In 2014, right-wing media attacked immigrants and immigration reform by pushing baseless claims, relying on debunked research, and using misleading statistics about immigrants and the impact of immigration on the United States. Here is a look back at the most absurd anti-immigrant myths of 2014.
Fox News hyped fears that an influx of immigrants from the Middle East could pose a terrorism threat for the U.S., advocating for greater immigration from English-speaking countries. But Fox's report parrots a study released by the anti-immigration group, the Center for Immigration Studies, and ignored the fact that the growth of Middle East immigrants in the U.S. was modest when compared to other regions.
The September 25 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto cited data that shows 41.3 million "legal and illegal" immigrants currently in the United States and stoked fears over "where a lot of them are coming from." Cavuto highlighted the increased immigration from countries in the Middle East from 2010 to 2013, lamenting the "disproportionate" number of immigrants of Arab descent compared to immigrants from western countries. Guest and conservative pundit Pat Buchanan suggested that the rise in immigrants from the Middle East would increase terror threats in the United States.
Buchanan asserted that "you've got to look with more concern at folks coming out of there than you would look at folks, for example, native born Brits coming over to the United States who speak English perfectly," because the majority of terrorism is committed "by children of immigrants and immigrants themselves from Islamic countries":
Over the past three months, Fox has amplified the voices of two anti-immigrant guests, Michael Cutler and Dennis Michael Lynch, hosting them at least 13 times to rail against immigration reform and bash immigrants. Cutler, a former immigration officer, has an extensive history of associating with anti-immigrant, nativist organizations. Lynch is a documentary filmmaker whose expertise on immigration seems to stem only from directing two anti-immigrant films that have been heavily promoted by nativist organizations.
The Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), an anti-immigrant coalition that has ties to nativist hate groups, is hosting a rally in Washington, D.C., on July 15 with the purported mission to "preserve economic opportunity for American workers" by opposing immigration reform. Here is what the media should know about the group and its effort.
Right-wing media outlets are hyping a new study by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) -- a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled nativist organization -- which claims that the Senate's immigration bill would double the number of guest workers admitted into the country each year. The study, however, is just the latest in a series of flawed, debunked studies that CIS has released.
The outlets - including the Daily Caller, Newsmax, The Washington Times, Breitbart.com, and Drudge Report -- have all highlighted the study which claims that in the first year of the Senate's proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill, "nearly 1.6 million more temporary workers than currently allowed" will be admitted to the United States. The study also claims that the bill would double the number of temporary workers admitted each year compared to current levels.
What these outlets fail to mention is that, like many of CIS' previous studies -- and others they have latched on to in order to undermine immigration reform -- this study is flawed and its conclusions are bogus.
Philip Wolgin, senior policy analyst for immigration at the Center for American Progress, emphasized the top five reasons the CIS study "misses the mark," including its lack of methodology, double-counting temporary and permanent immigrants, misrepresenting who will actually compete with American workers, and the miscounting of visa categories. Wolgin explained that CIS makes significant statistical errors, including what he calls the "absurd" idea that 950,000 people would apply for and be granted the V Visa in the first year after the immigration reform bill's passage.
The V visa is a temporary visa that allows the family members of legal permanent residents to remain in the country legally until they are granted permanent residency as well. As the Center for American Progress explained, even though 75 percent of spouses and children of permanent residents are exempted from per-country quotas, some families still face up to 19 years apart due to backlogs in the immigration system.
Wolgin also pointed out that among the three visa categories that make up 83 percent of the increases in the CIS study, CIS over-counted by more than 255,000 people.
Radio host Laura Ingraham hosted the executive director of Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), Leah Durant, to push the debunked myth that the immigration reform bill would hurt the African-American unemployment rate, despite studies which show the opposite is true.
On the June 4 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham introduced Durant as a "progressive" voice on the issue and not a "right-wing bomb thrower." Durant explained that her group is against the immigration bill because it would have "devastating consequences" on low-skilled workers, specifically in the black community:
However, Durant's organization is a pretty far cry from a "progressive" group. Progressives for Immigration Reform was set up as part of the John Tanton network of anti-immigrant nativists after they failed to take over the Sierra Club, which the Southern Poverty Law Center called "greenwashing" -- a tactic used by nativist groups to appeal to environmentalists in order to mainstream their nativist viewpoints in a more respectable venue. In another attempt at "greenwashing" right-wing groups established Progressives for Immigration Reform "as a purported group of 'liberals' " in the latest attempt "by nativist forces to appear as something they are not."
