Our VoiceNews & Politics

Nativist think tank still has a foothold in Congress – but why?

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Aug 14, 2014

The Center for Immigration Studies has a cozy relationship with key House Republicans despite a recent controversy and years of questionable tactics.

On July 17, the Center for Immigration Studies’ (CIS) Stephen Steinlight spoke before a Tea Party group in Sebring, Florida. As he has before such crowds numerous times previously, Steinlight didn’t shy away from the controversial. Unique to this occasion, however, his comments made national news.

One usually does when you openly advocate for the hanging and decapitation of President Obama:

“We all know, if there ever was a president that deserved to be impeached, it’s this guy. All right? And I wouldn’t stop. I would think being hung, drawn, and quartered is probably too good for him….But you know, this man who wants to rule by the use of a pen, a telephone, let us not forget his teleprompter….the fact is that it would backfire very badly and we’ve got to be grownups and accept that we can’t have everything we want, you know, [like] his head on a skewer.”

Mark Krikorian, CIS’s executive director, responded with his usual flippancy, telling a reporter that he had placed “a reprimand in [Steinlight’s] personnel file” for using “impolitic language.” For years, and even once before Congress in 2004, Krikorian has struggled to fend off charges of his group’s role as a principal leader of this country’s organized nativist movement, which originates with the white nationalist and population-control obsessed John Tanton.

Krikorian answered to Tanton when the former worked for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) before being moved in 1995 to lead CIS, one of FAIR’s two sister organizations in Washington, D.C.

This is significant beyond potential criminal implications. For one, CIS is a trusted source of “research” for anti-immigrant members of Congress, including long-time ally Rep. Lamar Smith. Other Republicans, like House Judiciary Committee (HJC) Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, have caved and cowered before 1) the anti-immigrant caucus in the House led by Reps. Steve King and Smith and 2) the conflated implications of Eric Cantor’s loss to long-shot Tea Partier David Brat. (In Cantor and Brat’s district, exactly 70% of registered GOP voters on election day supported immigration reform.)

Quiet coordination

Goodlatte’s and Smith’s trust in CIS (read: “likely active working relationship with”) was demonstrated as recently as May 12.

That morning, CIS released a report claiming that “36,000 criminals” (with nearly 40% of convictions being categorized as some manner of “Traffic Offense”) had been released by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in 2013. It is troubling that CIS still refuses to make public the document on which the study is based – forcing everyone to simply take the organization at its word.

Seemingly within minutes of the report’s public release – and in what appears to expose quiet coordination with CIS – Goodlatte and Smith issued a joint statement regarding their shared alarm and shock at the group’s findings. Goodlatte soon called for a full HJC hearing to examine the results of a report authored by researchers who refused to be transparent about their source documentation.

Steinlight later bragged to a reporter that the document was obtained via “our [CIS’s] ongoing good connections with whistleblowers in agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” which is a division of the Department of Homeland Security. It’s worth noting that Smith has welcomed invitations to speak at CIS sponsored and organized events in the past. Internal documents from FAIR made available to the George Washington University library reflect that Smith began a working relationship with FAIR as early as 1990.

When will CIS become ‘too hot to handle’?

From sources well-placed within the Beltway, the Center for New Community has learned that FAIR’s employees and associates can no longer be called before the HJC, or any other Congressional committee, because the group is now simply “too hot to handle.” Earning the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation as a “hate group” alongside the Anti-Defamation League’s similar classification has helped marginalize FAIR from official Congressional activity.

And all of this raises serious questions and implications about the relationships between members of Congress or any agents engaged even partially in national security work and an organization with well-documented ties to political extremists, some of which publicly indulge violent fantasies.

  • Why does CIS receive such trust, particularly from House Republicans?
  • Should tax-payer money really be used to hold hearings based on the murky research of such organizations?
  • Shouldn’t publicly elected officials be asked to explain their relationships with an organization that refuses to fire or even to distance itself from an individual who as claimed all Muslim immigration should be outlawed, that Hispanic immigrants will bring about “the unmaking of America” and their seeking equal civil rights will eventually lead to a bloody revolution presumably against whites, and who has called for a president’s execution?
  • Like FAIR, what will it take for CIS to become “too hot to handle?”

On Aug. 20, Steinlight will speak at a meeting of the Vaca Valley Tea Party in northern California. One can only wonder if any ICE whistleblowers or perhaps FBI agents will be in attendance. After his recent comments, organizations like ours and pro-migrant advocates certainly shouldn’t be the only parties interested in what the Center for Immigration Studies Senior Policy Analyst will have to say.

The question remains, though, when will those within the Republican Party who welcome CIS into Congress be remembered for doing so?

Aaron Flanagan is the director of research at the Center for New Community.

Imagine 2050 Newsletter

  • translate

    English • Afrikaans • العربية • Беларуская • Български • Català • Česky • Cymraeg • Dansk • Deutsch • Eesti • Ελληνικά • Español • فارسی • Français • Gaeilge • Galego • हिन्दी • Hrvatski • Bahasa Indonesia • Íslenska • Italiano • עברית • Latviešu • Lietuvių • 한국어 • Magyar • Македонски • മലയാളം • Malti • Nederlands • 日本語 • Norsk (Bokmål) • Polski • Português • Română • Русский • Slovenčina • Slovenščina • Shqip • Srpski • Suomi • Svenska • Kiswahili • ไทย • Tagalog • Türkçe • Українська • Tiếng Việt • ייִדיש. • 中文 / 漢語