Center for Immigration Studies

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Center for Immigration Studies logo.png
Motto Pro-Immigrant, Low-Immigration
Formation January 9, 1986; 31 years ago (1986-01-09)[1]
Founder John Tanton
Type Public policy think tank
Headquarters 1629 K Street N.W., Suite 600
Executive Director
Mark Krikorian[2]
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015) $2,670,635[3]
Website Official website

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is a non-profit research organization "that favors far lower immigration numbers and produces research to further those views."[4] Founded in 1985 as a spin-off from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR),[5] 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.[6]

Several reports published by the CIS have been disputed by scholars on immigration; a wide range of think tanks; fact-checkers such as PolitiFact, FactCheck.Org, Washington Post, Snopes, CNN and NBC News; and by immigration-research organizations. Critics have accused the CIS of extremist nativist views and for ties to white supremacy groups, which the CIS rejects.

History, board and funding[edit]

The CIS was founded by John Tanton, whom CNN describes as "a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who has openly embraced eugenics, the science of improving the genetic quality of the human population by encouraging selective breeding and at times, advocating for the sterilization of genetically undesirable groups."[7] The Hill notes that Tanton's opposition to immigration is driven by a desire for population reduction and protection of an ethnic white majority.[8]

The founding CIS Board Members were:[9]

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 of Temple Law School and T. Willard Fair from the Urban League of Greater Miami.[10] George Borjas, Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School has been a CIS fellow and served one term on its board.[11]

CIS has been described as conservative,[12][13][14][15] a label rejected by CIS,[16] 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".[17]

Funding comes from contributions and grants by private foundations, from contracts with the Census Bureau and Department of Justice, and from donations by individuals,[10] including donations made through the Combined Federal Campaign.[18]



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,[19] it also maintains a blog.[20] The organization's publications address topics relating to both illegal and legal immigration.

Congressional testimony[edit]

The Center's staff have been called on to give testimony before federal and state legislators dozens of times and on numerous subjects within the realm of immigration;[21] in 2006 and 2007, as the U.S. Congress took up comprehensive immigration reform, they gave Congressional testimony on 27 different occasions.

Supreme Court Citation[edit]

The Center's research was cited by Justice Kennedy in his opinion in Arizona v. United States, on June 25, 2012, as evidence of Arizona's problem with crime committed by illegal aliens.[22]

Policy stances[edit]

Attrition through enforcement[edit]

The Center advocates a policy called "attrition through enforcement". Mark Krikorian, executive director of the CIS, described the policy as:[23]

Shrink the illegal population through consistent, across-the-board enforcement of the immigration law. By deterring the settlement of new illegals, by increasing deportations to the extent possible, and, most importantly, by increasing the number of illegals already here who give up and deport themselves, the United States can bring about an annual decrease in the illegal-alien population, rather than allowing it to continually increase, the point, in other words, is not merely to curtail illegal immigration, but rather to bring about a steady reduction in the total number of illegal immigrants who are living in the United States. The result would be a shrinking of the illegal population to a manageable nuisance, rather than today's looming crisis.

Krikorian wrote in 2005 that the Center does not advocate amnesty for illegal aliens or mass deportations, because the two represent, "a false premise: Since the federal government can't quickly deport the 10-12 million illegal aliens, the only alternative is legalization – i.e., amnesty."[23]

Krikorian said that he rejects the plausibility of mass deportations for three main reasons:[23]

  • "First, we simply don't have the capacity to find, detain, and deport 10–12 million people in a short period of time."
  • "Secondly, even if we had the capacity to magically relocate the millions of illegals, the economic disruption from such an abrupt change would make the transition more painful than it needs to be for those businesses that have become addicted to illegal labor."
  • "And finally, political support for a new commitment to enforcement might well be undermined if an exodus of biblical proportions were to be televised in every American living room."

Population and the environment[edit]

The Center has asserted that there are adverse effects of immigration on the environment.[24]

A web video series, published by the Center, asserted that illegal immigrant smuggling along the southern U.S. border has caused environmental damage.[25] The hidden cameras and other footage in the video series were asserted to show that various smuggling routes through federal lands in southern Arizona have encroached on wildlife areas and left trash and other pollution behind.

The Center also asserted that legal and illegal immigration have an adverse impact due to increasing the nation's population, the center said that if current[when?] immigration policies are held in place, future immigrants and their descendants would increase the U.S. population by approximately 100 million people over the next fifty years.[26][27] The center said that this would cause an increase in CO2 releases and other ecological damage.[28]

Katz award[edit]

The Center gives an annual award called the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration to journalists covering immigration issues, the organization's stated purpose for the award is, "to promote informed and fair reporting on this contentious and complicated issue."[29] The award is named in memory of Eugene Katz, a native New Yorker who started his career as a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman; in 1928, he joined the family business, working as an advertising salesman for the Katz Agency, and in 1952 became president of Katz Communications, a half-billion-dollar firm which not only dealt in radio and television advertising but also owned and managed a number of radio stations. Katz was a member of the Center for Immigration Studies board until shortly after his 90th birthday in 1997, he died in 2000.

