The Associated Press, one of the most prominent news agencies in the world, has regularly used far-right, nativist groups as sources for reporting on immigration.
The AP is a newswire service with immense reach. It claims 15,000 outlets use its journalism and more than half of the world’s population engages with AP content every day. It is a vital resource especially for local newsrooms, which can rely on wire services for more than half of their coverage of national issues. However, AP articles are so widely used that it can be difficult to issue corrections. Mistakes corrected on its main website often persist in other papers in the AP network. Errors in its reporting can live online for years at other outlets, which makes the AP’s use of extremist organizations as a source all the more concerning.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), NumbersUSA, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) were all founded by eugenicist and white nationalist John Tanton, who once wrote that “a European-American majority” was required to maintain American culture and fearmongered about a “Latin onslaught” in memos to FAIR describing immigration. In fact, CIS and FAIR are classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian has a long history of disparaging documented and undocumented immigrants. Under the Trump administration, he vehemently defended the family separation policy and dismissed concerns about the hundreds of children who could not be reunited with their parents. Krikorian was close with former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, who also has known ties to white nationalism. The AP quoted Krikorian alone at least four times within the last year -- with no mention of his extremist views.
The AP’s articles largely framed these organizations as favoring “curbing” immigration without any reference to their history of racism or connections to white nationalism, and it is not alone. Mainstream national outlets and local media have also repeatedly failed to mention Tanton-founded organizations’ extremism, nativism, and ties to white nationalism in recent stories. But the AP, with its huge audience, may have an even greater responsibility to characterize its sources correctly, as these articles may continue to exist without proper context for years at other outlets, even if the AP were to issue corrections or add clarifications.
Here are some examples of the Associated Press failing its audiences by not providing context on Tanton-founded organizations and associated figures:
- On January 26, the AP published an article on the immigrant rights activists pushing for reform now that President Joe Biden had been sworn in. The piece quoted spokespeople from both FAIR and NumbersUSA without explaining either organization’s nativist ties. FAIR is identified only as a “major opponent” of Biden’s proposed immigration reform and NumbersUSA is characterized as a group that “favors reduced immigration.”
- On January 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration, the AP published an article about Republicans already opposing the soon-to-be president’s proposed immigration reform proposal. Both NumbersUSA lobbyist Rosemary Jenks and CIS’ Krikorian are cited as opponents to Biden’s initiatives, but only as members of organizations that favor limiting immigration.
- In an article from last July about then-President Donald Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented people from the 2020 census, the AP mentioned that FAIR and some congressional members had filed a lawsuit in 1979, “demanding that the 1980 census exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment." The piece did not mention that FAIR was also founded that year by a white nationalist.
- In July of last year, the AP reported on beach towns in Massachusetts that were understaffed due to J-1 cultural exchange and H-2B work visas being halted by the Trump administration in an attempt to “free up” jobs for Americans struggling without work during the pandemic. In actuality, the ban left businesses overwhelmed as pandemic restrictions eased over the summer, because there weren’t enough people available to work in these small towns. Yet the AP quoted CIS’ Krikorian as saying, “The employers are just going to have to up their game in recruitment because there are 20 million people who are unemployed whom they could be drawing from.” Krikorian and CIS’ connection to nativism and white nationalism were not mentioned.
- In another July article on border officials who used emergency powers issued during the pandemic to deport people, the AP cited Krikorian without even identifying that his organization CIS advocated against immigration. (In fact, asylum is not “widely used as a gambit for illegal immigration,” as Krikorian alleged, but the AP used his quote without any context or pushback.)
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said U.S. authorities handled the case properly and accused the family of trying to use the newborn to secure legal status. He said they should have settled in Mexico.
“Asylum has been so widely used as a gambit for illegal immigration that honestly I don’t believe it anymore,” said Krikorian, echoing views of the president and other hard-liners. “I assume that anyone crossing through Mexico and applying for asylum (in the U.S.) is lying until proven otherwise.”
- In late June, the AP published a piece on Trump’s freeze on temporary work visas in which it quoted Krikorian, again, without characterizing CIS’ position as extreme or nativist:
“This is a bold move by the Trump administration to protect American jobs,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions. “Not all the items on our checklist of needed actions are included in today’s announcement, but the corporate lobbyists who were desperately fighting for exceptions to protect their clients’ access to cheap foreign labor have largely been rebuffed."
- The AP quoted CIS Policy Director Jessica Vaughan in an earlier June piece on business and colleges attempting to prevent the work visa freeze. CIS was only identified as “a Washington group advocating for strict immigration limits.”
- In another June article on the Trump administration’s proposed restrictions to asylum claims, the AP referenced CIS-afilliated retired immigration judge Andrew Arthur calling the current asylum system a “national disgrace.” The AP described CIS only as “a group that seeks to limit immigration.”
- In a May 2020 piece on the looming immigrant labor shortage in the meat-packing industry, the AP used statistics from CIS without proper context for the group, writing only in a brief aside that it “supports restricting immigration."
- The AP again did not mention CIS’ nativism or ties to white nationalism in another May report that quoted Vaughan approving of pandemic restrictions making it more difficult for Mexican and Central American migrants to seek asylum in Canada: “They are not going to get away with making asylum claims, they are not going to be able to game the system.”
- An April report from AP on Trump’s initial pandemic green card halt referenced both FAIR and CIS with no mention of their extremist ties, only calling them “hardliners”:
But immigrant advocates and political opponents are not the only ones who oppose the measure: Hardliners from Trump's base say it doesn't go far enough to limit immigration.
The order "is designed to satisfy powerful business interests that value a steady flow of cheap foreign labor,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, wrote in a letter to the president Thursday.
The Center for Immigration Studies, another hardline group, said the 60-day pause “will provide little relief to Americans” and criticized an exemption for foreigners who agree to invest at least $900,000 in the U.S.
- The AP referenced both FAIR and CIS again in another piece on Trump’s executive order that suspended green card applications. Both organizations were identified only as advocating “for lower immigration rates.”
- Another AP article on the green card ban mentioned that CIS thought that Trump did not go far enough, but not that the organization was founded by a white nationalist.
- In April, the AP published a piece about people in migrant detention facilities being denied masks and other personal protective equipment during the worsening pandemic and included a CIS claim that there was nothing wrong with that treatment -- without noting the group’s ties to white nationalism:
Andrew Arthur of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restricting immigration, argued that detainees have constant access to medical care and that ICE and prison companies have an interest in limiting the spread of the virus because “they want to continue that business of detention.”
The AP should not be presenting FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA as the good-faith opposition to the immigration issue. These groups have pushed bigoted ideas about immigration for decades, and yet one of the largest news organizations in the country is regularly quoting them without push back or even context for their nativist views. The wire service is essentially giving these white nationalist-affiliated groups a platform to attack immigration on almost every local and national news outlet in the United States.