Imagine 2050, an organization that promotes a multiracial democracy, highlighted some of PFIR's links to the anti-immigrant movement, including the fact that nativist Roy Beck, head of NumbersUSA, helped recruit the executive director of PFIR. In addition, several of the group's members, including Durant, have close ties to Tanton's other groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies -- groups labeled nativist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In fact, as the Anti-Defamation League pointed out, at a recent conference run by PFIR, several notable anti-immigrant nativists were in attendance, including VDARE's Peter Brimelow, Wayne Lutton, editor of The Social Contract, an anti-immigrant pro-white publication, and K.C. McAlpin, president of U.S., Inc. who once defended banning Muslim immigrants as similar to banning communists or Nazis in the past.
While the group's ties are problematic enough, the claim that immigration would hurt African-Americans' job prospects is also false and has been called a "pernicious myth" by Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute. Several comprehensive studies have shown that there is no evidence to support the claim. In fact, wages for native-born Americans tend to increase as a result of immigration -- including one estimate which found that due to immigration native-born African-American workers saw a wage increase of .4 percent from 1994 to 2007.
Fox News guest Michael Cutler, a former agent with the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services and also a fellow at the nativist organization the Center for Immigration Studies, used the Boston Marathon bombing investigation to attack the deferred action program for undocumented students. In reality, the program, which is intended to provide deportation relief to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, is unrelated to the circumstances of the suspects' immigration status
During a discussion with Fox News host Megyn Kelly about recent arrests in the Boston Marathon bombings, Cutler used the fact that one of the suspects reportedly was here on a student visa to attack the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. After casting doubt on the process by which asylum is granted, Cutler brought up DACA and suggested the program had similar security lapses. He asked: "Do you really think anyone is scrutinizing anything?" He also claimed that the program approves 99.5 percent of applicants:
In fact, those who qualify for deferred action are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16. While the Boston bombings suspects' current immigration status is in dispute, they were reportedly in the United States under student visas and were legal non-immigrants.
Currently, there is not a mandatory in-person screening process for DACA applicants. However, in-person interviews may be requested for applicants who are suspected of fraud and for quality assurance purposes. But the process to apply is so arduous that these applicants are heavily scrutinized. Other than the several pieces of identifying documentation needed to begin the process as well as the $465 in fees, each applicant must go through a biographic and biometric background test.
Fox News has repeatedly invoked the Boston bombings to suggest that immigration reform could exacerbate existing problems within the immigration system. However, their commentary actually highlights shortcomings that the bipartisan Senate bill will address in full.
Fox News and National Review Online gave credence to claims about immigrant's use of social benefits by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) without noting that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to rely on such programs.
In a Fox News segment about the cost of comprehensive immigration reform to taxpayers, host Neil Cavuto allowed CIS research director Steven Camarota to repeat the myth that immigrants use social benefits at higher rates than native-born Americans because they are less educated, and that, if given legal status, they would stay on welfare. Cavuto did not challenge any of Camarota's claims:
Camarota's CIS counterpart, executive director Mark Krikorian, penned a column for National Review Online to further establish the myth, saying that, if you control for income, immigrants' rate of use of social benefit programs is less than that of poor Americans. He added that this means that "immigration imports a better class of underclass."
Numerous studies have debunked the claim that immigrants use public benefits in greater numbers than Americans, which Krikorian admitted in his column, albeit with a clear caveat. Moreover, as the Cato Institute explained when it took issue with CIS' study on immigrants and their use of public benefits, CIS uses a flawed methodology that counts the American-born children of immigrants along with undocumented or legal immigrants to determine costs:
Our approach of counting immigrant welfare use individually is used by the conservative state of Texas to measure immigrant use of government education and other benefits. The Texas Comptroller's Office did not include the children of immigrants who were American citizens when calculating the cost to public services in Texas because, "the inclusion of these children dramatically increased the costs."
In other words, counting the cost of the children of immigrants who are born citizens is a bad approach. If we were to follow Camarota's methodology, why not count the welfare costs of the great-grandchildren of immigrants who use welfare or public schools today? Our study, on the other hand, measures the welfare cost of non-naturalized immigrants and, where possible, naturalized Americans.
The Washington Post quoted the research director of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) arguing that immigrants are a drain on public services without noting that the center's analysis on the issue has been criticized as flawed. A study by the libertarian Cato Institute found that immigrants are actually less likely to rely on public benefits than native-born Americans.
In an article examining the effect immigrants have on Social Security, the Post noted that many undocumented immigrants file tax returns and thus pay into the Social Security trust fund, even though they may never be able to access it themselves because they are legally unable to do so. As a counterpoint, the article then included the views of CIS' Steven Camarota:
But Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports limits on immigration, said that America's immigrants are not young or fecund enough to shore up the system.