Katz award recipients have included the following:

Controversial reports[edit]

The Center for Immigration Studies has been criticized for periodically publishing reports deemed to be misleading and using poor methodology by scholars on immigration; think tanks such as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Cato Institute,[30] Urban Institute[31] 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[32]).

In September 2011, the 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.[33] 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."[34] Chuck DeVore, a conservative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation criticized the report.[35] The CIS subsequently replied to DeVore's criticism,[36] 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'."[34][37]

In August 2008, the CIS published a report Immigration to the United States and World-Wide Greenhouse Gas Emissions saying that, although immigrants to the U.S. had, on average, 18% lower carbon dioxide emissions than native-born Americans, they "produce an estimated four times more CO2 in the United States as they would have in their countries of origin."[38] Amanda Peterson Beadle in ThinkProgress said that this conclusion was "simply absurd" because it had used the "deeply flawed methodology" of taking income in the U.S. as a surrogate for CO2 emissions.[39] Andrew Light of the Center for American Progress did not take issue with the report's methodology, but argued that there were better and more direct ways of limiting U.S. emissions than reducing immigration.[40]

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.[41][42][43] 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.[44] 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."[44] 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.[45]

Alex Nowrasteh of the libertarian Cato Institute has repeatedly criticized CIS for "a history of using poor methodology and data in their reports".[46][47][48][49][50]

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."[51] 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.[52] Caitlin Dickson, writing in the Daily Beast said that ICE had "highlighted key points that CIS failed to address".[53] Associated Press, however, when reporting on the 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."[54] 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."[53] 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."[53] 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."[55]

In March 2007, the 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."[56] 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."[57] Cornelius noted that CIS "offers a relentlessly negative view of the most recent wave of immigration to the United States, the economic benefits of immigration – even illegal immigration – to the average American are barely acknowledged, while the costs are estimated in such a way as to provoke the maximum degree of public anger and anxiety."[57]

A September 2016 report by CIS asserted that "immigrant households receive 41 percent more federal welfare than households headed by native-born citizens."[50] The report was criticized on the basis of poor methodology. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute said that the reported 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.[50]

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."[58]

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.[59][60][61] 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).[59][62] 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.[59] Snopes mirrored the FactCheck.Org assessment while noting that the CIS report also omitted needed context, as the CIS report tried to frame those countries as particularly terrorism-prone when they were not: "The omitted context was that persons from many countries that were not on the entry restriction list were involved in vastly more terrorism-related convictions than some of the countries that were on the list."[63] The Washington Post Fact-Checker said that the report was "pretty thin gruel on which to make sweeping claims about the alleged threat posed to the United States by these seven countries" because of its inaccuracies.[62]

CNN has claimed that the CIS has claimed (without citing any report) 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).[7] 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."[7]

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.[64] However, economists consulted by PolitiFact rejected the claim, noting that the job market is not fixed or zero-sum.[64]


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published reports in 2002[65] and 2009[66] on John Tanton, who founded the CIS and said he had ties to white supremacy groups and a eugenics foundation.

The SPLC's 2009 report charged:[66]

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:[67]

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."[68]

According to CNN, Tanton openly embraced eugenics,[7] the New York Times noted that Tanton made his case against immigration in racial terms.[69] The CIS has consequently been criticized for its reluctance to criticize Tanton and his views.[69]

In March 2010, CIS published a report written by Jerry Kammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, 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.[70][71] Ken Silverstein wrote in his online blog in reference to the SPLC's article:[72]

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."[73]

Several months earlier, Krikorian denied allegations made in a similarly critical Wall Street Journal editorial[74] 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."[75]

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.[10]

Elliott Young, Professor of History and Director of Ethnic Studies at Lewis & Clark College, criticized CIS as "a crackpot organization with a website filled with xenophobic racists who twist data to spread lies about immigrants". He criticized the organization for promulgating the false claim that 72 people from Trump’s seven banned countries were involved with terrorist activities, he argued that it was unwise for Lewis & Clark College students to invite Jessica Vaughan of the CIS to speak at the college, saying that "Vaughan’s reports are chock full of data, these data don’t withstand scrutiny and her conclusions are based in her nativism and not in facts."[76][61]


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  22. ^ See, Arizona v. United States,
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  29. ^ Katz Award page on CIS website.
  30. ^ Vijayan, Jaikumar. "Real ID alive and kicking, report says". Computerworld. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  31. ^ "The Decline in Medicaid Use by Noncitizens since Welfare Reform". 
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  41. ^ Matloff, Norman. "H-1Bs: Still Not the Best and Brightest". 
  42. ^ Matloff, Norman (1 January 2013). "Immigration and the tech industry: As a labour shortage remedy, for innovation, or for cost savings?". Migration Letters. 10 (2): 210–227. ISSN 1741-8984. 
  43. ^ "Are foreign students the ‘best and brightest’?: Data and implications for immigration policy". Economic Policy Institute. 
  44. ^ a b "H-1B Workers: Highly Skilled, Highly Needed". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2017-02-03. 
  45. ^ Matloff, Norm.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  64. ^ a b "Jeff Sessions remarks on DACA, fact-checked". PolitiFact. Retrieved 2017-09-17. 
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  66. ^ a b Beirich, Heidi. The Nativist Lobby Archived July 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. Southern Poverty Law Center.
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External links[edit]