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The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is a non-profit organization and think tank[3] that favors low immigration numbers and produces research to further those views.[4][5][6][7]

Center for Immigration Studies logo.png
MottoPro-Immigrant, Low-Immigration
FormationJanuary 9, 1986; 33 years ago (1986-01-09)[1]
TypePublic policy think tank
Headquarters1629 K Street N.W., Suite 600
Executive Director
Mark Krikorian[2]

Founded in 1985 as a spin-off from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR),[8] the center's self-described mission is to provide immigration policymakers, the academic community, news media, and concerned citizens with reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States.[9] CIS is one of a number of anti-immigration organizations that John Tanton helped found.[8][10][11]

Reports published by CIS have been disputed or analyzed by scholars on immigration, fact-checkers such as PolitiFact, FactCheck.Org, Snopes, media outlets such as Washington Post, CNN and NBC News, and immigration-research organizations. The organization has "significant influence in the White House"[12], and is cited by members of the Trump administration to defend his immigration policies.[13][14][15] The Southern Poverty Law Center said in 2016 that CIS is a hate group. According to the SPLC, CIS also has ties to the American nativist movement.[16][17][18] CIS has said that the allegation is false and, in 2019, filed a lawsuit against the SPLC over the question.[19][20]


History, board and fundingEdit

CIS does not include details about its founding, but according to several sources, John Tanton was involved in the organization's founding.[21][11][10] Otis Graham Jr., founding chairman of CIS, disputed that, saying Tanton "played no part in its organization."[22]

Founding CIS Board Members included George W. Grayson. Several of the founding members are still on the Board, which is headed by former U.S. Attorney Peter Nuñez and includes Jan C. Ting and T. Willard Fair from the Urban League of Greater Miami.[23] George Borjas has been a CIS fellow and served one term on its board.[24]

CIS has been described as conservative,[25][26][27][28] a label rejected by the organization.[29] After an NPR story described CIS as "decidedly right-wing", Edward Schumacher-Matos, the then ombudsman of NPR, argued that this mislabelled CIS, noting the organization's "political diversity".[30]

Funding comes from contributions and grants by private foundations, from contracts with the Census Bureau and Department of Justice, and from donations by individuals,[23] including donations made through the Combined Federal Campaign.[31]

Trump administrationEdit

In 2017, CIS analyst Jon Feere joined the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Trump administration. In his writings for CIS, Feere had claimed that giving birth on U.S. soil gives immigrants access to welfare and other social benefits, and that this gives rise "birth tourism" (the practice of foreigners traveling to the United States to give birth to U.S. citizens).[32] CNN wrote that "Politifact has mostly debunked those claims, concluding that US-born children do little in the long term to help their immigrant parents. Citizen children cannot sponsor their parents for citizenship until the young person turns 21 and any social benefits would be given to the child and not their undocumented parents, who would not qualify. The Pew Research Center also has found that the number of babies born to unauthorized immigrants in the United States has been declining steadily in recent years."[32]

In September 2017, the Trump administration defended its claim that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) "denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs" by citing editorials written by members of the Center for Immigration Studies.[33] However, economists consulted by PolitiFact rejected the claim, noting that the job market is not fixed or zero-sum.[33]

In May 2018, President Trump nominated Ronald Mortensen, a CIS fellow, as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, a top state department position overseeing refugee resettlement. Mortensen has been a vocal critic of illegal immigration.[34]

In 2018, CIS defended the Trump administration's decision to separate undocumented immigrant children from their parents.[35] CIS argued that the policy deterred immigrant families from crossing the US border and said that the policy "actually protects foreign nationals".[35] At a June 2018 event hosted at CIS, outgoing Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, defended the policy.[36]



CIS publishes books and posts for free on its website a variety of announcements, research reports, memoranda, op-eds and articles, panel discussion transcripts, Congressional testimony, and videos.[37] It also maintains a blog.[38] The organization's publications address topics relating to both illegal and legal immigration.