"If the immigrants all came at 20 and had seven or eight kids, you would see more of a difference," he said. The average immigrant arrives at age 30, and immigrant women have, on average, 2.1 children, according to the Pew Research Center.
Camarota added that immigrants tend to be poorer than native-born Americans and are therefore more reliant on a wide range of public services. "If you bring in a lot of immigrants who are paying into Social Security but then need all these other social programs -- well, then you're not helping the situation."
Analysts on both sides agree that increasing the number of highly skilled immigrants would shore up the system more than the Social Security Administration report accounts for, since high-skilled immigrants pay more taxes and spend more than low-skilled ones.
However, in a study released in February, the Cato Institute found that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to use public services:
[L]ow-income non-citizen immigrants, including adults and children, are generally less likely to receive public benefits than those who are native-born. Moreover, when non-citizen immigrants receive benefits, the value of benefits they receive is usually lower than the value of benefits received by those born in the United States. The combination of lower average utilization and smaller average benefits indicates that the overall cost of public benefits is substantially less for low-income non-citizen immigrants than for comparable native-born adults and children.
Cato also noted that while immigrants' earnings tend to be lower than Americans' when beginning their careers, that changes over time as they invest more in education and training: "[W]hile immigrants begin with lower earnings, their incomes improve as they remain in the United States for longer periods. As immigrants remain longer in the United States, their English proficiency and other job skills improve, which heightens their earning potential."
Mainstream media outlets should be aware of damaging economic attacks leveled by anti-immigrant groups in an attempt to derail comprehensive immigration reform. In reality, research indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would improve the U.S. economy, create jobs and boost American wages. Moreover, new findings show that immigrants are less likely to rely on public benefits than native-born Americans.
The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed rehashing claims about undocumented immigrants that have been widely debunked, without noting that the author is a fellow at nativist organization the Center for Immigration Studies. CIS is an anti-immigrant organization whose affiliation with hate groups has been thoroughly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In the February 8 op-ed titled, "Legalizing Illegal Immigrants A Bad Idea," CIS fellow David Seminara repeated the false claims that undocumented immigrants steal jobs from hard-working Americans and that they put a strain on social services. The Tribune identified Seminara simply as a former diplomat who has "issued thousands of visas during his career at the State Department."
According to his bio on the CIS website, Seminara has been a fellow at the organization since 2009. He has written extensively for the group's blog, including writing posts that have criticized an undocumented immigrant fearful of applying for deferred action and attacked scholarships for undocumented immigrants.
Knowing Seminara's affiliation with CIS would have alerted readers that the op-ed was presenting a biased view of the immigration debate as it repeated many of CIS' and other nativist groups' talking points. Indeed, his claim that undocumented immigrants steal Americans' jobs is not new; it has been discredited by economists and immigration experts using mountains of research: Undocumented immigrants do not generally compete with Americans for labor, and in fact have been found to boost Americans' wages.
Immigrants given legal status under the immigration reform framework announced by the Senate are also unlikely to be a strain on the welfare system. Under the current framework, newly legalized immigrants would not be eligible for Medicaid or any government social benefit. In addition, immigrants are more likely to have jobs and over half have a high school degree or more.
In Illinois, consumer spending by undocumented immigrants already generates $5.45 billion in gross regional spending which accounts for 31,000 jobs in the Chicago area,according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In fact, the Immigration Policy Center reported that in 2010, undocumented immigrants in the state paid nearly half a billion dollars in taxes.
ABC News published a story which quoted several members of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) but failed to disclose the organization's ties to nativist John Tanton, who is affiliated with a designated hate group, and ignored the organization's well-established credibility problems.
On January 14, ABC News reported on a conference held by CIS, which attacked "legalization programs for undocumented immigrants":
Analysts from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates reduced immigration levels and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws, said today that legalization programs for undocumented immigrants typically lead to fraud and increased illegal immigration.
ABC provided a platform for CIS representatives to voice their opposition to a variety of proposed immigration measures, but ABC failed to provide background on CIS, despite the group's long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric, ties to nativist organizations, and lack of credibility.
The Center for Immigration Studies was started in 1985 by John Tanton, an anti-immigrant nativist with ties to other anti-immigrant organizations such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled hate group. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Although you'd never know it to read its materials, CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton -- a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials. CIS' creation was part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the nativist cause -- groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA. As is shown in Tanton's correspondence, lodged in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Tanton came up with the idea in the early 1980s for "a small think tank" that would "wage the war of ideas."
And while Tanton never actually ran CIS, his correspondence shows that as late as 1994, nine years after it was started, Tanton, who remains on FAIR's board of directors today, saw himself as setting the "proper roles for FAIR and CIS." He raised millions of dollars for the think tank and published the writings of top CIS officials in his racist journal, The Social Contract. He maneuvered a friend on to the board of CIS -- a man who shared his interest in eugenics and who attended events with Tanton where white nationalists gave presentations. Through it all, CIS pumped out study after study aimed at highlighting immigration's negative effects.
