Today, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a report which attacks the decision of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to designate the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) a “hate group,” and thereby impugn the reputation of two FAIR spin-offs: CIS and NumbersUSA. The report offers a defense of FAIR and its founder, John Tanton (a man who has expressed sympathy for eugenics—that is, selective human breeding), and attacks SPLC and its work with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and other organizations belonging to the “Stop the Hate” campaign. Leaving aside SPLC’s rebuttal of the report, or the question raised by the report of why it took so long for FAIR’s (hateful) past to catch up with it, the fact remains that FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA have engaged in an intellectually dishonest analysis of immigration that sometimes devolves into name-calling.

Here are three examples:

  • Federation for American Immigration Reform: In a 2009 report, FAIR claims that “Maryland’s illegal immigrant population costs the state’s taxpayers more than $1.4 billion per year for education, medical care and incarceration.” However, the statistical contortions in which FAIR engages to produce this number render it virtually meaningless. FAIR dramatically exaggerates the fiscal “costs” imposed by unauthorized immigrants by including schooling and medical care for their native-born, U.S.-citizen children in its estimate (even though they are neither immigrants nor unauthorized), and completely discounts the economic role that unauthorized immigrants play as workers and consumers.
  • Center for Immigration Studies: In a 2008 report, CIS takes aim at what it views as an under-appreciated threat to U.S. national security and the integrity of the U.S. immigration system: the alleged ease with which foreigners married to U.S. citizens can become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) and receive “green cards.” CIS scrapes the bottom of the intellectual barrel in terms of relying upon anecdote rather than evidence to derisively claim that “if small-time con artists and Third-World gold-diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can (and have done) the same.” Even the title of the report, “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name,” suggests that it is intended more as mockery rather than a substantive analysis of immigration policy.
  • NumbersUSA: According to NumbersUSA, immigration to the United States is all about arithmetic: immigration increases the U.S. population, and more people presumably means more pollution, more urban sprawl, more competition for jobs, and higher taxes for Americans who must shoulder the costs of “over-population.” At first glance, this argument is attractive in its simplicity: less immigration, fewer people, a better environment, more jobs, lower taxes. However, as with so many simple arguments about complex topics, it is fundamentally flawed and misses the point. “Over-population” is not the primary cause of the environmental or economic woes facing the United States, so arbitrary restrictions on immigration will not create a cleaner environment or a healthier economy.

It is hardly surprising that FAIR became a focus of SPLC’s attention given the angry and inflammatory rhetoric it has spouted for many years. The often bizarre comments of its founder John Tanton, and the organization’s willingness to partner with white supremacists, make it an easy target. On the surface, CIS has made an effort to distinguish itself from FAIR. CIS claims to be driven by a “low immigration, pro-immigrant” vision of an America that “admits fewer immigrants but affords a warmer welcome for those who are admitted.” However, CIS has yet to issue a single report that criticizes how immigrants are treated in the United States, or offer a single policy proposal that would actually create a “warmer welcome” for immigrants—which raises doubts about their commitment to anything other than stopping immigration and deporting immigrants. The NumbersUSA argument that the sheer number of immigrants will forever transform the country for the worse is an age-old claim that has always proven to be wrong.

This particular CIS report is not about immigration; it’s about settling scores with political enemies. Unfortunately, when you’re trying to defend John Tanton and his network of restrictionist organizations, your position is pretty much indefensible. If CIS truly wanted to establish an identity distinct from FAIR, then it would disavow the more outrageous actions and arguments of FAIR and Tanton. However it would seem that CIS Director Mark Krikorian has no desire to do so, judging from his recent comment “that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.” These are not the words of someone looking to distance his organization from an entrenched history of hateful rhetoric.

Photo by Sydigill.

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