Eugene Katz AwardEdit

The Center gives an annual award called the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration to journalists covering immigration issues.[39] The award is named in memory of Eugene Katz, a journalist who started his career as a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman.

Katz Award recipients have included the following:

Policy stancesEdit

The Center for Immigration Studies supports lower levels of legal immigration[42][43] and stricter enforcement measures against illegal immigration.[44]

Mandatory E-VerifyEdit

E-Verify is currently a voluntary program run by the United States government to help companies determine whether employees and prospective employees are legally authorized to work in the United States. CIS Director Mark Krikorian has written in support of mandatory E-Verify for both public and private employers to prevent the hiring of undocumented immigrants.[45]

End family-based migrationEdit

Family-based migration is the process by which legal immigrants and green card holders can sponsor family members for immigration to the country. CIS opposes family-based migration, and instead advocates for a "points system" of immigration, based on professional skills, which Krikorian called "a completely conventional idea". [46][47]

End diversity immigrant visa programEdit

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, commonly known as the "green card lottery", is a United States government lottery program that allocates 50,000 permanent resident cards annually in an attempt to diversify the immigrant population. CIS analysts have called on President Trump to terminate the program. CIS research director Steve Camarota called the program "ideally suited for terrorists" and cited Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan who entered the country through the diversity lottery who killed eight in a 2017 terror attack, as evidence to end the program.[48][49]


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published reports in 2002[50] and 2009[51] on John Tanton, who helped found CIS. Tanton is a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who opposed immigration on racial grounds, desired a white ethnic majority in the United States and advocated for eugenics.[52][10][53]

The SPLC's 2009 report charged:[51]

FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the "puppeteer" of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots ... CIS was conceived by Tanton and began life as a program of FAIR. CIS presents itself as a scholarly think tank that produces serious immigration studies meant to serve "the broad national interest." But the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked, and it has frequently manipulated data to achieve the results it seeks.

In response, Krikorian wrote:[54]

The fact that they went after mainstream groups rather than fringe ones shows that the goal is not elevating the tone of public discourse but shutting it down altogether. ... The report's section on CIS is not just hackwork, but amateurish hackwork. Much of it dwells on letters written to (not by, but to) one of my board members, misidentified as having been executive director. Our research is described as having been debunked by "mainstream think tanks and organizations," oddly enough including two of the most strident open-borders advocacy groups in the nation. My tenure there, the majority of the center's existence, is dismissed briefly at the end as "The Later Years." And they didn’t even mention my book, which knits together decades of CIS research on the many facets of immigration into a unified theoretical framework – something at least worth touching on when trying to show how naughty CIS is. What's more, CIS is an unlikely source of "intolerance." The chairman is Peter Nuñez, U.S. attorney for San Diego under Reagan; the board includes the president of the Greater Miami Urban League and a former executive director of the National Black Caucus Foundation; the staff includes the former national policy director for the American Jewish Committee; and I didn't even speak English until I got to kindergarten.

Tanton also denied the SPLC's accusations. As to his alleged influence at CIS, he wrote, "I also helped raise a grant in 1985 for the Center for Immigration Studies, but I have played no role in the Center's growth or development."[55][56] According to CNN, Tanton openly embraced eugenics.[52] The New York Times noted that Tanton made his case against immigration in racial terms.[57] CIS has consequently been criticized for its reluctance to criticize Tanton and his views.[57]

In March 2010, CIS published a report written by Jerry Kammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist[58] and senior research fellow at CIS, that was sharply critical of the SPLC, its tactics and methodologies, and its attacks against groups such as CIS, NumbersUSA, and FAIR.[59][60] Ken Silverstein wrote in his online blog in reference to the SPLC's article:[61]

In 2004, a Wall Street Journal editorial repeated the SPLC's allegation that CIS is part of a network of organizations founded by Tanton and also charged that these organizations are "trying to stop immigration to the U.S." It quoted Chris Cannon, at the time a Republican U.S. Representative from Utah, as saying, "Tanton set up groups like CIS and FAIR to take an analytical approach to immigration from a Republican point of view so that they can give cover to Republicans who oppose immigration for other reasons."[62]