ABC also failed to note that CIS studies have also been the subject of frequent criticism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has previously called into question the group's findings, stating that CIS often reaches baseless conclusions which are "either false or virtually without any supporting evidence." The Center for New Community has also scrutinized CIS and even warned professional journalists that CIS is not a "credible voice in the debate on immigration."
One of ABC's sources, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, has a history of making insensitive remarks about other ethnic groups. He has previously claimed that "Haiti's so screwed up because it wasn't colonized long enough," that foreign-nationals who aren't raised in the United States could become terrorists, and that Muslims are a "vicious people." In addition, Krikorian has stated that the United States should deny pregnant women entry to the U.S. because someone "visiting Disneyland" could give their child American citizenship (while referring to said child using the derogatory phrase "anchor baby"). None of Krikorian's past rhetoric was documented by ABC.
Unfortunately, ABC isn't the only major news outlet to treat CIS as a reasonable voice in the immigration debate. The nation's top seven newspapers cited CIS and other anti-immigrant groups over 250 times from January 2010 through June 2012. The New York Times cited the group several times despite publishing an exposé on the organizations unsavory ties with Tanton. NPR has also featured Krikorian as an alternative voice to Jose Antonio Vargas during an immigration debate, despite his harsh views on immigration.
In April 2011, the New York Times detailed the connections between John Tanton, the notorious kingpin of the current anti-immigrant movement in America, and two anti-immigrant organizations -- the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) -- famous for their powerful influence over immigration-related legislation at the state and federal levels. Despite finding that Tanton "nurtured" FAIR and CIS into power and documenting Tanton's extensive connections to white supremacists, the Times continued to look to these groups for contributions to the immigration debate.
A recent Media Matters study found that anti-immigrant groups with strong ties to white supremacist organizations, FAIR and CIS among others, were cited by the nation's top five newspapers, as well as the Associated Press and Reuters, over 250 times as sources for immigration-related stories.
The New York Times in particular cited these groups 46 times as sources for their news stories since the introduction of Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, in January 2010. However, in April 2011, the Times changed course and published two exposés detailing the extensive ties between many of these groups and the aforementioned Tanton. From The New York Times:
One group that Dr. Tanton nurtured, Numbers USA, doomed President George W. Bush's legalization plan four years ago by overwhelming Congress with protest calls. Another, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, helped draft the Arizona law last year to give the police new power to identify and detain illegal immigrants.
A third organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, joined the others in December in defeating the Dream Act, which sought to legalize some people brought to the United States illegally as children.
"One of my prime concerns," he wrote to a large donor, "is about the decline of folks who look like you and me." He warned a friend that "for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that."
Dr. Tanton acknowledged the shift from his earlier, colorblind arguments, but the "uncomfortable truth," he wrote, was that those arguments had failed. With a million or more immigrants coming each year -- perhaps a third illegally -- he warned, "The end may be nearer than we think."
He corresponded with Sam G. Dickson, a Georgia lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan, who sits on the board of The Barnes Review, a magazine that, among other things, questions "the so-called Holocaust." Dr. Tanton promoted the work of Jared Taylor, whose magazine, American Renaissance, warned: "America is an increasingly dangerous and disagreeable place because of growing numbers of blacks and Hispanics." (To Mr. Taylor, Dr. Tanton wrote, "You are saying a lot of things that need to be said.")
Despite publishing this article on April 17, 2011, and another on April 30, 2011 (explaining that soon after its first piece, Tanton's name was scrubbed from FAIR's list of board members), the Times did not stop citing these organizations -- and the paper's subsequent references to the groups fail to note the organizations' affiliations to Tanton and the pro-white movement, according to a Media Matters analysis of coverage between January 13, 2010, and May 25, 2012.
In fact, after publishing these exposés, the Times cited FAIR and CIS more than 15 times during the next year. Instead of explaining these groups' unsavory connections, the Times opted for more generic characterizations such as "a conservative group" and "a group that seeks reduced immigration," essentially whitewashing the groups' troubling records which the Times had dedicated two articles to exposing.
It's unlikely the Times would cite white nationalist organizations as credible sources for their news stories on immigration policy, so why are they allowing FAIR and CIS a pass?
For details on the methodology and other information in the Media Matters report, click here.
Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, was introduced in January 2010. Since then, in their coverage of immigration issues America's top five newspapers and the Associated Press and Reuters newswires have cited anti-immigrant organizations with ties to white supremacists and racists -- including one that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center -- over 250 times.