Local and national media outlets are citing anti-immigrant extremist groups to discuss Biden’s immigration plan

The Associated Press, NPR, NBC, and multiple news outlets serving immigrant communities have recently quoted extremist groups like CIS and FAIR

National and local media logos in front of U.S. flag  with chainlink fence
Molly Butler / Media Matters

As President Joe Biden recently unveiled his plan to reform U.S. immigration policy, some legacy national and local media outlets have been quoting well-known anti-immigrant extremist groups to provide commentary on the plan.

Days before he was sworn in as president, Biden disclosed that he was going to propose ambitious plans for an “overhaul of immigration laws” on his first day in office, including creating “an eight-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal status.” Qualifying immigrants would receive a temporary status for five years and then a green card once they meet certain requirements, becoming eligible to apply for citizenship three years later.

In their coverage of the plans, some national and media outlets have irresponsibly turned to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), two extremist organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center deems hate groups. Both organizations were founded by John Tanton, a white nationalist and eugenicist who created a network of anti-immigrant groups and has expressed an explicit desire to keep the U.S. a majority-white country through limiting immigration. According to the SPLC, one of FAIR’s main goals is “upending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a decades-long, racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to northern Europeans,” and FAIR President Dan Stein has called the act a “mistake.” And while CIS claims to be “pro-immigrant,” the think tank has a decadeslong history of circulating white nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic writers in its newsletters, and the organization has been repeatedly called out for its extremism.

Local media outlets -- including some in California and Texas communities with substantial immigrant populations -- as well as some mainstream national media outlets are now lending legitimacy to these extremists by presenting them as merely “favoring less immigration,” seemingly in a misguided attempt to present both sides of the immigration debate. 

State and local media outlets

  • In a January 20 article on the impact of Biden’s immigration plan on California, The Sacramento Bee quoted FAIR President Dan Stein. In the article, FAIR was described as “a D.C.-based group that seeks to reduce immigration to the U.S.,” while Stein used the coronavirus pandemic to claim that increased immigration would lead to more competition for jobs and hamper economic recovery. Stein is quoted as saying, “Biden must protect American jobs and not capitulate to special interests pushing radical policies that put Americans last.”
  • The San Francisco Chronicle published a January 20 article on Bay Area residents’ reaction to Biden’s plan that quoted Ira Mehlman, a spokesperson for FAIR, who said that “amnesty is not justified in any event” because “it doesn’t solve the problem. It just creates a new cycle of illegal immigration.” FAIR was described only as being Washington-based. 
  • A January 20 NorthJersey.com article also cited Mehlman; the piece described FAIR as “a Washington group that advocates for tougher immigration controls.” Mehlman called the bill a “disaster” for Americans and fearmongered that it will spark a crisis at the border. Similar to Stein, Mehlman argued in the article that increased immigration would lead to more competition among Americans for jobs during the pandemic.
  • In a particularly egregious example, a January 19 article titled “How Biden's immigration reform proposals could influence activity at the border” from KENS5, a local outlet in San Antonio, Texas, privileged CIS’ opinion in the subheadline, which read: “An expert with the Center of Immigration Studies said easing Trump's strict policies could cause an influx in Central Americans seeking to enter the U.S.” CIS senior fellow Todd Bensman’s opinion is cited extensively throughout the article, with no pushback or alternative opinion as he fearmongered about a surge of immigrants at the border. The article also uncritically promoted Bensman’s book, titled America’s Covert Border War: The Untold Story of the Nation’s Battle to Prevent Jihadist Infiltration; Bensman noted that his book focuses on the “heightened national security risk” presented by immigrants “from countries of terrorism concern” in South Asia and the Middle East coming across the U.S. southern border.

National media outlets

  • NPR’s January 21 Up First podcast featured CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian commenting on the likelihood of Biden’s plan to pass in the U.S. Senate. NPR’s John Burnett introduced CIS as a group that “favors less immigration to the U.S.” During his appearance, Krikorian criticized Biden’s proposal as “a radical departure” from previous immigration policy. 
  • Krikorian was also quoted in an Associated Press article describing conservative opposition to Biden’s plan, saying: “Past proposals at least accepted the concept of turning off the faucet and mopping up the overflow. This is nothing but mopping up and letting the faucet continue to run.” The article also cited Numbers USA, a third anti-immigrant organization founded by John Tanton.
  • A January 21 NPR article cited FAIR as “immigration hard-liners ... already set to oppose the Biden administration’s immigration plan.” Stein is quoted as saying “President Biden must protect American jobs and not capitulate to special interests pushing radical policies that put Americans last.” A FAIR press release quoted in the article argues that immigration will “deepen, not unify, [the] national divide.”
  • Another NPR article, published January 20, cited Jessica Vaughan of CIS, which was described as an organization that “advocates for lower levels of immigration.” The article was about Biden’s reversal of former President Donald Trump’s travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, and Vaughan commented, “The burden should be on these countries to show their systems are adequate,” adding, “Their situations haven't changed all that much."
  • A January 19 NBC report by Gabe Gutierrez on Biden’s immigration plans featured Stein, who was described as one of the “opponents of Biden’s plan.” Stein said, “If you’re going to reward people who broke the law in front of everybody who respected it, it sends a bad signal.” 
  • In a January 12 article discussing Biden’s expected attempts to reverse Trump’s executive orders on immigration, Bloomberg Law cited John Miano, an attorney with the Immigration Reform Law Institute. Miano’s organization, which is the legal arm of FAIR, was described as a group that “advocates for lower immigration levels.”