Several months earlier, Krikorian denied allegations made in a similarly critical Wall Street Journal editorial[63] and by Rep. Cannon, writing "This kind of venomous lying and guilt by association are par for the course in the fever swamps of the web, but are startling in the halls of the U.S. Congress and the pages of the nation's largest-circulation newspaper."[64] Although former Rep. Cannon expressed a negative view of CIS, the CIS website quotes other elected officials, including U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX), former Governor Richard D. Lamm (D-CO), U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), in support of the organization.[23]

In 2016, the SPLC began describing CIS as an anti-immigrant hate group. It cited CIS's repeated publication of white nationalist and anti-Semitic writers, its employment of an analyst known to promote racist pseudoscience, its association with John Tanton, and its record of publishing reports that it said hyped the criminality of immigrants.[16] In 2019, CIS sued the SPLC over the hate group designation in a RICO lawsuit, alleging that the designation was false and part of a "smear campaign."[65][66] Notre Dame Law School professor G. Robert Blakey, the author of the 1970 RICO statute, described CIS's filing as "not too thoughtful" and said its legal claims lacked merit. The SPLC described the suit as an attempt to suppress their right to free speech.[67] Some conservatives came to CIS' defense, with Tucker Carlson saying there was "no basis" for the "shocking" hate group designation and National Review's Rich Lowry saying that the organization's views were "perfectly reasonable."[68][69]

Controversial reportsEdit

The Center for Immigration Studies has been criticized for publishing reports deemed to be misleading and using poor methodology by scholars on immigration (such as the authors of the National Academies of Sciences 2016 report on immigration); by think tanks such as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Cato Institute,[70] Urban Institute[71] and Center for American Progress; fact-checkers such as FactCheck.Org, PolitiFact, Washington Post, Snopes and NBC News; and by immigration-research organizations (such as Migration Policy Institute and the Immigration Policy Center[72].

A March 2003 CIS report said that between 1996 and 2001 welfare use by immigrant headed households had increased and that "welfare use rates for immigrants and natives are essentially back to where they were in 1996 when welfare reform was passed." The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said this was misleading because the U.S. children of noncitizens "account[ed] for all of the increase in Medicaid or SCHIP participation among U.S. citizens living in low-income households headed by noncitizens."[73]

In March 2007, CIS issued a report saying that the "proportion of immigrant-headed households using at least one major welfare program is 33 percent, compared to 19 percent for native households."[74] Wayne A. Cornelius of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UCSD, wrote that this was misleading because "once 'welfare usage' is disaggregated, as Camarota does in a table near the end of his report, we see that food assistance is the only category in which there is a significant difference between immigrant- and native-headed households. Immigrants are significantly less likely than natives to use Medicaid, and they use subsidized housing and cash assistance programs at about the same (low) rate as natives."[75]

In September 2011, CIS published a report Who Benefited from Job Growth In Texas? saying that, in the period 2007-2011, immigrants (legal and illegal) had taken 81% of newly created jobs in the state.[76] According to Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer for the Pew Hispanic Center, "there are lots of methodological problems with the CIS study, mainly having to do with the limitations of small sample sizes and the fact that the estimates are determined by taking differences of differences based on small sample sizes."[77] Chuck DeVore, a conservative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, criticized the report, saying that it "relied on flawed methodology".[78] CIS subsequently replied to DeVore's criticism.[79] The report was subsequently cited by Mitt Romney and David Frum. Politifact, when evaluating Frum and Romney's statements, noted that CIS's report "does acknowledge that 'no estimate of illegal immigration is exact'. But the methodological shortcomings also weaken the certainty of Romney’s statistic. On balance, we think that both the report’s authors and its critics have reasonable points. In the big picture, we agree with Chuck DeVore – a conservative critic of the study – that 'trying to draw conclusions about immigration and employment in Texas in isolation from other factors is problematic at best.' But we also agree with Mark Krikorian, the Center for Immigration Studies’ executive director, that 'even if DeVore prefers a net-to-net comparison, immigrants still got a disproportionate share of new jobs'."[77][80]

