For Honest Debate On Immigration, Media Should Read Daily Beast's Treatment Of Anti-Immigrant CIS

In its article on a report by the Center for Immigration Studies that has been repeatedly touted in right-wing media circles, the Daily Beast exposed CIS for the anti-immigrant organization it really is, noting that “it would be in everyone's best interest to consider its source.” It also called CIS “the immigration false-fact think tank.”

Right-wing media have long treated CIS as a credible organization on immigration issues, using the group's reports to undermine the Obama administration's immigration policies. However, the group is known for its ties to white nationalists and is often criticized for its misleading and unsubstantiated studies.

Since CIS released its most recent report about the release of immigrants with criminal records, a number of conservative media outlets, including Fox News, have used it to accuse the administration of presiding over “the worst prison break in American history,” as Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham argued today on her radio show.

It prompted Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a guest on her show and a staunch opponent of immigration reform, to go even further, claiming that the report was proof that the Obama administration's immigration policies are “going to hurt innocent Americans,” and “cost them their lives, their livelihoods, and injure them.”

Yet, neither Ingraham nor Smith brought up CIS' problematic bias or the fact that its reports have been repeatedly criticized as bogus.

In its article on CIS, the Daily Beast noted that “the CIS report and the coverage surrounding it actually offer as much, if not more insight into how the national conversation surrounding immigration reform is manipulated by the interests of those covering it.” The article continued:

Before taking a closer look at the disturbing data being passed around, it would be in everyone's best interest to consider its source. The Center for Immigration Studies refers to itself as a non-profit, nonpartisan, independent research organization, boasting the puzzling tagline “Low Immigration, Pro Immigrant.” One of CIS's founders, John Tanton, a retired [ophthalmologist] from Michigan and known [anti-immigration] activist, was also behind Numbers USA, an immigration reduction organization that, according to The New York Times, helped kill President George W. Bush's attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. Another one of Tanton's groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, helped draft Arizona's controversial SB-1070, permitting police to detain illegal immigrants. Numbers USA, FAIR, and CIS were all part of the effort that successfully defeated the DREAM Act in the Senate in 2010.

The Daily Beast went on to reference a profile of CIS by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which noted that CIS is known for releasing “study after study aimed at highlighting immigration's negative effects.” The SPLC profile went on to document how CIS “studies have hardly been neutral” and found that several claims the group made were “either false or virtually without any supporting evidence.” A CIS report released in March that was similarly hyped by Fox News contained cherry-picked data that provided a distorted view of the Obama administration's enforcement priorities.

CIS' latest report on the immigrant releases is another such example, as the Daily Beast stated: “There's no question that CIS's latest report ... intends to highlight the negative effects of immigration and, more specifically, immigration enforcement policy under the current president. The report's author, CIS Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan, admits as much.”

And despite right-wing media's cheerleading of the CIS report, the Daily Beast further reported: “Jessica Vaughan acknowledges that the CIS report offers no context for why these convicted criminals were released by ICE nor how many of them aren't actually free but under ICE restrictions such as GPS monitoring via an ankle bracelet, telephone monitoring, supervision or bond as they await deportation proceedings.”

The article concluded:

CIS clearly has a dog in this fight, and early reactions to the report from some of the House Republicans who hold the keys to passing immigration reform suggest that Vaughan and Co. are eliciting the exact amount outrage from lawmakers that they're looking for.

The Daily Beast's critical treatment of CIS is a welcome contrast to other news outlets that have either ignored or given a pass to the group in reporting on its latest report. For example, in articles on the CIS report, both The Hill and USA Today presented the report without noting the inherent bias of CIS' work.

The Hill described CIS as “a conservative group pushing to reduce even legal immigration” and claimed that the study “fed into Boehner's argument about an untrustworthy administration.” Though the Hill noted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement “is defending the releases” and that “Immigrant rights advocates such as the American Immigration Council (AIC) are pushing back,” it gave no insight as to what kind of organization CIS really is, ignoring the group's anti-immigration bias. It simply reported the story as a “back and forth” that highlights the partisan divide that's accompanied the immigration reform debate under President Obama."

USA Today gave CIS similar treatment, writing only that the group “advocates for lower levels of immigration” and contrasting its views with statements from ICE and AIC, as well as highlighting the Obama administration's enforcement record.

But as the Daily Beast rightly noted, this serves only to “manipulate” the conversation around immigration reform -- providing a distorted view of the debate.

CIS is simply not a credible organization and media should note that when reporting on the group. Even some at Fox like host Lou Dobbs have admitted as much.