Those Behind the Public Charge Rule

The Trump Administration officially posted a new proposed public charge rule that would punish immigrants seeking vital healthcare and other services and make it harder for people to gain lawful permanent residence, particularly elderly, disabled or low-income immigrants. It is important to note that this proposal, although officially published, is NOT yet in effect — it will not be in effect for many months and it will not affect people who are already lawful permanent residents during the naturalization process. But we can take action now by submitting comments opposing this proposed rule.

We expect more information on how the rule will affect those sponsoring family members outside the country in the coming weeks. This rule is geared toward scaring people away from receiving public benefits that they are legally allowed to receive. We strongly encourage people to continue to use public benefits for which they are eligible and to continue to apply for naturalization.

The new proposed rule is so far the harshest interpretation of the public charge provision of immigration law since the first version was passed in 1882 in an attempt to keep out poor Irish immigrants. Back in the 1880s, the U.S. had reached a similar proportion of immigrants to the native born population that we see today — around 13% — and those demographic changes led to similar scapegoating of and xenophobia towards immigrants. In fact, the Chinese Exclusion Act, fueled by similar unfounded fear of immigrants, was passed in the same year as the public charge rule.

So who are the players behind this latest attack on immigration today?

According to CNN, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has been the primary proponent of expediting the policy. But Miller was not the only one campaigning to punish legal immigrants. He got the idea and support from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a conservative think tank whose primary goal is to push for far lower immigration levels in the U.S. and which has longtime ties with white nationalists.

Among a Network of White Nationalists: An Anti-Immigration Think Tank

The Center for Immigration Studies was founded by John Tanton, an anti-immigration advocate who also founded Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). For years, FAIR was supported by Pioneer Fund, a foundation that promoted eugenic theories, which aims at improving genetic quality of the human race by focusing on the genetic superiority of whites. Tanton notoriously opposes immigration for a racist agenda. He warned a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority…”(Correspondence collected in the University of Michigan library) Tanton was eager to enhance the legitimacy of the anti-immigrant policies FAIR was proposing. To do that, he needed an independent think tank for the appearance of objectivity, which came to fruition in 1985, called the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

The current and longtime CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian worked at FAIR as a newsletter writer before joining CIS. He had close ties with the eugenics promoting Pioneer Fund and Harry H. Laughlin, the leading eugenics advocate. Both Krikorian and his staff are regular attendees at The Social Contract (TSC, a white nationalist journal) Writers Workshop, which also attracts white nationalists, and CIS staff’s writings regularly appear in TSC.

Apart from professional and personal ties with white nationalists, Krikorian is also characterized by his extremist and nativist statements in public. He notoriously commented that “Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough” in an article on National Review after the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 160,000 people. In his book The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal, he laments that most immigrants today come from the “third world,” which he believes to be the main problem with immigration today. Krikorian also believes that America is susceptible to threats from not only “radical Islam,” but also North Korea, “Communist China,” and Colombia.

CIS Role in the Public Charge Rule

Over the years, CIS has published over 1,400 blogs and reports supporting the public charge rule, claiming the rule, which has been used to exclude or deport relatively few immigrants over the years, is a “fundamental principle and most venerated component of American immigration policy.” Their biased research and skewed data, which are constantly debunked by both the right-leaning libertarian CATO institute and center-left American Immigration Council, were quickly picked up and repeated by the Trump administration. In support the new Public Charge Rule, the administration referenced a 2012 study from the Center for Immigration Studies, claiming that more than half of all immigrant households use one or more public benefits. This CIS study has also been debunked by CATO institute, and the latter pointed out that the numbers are exaggerated and CIS “omitted a lot of information that would make for a better comparison.”

White House senior advisor Stephen Miller also has close ties with CIS. He served as the keynote speaker at a CIS award ceremony on May 31, 2015, during which he praised CIS staffers and said that speaking with the organization’s research director was “one of the great pleasures of my professional life.” Miller has since cited CIS on several occasions. In February 2017, Miller cited a CIS report that misleadingly claimed that 72 terrorists originally came from countries covered under the Muslim ban. This report has been debunked by Associated Press that “authorities stressed that the men had no links to any terrorist groups and have not been charged with any terrorism crimes.” He also cited CIS in August 2017 when answering questions about the RAISE Act — a bill that would cut legal immigration in half within a decade by sharply limiting the ability of American citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor family members to come into the country.

Currently, many former FAIR and CIS leadership staff are working as influential members of the Trump administration. Former CIS legal policy analyst Jon Feere works for ICE while former FAIR Executive Director Julie Kirchner and FAIR’s Government Relations Director Robert Law are with USCIS and they have increasing influence over immigration policymaking and implementation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a thorough report on the Center for Immigration Studies. For more information, please visit this site.

Attacking AAPI Communities and All Types of Immigrants

Unlike some other conservative organizations that favor high-skilled foreign talents and labor, CIS is truly against every type of immigrant and even temporary visa holder. They strongly oppose the H-1B visa, a type of visa highly important for many Indian, Chinese and Korean workers in the U.S., and have written multiple blogs condemning mainstream media for sponsoring work visas.

In areas other than employment, CIS promotes increasing scrutiny on foreign student visas and giving out fewer student visas. They also advocated for a government fee for foreign students to be raised, and the Optional Practical Training program to be ended.

CIS specifically takes issue with Chinese students, depicting them as academically dishonest and cheating the immigration system. David North, a CIS fellow, once wrote, “I have often wondered about how many Chinese students, who seem to have only the slightest knowledge of English, get admitted to U.S. colleges and universities… the partial answer is, some of them cheat on their pre-admission language examinations.” In another article, he again wrote “there are the aliens with tourist cards attending public schools; these are often from China.” Such anti-Chinese and racist sentiment is pervading this White House. Our President has recently claimed that almost all students from China in the U.S. are spies. Stephen Miller’s colleague and former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, also complained that too many executives in Silicon Valley are Asians, and that “engineering schools are all full of people from South Asia, and East Asia. . . . They’ve come in here to take these jobs.”

We must remember that the latest public charge rule is not an effort to protect the American people. Rather, it is an attack on various immigrant communities and an attempt to achieve the White nationalists’ agenda. We urge everyone to submit public comments expressing opposition to this rule before December 10, 2018. We will not stand for the Trump Administration’s white nativist policies that seek to keep immigrants of color out of this country and scare them away from accessing basic resources for which they are entitled.

Immigrants of all skill levels and all national origins have made positive contributions, whether great or small, to our communities and our country. And all people deserve to be treated with dignity and afforded the opportunity to thrive and care for their families.