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Trump, the Center for Immigration Studies, and the Tanton Network: The Implementation of a Decades-Old Agenda

 

Trump has only been in office for a couple of months, but already his mass-deportation agenda is already well-defined. As we’ve written about before, Trump — led by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller — is out to make America white again, by 1) indiscriminately deporting immigrants, and 2) changing immigration laws and policies to prevent more people of color from coming into the United States. In other words, Trump wants to “reshape American demographics for the long term” — and there are a lot of nativists who are very happy that one of their own is in power.

The Tanton Network: Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR, and NumbersUSA

Chief among the nativists are the John Tanton groups, a network of anti-immigrant organizations operating in Washington, DC and around the country, who have for decades been pushing around the idea that America needs to be preserved for white people. Much has been written about this network (see resources at the bottom of this post), but here’s the gist: in the 70s, a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton became obsessed with eugenics, overpopulation, and the idea of America being taken over by people of color. He backed sterilization, wrote about how “a European-American majority” is required to maintain American culture, and worried about “less intelligent” people being allowed to have children.

Tanton started a whole array of anti-immigrant groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). For decades, these groups have worked with racists, anti-Semites, and white nationalists to promote dubious studies and misleading research that supposedly show why we need to have fewer immigrants in the United States. Their work is so outrageous that both FAIR and CIS have been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (a designation which has really gotten under the skin of CIS’ Executive Director, who tried to distance his organization from John Tanton who “founded and funded” his organization).

As Laura Reston at the New Republic wrote recently:

From a nondescript office building on K Street, [CIS] researchers churn out study after study laying out the perils of immigration. Most follow a predictable pattern: They twist the numbers to show immigrants pushing Western civilization to the brink of disaster. One 2008 report blames immigrants for America’s “burgeoning street gang problem.” Another, published two years later, argues that immigrants are using up the water in the American Southwest, making them the true threat to the environment. Yet another study, published in 2015, asserts that a whopping 51 percent of immigrant households are leeching off welfare—even though undocumented immigrants have been banned from receiving welfare since 1996. CIS’s research methodology is so flimsy that even hard-core conservative organizations have condemned it.

“Simply put,” the Cato Institute wrote of the welfare report, “the CIS study does not compare apples to apples but rather apples to elephants.”

For decades, these groups were more or less marginalized, influential only with the Jeff Sessions, Steve Kings and Tom Tancredos of the world. But now, Donald Trump is in the thrall of the Tanton network groups, which helps explain his warped view of how America is being overrun by immigrants who are all either takers or criminals.

Donald Trump and the Tanton Network

During the campaign, both NumbersUSA and CIS claimed to have met with Trump. He’s cited their data and put it into his ads. CIS is now apparently goingto ICE stakeholder meetings (as David Leopold, an immigration lawyer told the Daily Beast, “I don’t know why they would be there. What business do they have there? Do they represent people in proceedings? What business does Mark Krikorian have at the ICE liaison committee meeting?”) and staying in touch with Department of Homeland Security personnel.

Tanton-network sympathizers are all over the Trump administration. Attorney General (and Russia liaison) Jeff Sessions used to be NumbersUSA’s favorite members of Congress. Kris Kobach, who was part of Trump’s transition team, is a key player in the Tanton network family tree. And of course there’s Steve Bannon, the noted white nationalist who used to run Breitbart, which frequently reports on CIS’ research and findings. (Bannon and John Tanton, by the way, seem to share a predilection for the super-racist French novel Camp of the Saints, which Tanton wanted to make into a movie.) Anyway, as Betsy Woodruff wrote at Daily Beast, all these connections are “a new level of access and influence that helps explain the quick, dramatic changes Trump has made in immigration policy—changes that will impact millions of people.”

And we see these policies — proposed by the Tanton groups and picked up by Trump — being enacted already. As Woodruff continues:

Just 50 days into his presidency, and Trump’s team has already discussed, proposed, or implemented upwards of a dozen of CIS’s ideas.

For instance, the 29th item on CIS’s list calls for detention of people coming to the U.S. seeking asylum.

A Feb. 21 memo from the Department of Homeland Security laid out how the department is working to quickly expand detention of undocumented immigrants, including asylum seekers.

The 40th item on CIS’s list calls for the prosecution of people who pay smugglers to bring children to the United States illegally.

McClatchy reported on Feb. 18 that the DHS was considering prosecuting these parents—a move that a former USCIS official told NPR would be unprecedented.

Her examples go on.

In short, what we’re saying is that it’s bad enough that Trump has white nationalist policies on the agenda and people around him to help make them happen. It’s even worse that there’s a whole shadowy network of organizations in place to feed Trump the false research, rationale, and policy ideas that fuel his war against people of color.