Nativism Watch

Sanctuary cities, spurious claims: Misinformation from the Center for Immigration Studies


Imagine2050 Staff • May 11, 2017
Image source: Getty Images
Image source: Getty Images

Media outlets are flocking to Mark Krikorian and the anti-immigrant think tank he leads, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). It makes sense, given the Trump administration’s unambiguous embrace of extreme policies Krikorian and CIS advocate.

But the Center for Immigration Studies is not a credible source on immigration matters. It never has been, and media coverage should reflect that fact.

As the Center for New Community has frequently reported, CIS traffics in misinformation and blatant anti-immigrant animus. Over the years, among other things, CIS staffers have presented unverifiable anecdotes as established fact, seriously manipulated data to generate misleading evidence in support of their policiesappeared on anti-Semitic radio shows, blamed immigrants for teenage obesity, and gleefully expressed the desire to lynch President Barack Obama. Additionally, CIS events have been a safe space for known white nationalists.

Mark Krikorian’s own words also exemplify a personal animus towards immigrants and the truth, further illustrating his organization’s bigoted motivations and aims. Krikorian has said that Mexico’s “weakness and backwardness has been deeply harmful to the United States” and accused Obama’s Justice Department of fomenting “race war.”

Earlier this month, Krikorian told NPR that, “In a sense, our mission is to make immigration skepticism intellectually respectable.” When one examines Krikorian and CIS’s history, that statement is laughable on its face.  Krikorian and CIS staff routinely flout intellectual standards necessary to attain such a position. Here is just one example.

Sanctuary cities, spurious claims: A brief case study of the Center for Immigration Studies’s use of misinformation

In July 2015, the Center for Immigration Studies published a map detailing 276 so-called sanctuary jurisdictions in the United States. The figure, CIS said, came from “[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] records obtained by the Center for Immigration Studies in a FOIA request.” CIS labeled the 276 jurisdictions in question as sanctuaries because they had supposedly “adopted policies of non-compliance with some or all ICE detainers.”

There is no way the group could plausibly identify 276 sanctuary jurisdictions without blatantly concealing the legal issues with detainer requests.

By using ICE detainer requests as its benchmark, CIS was able to able to smear scores of local law enforcement agencies when in actuality they are just following federal law. Courts have ruled that honoring detainer requests has led to unconstitutional detention, creating a significant legal liability for many jurisdictions with limited resources. Immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. If federal officials obtain a criminal warrant, rather than a detainer request, to assume custody of someone in a local jail, it is honored. This is the case throughout the country, even in places the anti-immigrant movement has criticized as the most openly pro-immigrant jurisdictions, like San Francisco or Chicago.

Tellingly, the word “warrant” did not appear once in CIS’s report or map.

Obfuscating this fact was a necessity for CIS. There is no way the group could plausibly identify 276 sanctuary jurisdictions without blatantly concealing the legal issues with detainer requests. Local law enforcement have also disputed CIS’s sanctuary labeling. Officials in states including Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Florida all publicly objected when they were surprised to find their jurisdictions on CIS’s list. Yet regardless of the facts, CIS’s list remains the same.

The topic of sanctuary cities became a fixture of the presidential campaign and budget battles in Congress following the publication of CIS’ map and the anti-immigrant movement’s concerted efforts to exploit tragedies to push this issue to the top of the news cycle. News media and politicians alike regularly cited CIS’s disingenuous work on the topic and received minimal criticism. Both state and federal lawmakers sought to implement anti-sanctuary policies, primarily by withholding funding to jurisdictions identified by CIS. Such measures were unlikely to advance under the Obama administration, but the election of Donald Trump has reinvigorated opposition to sanctuary policies.

Now in the Oval Office, the Trump administration continues aiding CIS in its specious aggregation of supposed sanctuaries.

To CIS, making a modest commitment to publish accurate information–while still pursuing a blatant strategy of fear mongering–constitutes “folding.”

Pursuant to an executive order Trump signed in January, ICE published its first “Weekly Declined Outcome Retainer Report” in late March. CIS enthusiastically welcomed the report in a blog post titled “Naming and Shaming: The First ICE Weekly Alien Criminal Releases List.” In the blog, CIS Fellow Dan Cadman noted CIS will republish information found in the weekly ICE reports, maintaining its own spreadsheet. CIS also used information from the report to update its own sanctuary map, adding eleven jurisdictions after the inaugural ICE report’s release.

Like many of the nascent Trump administration’s initiatives, the weekly ICE reports were beset by problems and inaccuracies. The initial report required almost a dozen corrections. Only a few weeks later, the agency announced it would temporarily suspend publication of the reports. According to The New York Times, an ICE spokesperson announced the suspension so officials could “analyze and refine its reporting methodologies.” Only three reports had been published at that point.

Given CIS’s affinity for misinformation, representatives from the organization disapproved of ICE’s decision. “Right now, ICE looks like they are folding at the first peep of criticism,” CIS Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan told The Washington Times. To CIS, making a modest commitment to publish accurate information–while still pursuing a blatant strategy of fear mongering–constitutes “folding.”

Instead, Vaughan said she would like ICE to continue publishing information, regardless of its accuracy. “If being listed as a sanctuary causes people in the community to complain, well, that’s a good thing,” she added. “They should have to explain themselves to the public. That’s called accountability.”

But what about CIS? Shouldn’t they have to explain themselves as well? Regardless of the actual merits of reporting declined detainers, even Trump’s ICE took steps to acknowledge it was publishing inaccurate information and sought to correct it. Meanwhile, CIS’s list of sanctuaries continues to include multiple counties ICE itself admitted were reported erroneously.

The Center for Immigration Studies’ research and its spokespeople should be viewed as precisely what they are: fear-mongering agents pumping xenophobia and hatred into public discourse.

Where’s the accountability?

There likely won’t be any. Today, CIS continues to be cited as an authority on sanctuary jurisdictions, despite its misleading and unethical methodologies. And CIS’s reckless twisting of the truth has poisoned public discourse regarding a critical element of law enforcement policy. Most notably, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-sanctuary SB 4 into law last weekend, an extreme “show me your papers” policy that targets people of color living in the state. SB 4 does not go into effect until September and will likely face multiple legal challenges. As long as it is on the books, SB 4 is undeniably one of the most anti-immigrant laws in the contemporary United States. It further demonizes immigrant communities, violates Texans’ constitutional rights, and threatens crucial resources for local law enforcement agencies.

For playing such a critical role in publishing misinformation about sanctuary policies nationwide, CIS has made the Lone Star State less safe for all residents.

Mark Krikorian can claim his organization is “intellectually respectable,” but years have shown CIS is only committed to intellectual dishonesty. CIS must display a commitment to publishing reliable and accurate information before any person or media outlet lends it credibility on immigration matters.

Until then, the Center for Immigration Studies’ research and its spokespeople should be viewed as precisely what they are: fear-mongering agents pumping xenophobia and hatred into public discourse. Facts be damned.

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