than other demographic groups. On June 22, President Trump met with family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants, a group he calls “angel families.” Among the attendees were members from Advocates for Victims of Illegal Aliens Crimes (AVIAC), a splinter group from the anti-immigrant hate group run by Maria Espinoza, the Remembrance Project. At the event, many families thanked the Remembrance Project, AVIAC and Jon Feere, a former CIS employee who works as an adviser to the acting director of ICE. One woman, Maryann Mendoza, said:

The members of AVIAC are here to educate the public as to what’s happening. And if anybody has been a victim of illegal alien crime, contact us because we have close connections with Barbara Gonzales at ICE and Jon Feere. We have connections at the Department of Homeland Security that we are trying to get people the help that they need.

Anti-immigrant hate groups have gone after the U.S. policy of birthright citizenship, enshrined in the 14th Amendment, since the early 1990s. John Tanton, the white nationalist who created a network of anti-immigrant groups, including FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA, published a tract against what he called The Immigration Invasion with white nationalist Wayne Lutton in 1994. CIS followed suit with articles against birthright citizenship. FAIR devoted an episode in 1996 on its television show, “Borderline,” to discuss birthright citizenship with Rosemary Jenks, who went on to work for CIS and NumbersUSA. On the campaign trail, Trump targeted birthright citizenship in his immigration policy proposal. In July of this year, a former national security official in the Trump administration published an op-ed in the Washington Post against birthright citizenship.

White House ties to nativist hate groups are deeper than just policy coincidence. Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of many of the administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies, served as the keynote speaker at a CIS award ceremony on May 31, 2015, during which he praised CIS staffers and said that speaking with the organization’s research director was “one of the great pleasures of my professional life.” Not long after that, Miller joined the Trump campaign.

While serving in the Trump administration, Miller has used misleading statistics from CIS to bolster his policy positions. In February 2017, Miller cited one such CIS report that claimed 72 terrorists originally came from countries covered under the Muslim ban. He also cited CIS in August 2017 when answering questions about the RAISE Act — a bill that, as The New York Times describes, would “slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.”

In September 2017, The New York Times reported Miller likely censored data that illustrated the economic benefits of refugee resettlement in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that over the last decade, refugees brought in $63 million more than it costs to take them in. The Times wrote that Miller “personally intervened” to exclude that data from the administration’s report. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Sept. 17, 2018, that the country will admit, at most, 30,000 refugees. This is the lowest refugee cap since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. Anti-immigrant groups have published several articles about refugees. In June 2017, CIS staffer Jason Richwine authored an article titled “Refugees Do Not Pay Their Own Way.” Richwine, now a writer for the National Review, a publication that has employed white nationalists, has claimed there is an IQ hierarchy in America with Jews at the top, followed by East Asians, non-Jewish whites, Hispanics and blacks. “Races differ in all sorts of ways, and probably the most important way is in IQ,” he said in a discussion with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that was broadcast on C-SPAN.

Miller’s relationship with CIS appears to be ongoing. In January 2018, Miller also spoke with anti-immigrant groups, including CIS, on a private call.

Other government officials have also attended events hosted by hate groups.

In August, Frank Cissna, director of USCIS (the government agency CIS announced it was suing in July), delivered the keynote address at a CIS event. After Hatewatch reported on Cissna’s appearance, CIS closed the event to the public. When he joined USCIS, Cissna changed its mission statement to remove the sentence that the U.S. is a “nation of immigrants,” a move that nativist groups celebrated.

FAIR, which recently came under fire for allegations of racist harassment against a Mexican American employee, hosted the acting director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ronald Vitiello, at its annual media event, “Hold Their Feet to the Fire,” in September. In his remarks to the nativist think tank, Vitiello said, “We’re grateful to be in a situation, you know, when I was at CBP and now at ICE, we have an administration that backs rule of law."

Photo credit Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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