Norman Matloff, a UC Davis professor of computer science, wrote a report featured at CIS arguing that most H-1B visa workers, rather than being "the best and the brightest", are mostly of average talent.[81][82][83] James Shrek of the Heritage Foundation argued that Matloff's methodology was a "highly misleading measure of ability", as Matloff simply looked at the wages of the H-1B visa workers and how they compared to other workers in the sector.[84] Shrek notes that the existing data shows that H-1B workers are more skilled than the average American: "H-1B workers are highly educated. Almost half have an advanced degree. The median H-1B worker earns 90 percent more than the median U.S. worker. They are in no way average workers."[84] Matloff, in his reply, said that H-1B workers were not supposed to be compared to median workers and that Sherk's argument is "completely at odds with the claims the industry has made concerning the "best and brightest" issue" and that comparison to O-1 visa wage data showed that H-1B visas were being used by employers to undercut wages.[85]

In May 2014, a CIS report said that in 2013 Immigration and Customs Enforcement had "freed 36,007 convicted criminal aliens from detention who were awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings... [and t]he vast majority of these releases from ICE custody were discretionary, not required by law (in fact, in some instances, apparently contrary to law), nor the result of local sanctuary policies."[86] An ICE spokesman said that many such releases were required by law, for instance when a detainee's home country refuses to accept them or required by a judge's order.[87] Caitlin Dickson, writing in the Daily Beast said that ICE had "highlighted key points that CIS failed to address".[88] Associated Press, however, when reporting on CIS's figures, said that "the releases that weren't mandated by law, including [the] 28 percent of the immigrants with homicide convictions, undermines the government's argument that it uses its declining resources for immigration enforcement to find and jail serious criminal immigrants who may pose a threat to public safety or national security."[89] CIS's report was criticized by the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council who said that "looking at this group of people as an undifferentiated whole doesn’t tell you much about who poses a risk to public safety and who does not."[88] Muzaffar Chishti, the New York director of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said that the CIS report was "a select presentation of a set of facts without any comparative analysis that can lead to misleading conclusions."[88] According to CBS, Gregory Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said the report had “a lot of misleading information” and "that the report's definition of criminals who have been 'released' includes those who are still subject to supervision including electronic ankle monitoring and regular check ins with ICE."[90]

A May 2015 report by CIS asserted that "immigrant households receive 41 percent more federal welfare than households headed by native-born citizens."[91] The report was criticized on the basis of poor methodology by Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute. Nowrasteh said that the report opted not to examine how much welfare immigrants use, but to examine households led by an immigrant so that the report could count the welfare usage of the immigrant's US-born children, which leads to a misleading estimate of immigrant welfare use.[91]

A February 2017 CIS report said that "72 individuals from the seven countries covered in President Trump's vetting executive order have been convicted in terror cases since the 9/11 attacks," an assertion that several fact-checking agencies debunked.[92][93] Stephen Miller, a senior White House policy adviser, used the data provided by CIS to justify President Trump's 90-day travel ban, earning him "Three Pinocchois" from the Washington Post Fact-Checker (its second-worst rating).[92][94] FactCheck.Org found that most (44 of the 72) had not been convicted on terrorism charges, and that none of the 72 people were responsible for a terrorism-related death in the US, and Snopes mirrored the assessment.[92]

In March 2018, the Trump administration stated that construction on a Mexico border wall would pay for itself by keeping undocumented immigrants out of the United States, citing a CIS report.[95] The CIS report was based on data from the 2016 National Academies of Science (NAS) report.[95] However, several of the authors of the NAS report said that CIS misused the data from the report, made unjustifiable methodological decisions, and that it was likelier that keeping undocumented immigrants out would reduce government revenue.[95][96] The 18-member panel of economists, sociologists, demographers and public policy experts, and chosen by the National Academies of Science, concluded that undocumented immigrants had a net positive fiscal impact.[95]


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External linksEdit