On April 11, 2016, a tiny think tank with a bland name published a 79-point wish list. The list garnered virtually no media coverage, and in the 11 months since its publication has been largely ignored—except, apparently, by the White House.
Today, Donald Trump seems to be working through it as he rolls out his immigration policy. A number of the 79 items on the list composed by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), have either been implemented or shown up in leaked draft proposals from the administration. It’s a course of events that has that think tank cautiously exultant and has immigrants’ rights activists anxious and disturbed.
CIS is one of the most vocal groups supporting increased detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants. It played a key role in torpedoing the 2013 Gang of 8 comprehensive immigration reform bill, and is a long-time favorite of Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller.
Its newfound influence isn’t just on paper and in policy.
Mark Krikorian, CIS’s executive director, told The Daily Beast that last month, for the first time, his group scored an invite to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement stakeholder meeting, a gathering that happens a few times a year where ICE leaders talk policy and procedure with immigration lawyers and activists. And he said that since Trump’s inauguration, he’s been in touch with new appointees at the Department of Homeland Security. It’s a new level of access and influence that helps explain the quick, dramatic changes Trump has made in immigration policy—changes that will impact millions of people.
“We’re a think tank,” Krikorian said. “Our job is to put stuff out there. Our job is to put a message in a bottle and hope somebody finds it.”
It’s been found.
Just 50 days into his presidency, and Trump’s team has already discussed, proposed, or implemented upwards of a dozen of CIS’s ideas.
For instance, the 29th item on CIS’s list calls for detention of people coming to the U.S. seeking asylum.
“Doing so will restore integrity to an out-of-control system that encourages both border surges and asylum fraud,” the memo reads.
A Feb. 21 memo from the Department of Homeland Security laid out how the department is working to quickly expand detention of undocumented immigrants, including asylum seekers.
The 40th item on CIS’s list calls for the prosecution of people who pay smugglers to bring children to the United States illegally. Though the journey from Central American countries through Mexico and to the U.S. is incredibly dangerous, many parents opt to hire smugglers to bring their children here because they think it is safer than leaving their kids in incredibly violent countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. McClatchy reported on Feb. 18 that the DHS was considering prosecuting these parents—a move that a former USCIS official told NPR would be unprecedented.
Items 47 through 52 on CIS’s list detailed ideas for limiting federal support to sanctuary jurisdictions. Trump and his top staff consistently say this is a top priority for their immigration enforcement, and his Jan. 25 executive order on enforcement of immigration laws directed the attorney general and secretary of homeland security to withhold federal grants from jurisdictions that don’t comply.
CIS’s 52nd item in particular shows up as a central Trump goal. It calls for the administration to “breathe new life into the moribund 287(g) cross-designation program”—a program that deputizes local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws. The program is controversial among law enforcement officers, and some municipal governments say they don’t have the resources to detain undocumented immigrants until the feds pick them up to deport them.
Despite that, Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order announced the administration would look to have state and local law enforcement officers “perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
Item 60 calls for reducing “the number of welfare-dependent foreigners living in the United States.” Trump telegraphed support for this sentiment in his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28.
“It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” he said in the speech. “Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon.”
In some cases, the president’s executive orders all but lift language from CIS’s list. For instance, this is the 65th item on the CIS list:
“Rescind all outstanding ‘prosecutorial discretion’ policies; eliminate the ‘Priority Enforcement Program’, and reinstitute Secure Communities.”
And this appeared in Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order:
“The Secretary shall immediately take all appropriate action to terminate the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) described in the memorandum issued by the Secretary on November 20, 2014, and to reinstitute the immigration program known as ‘Secure Communities’ referenced in that memorandum.”
The Priority Enforcement Program directed ICE agents to focus their enforcement on undocumented immigrants who had convicted crimes. Now that PEP is toast, most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are targets for deportation.
The 66th item calls for speeding up deportation proceedings for people who have been in the U.S. for two years. Under the Obama administration, those quicker proceedings only happened for people who had been in the country for two weeks or less. But Trump’s Department of Homeland Security—implementing another idea from the CIS playbook—is making the change, meaning undocumented immigrants have to prove they have been in the U.S. for two years without leaving if they want to have a better shot in court of staying here.
And the controversial VOICE office Trump announced at his speech to Congress—which would provide special advocacy and support to Americans hurt by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants—may have had its genesis with CIS. Item number 72 on their list calls for the creation of a “victims advocacy unit” responsible for “providing services to those who have been victimized by illegal alien criminals.”
Krikorian predicted an imminent step from the Trump administration could be worksite raids targeting places of employment for undocumented immigrants. That hasn’t happened yet on a widespread level, he added, but the president could direct it.
“It’s still early, so I expect stuff like that’s going to happen,” he said. “In a sense, that’s the next thing that I’d be looking for.”
And Krikorian’s group has more access than ever to the people who make immigration policy decisions. He said that in February, a representative from the group attended one of the stakeholder meetings that ICE has with immigration advocates several times per year. For CIS, it was a big first: Obama’s DHS had shown zero appetite to have CIS at the table for those meetings, which address wonky procedural issues like how immigrants are transported between detention facilities, how much access attorneys have to them, and how bond gets handled. Meeting participants include the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Bar Association’s immigration project, and immigrants’ rights advocates. And, now, CIS—a leading proponent of increased detention and deportation.
CIS isn’t the only restrictionist group to find newly open ears at DHS. Dan Stein, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told The Daily Beast his group was also invited to the meeting as well (though he added it received meeting invites from the Obama administration too). Stein said his group has found the Trump administration to be very open to their ideas.
“As you might imagine, the communication is much better now, and people are asking us to attend all kinds of different meetings,” he said. “FAIR is a very important organization for explaining to people the purposes and strategies behind various administration strategies, and quite naturally the administration would have an interest in making sure we understood the information and properly explain it to people if we’re asked. When I go on CNN to explain the trump travel ban, I expect to have somebody explain it to me in a way I understand.”
And Roy Beck, who heads NumbersUSA—a restrictionist group that boasts a 1.5 million-member email list—said his organization was invited to the ICE stakeholder meeting as well, and has found open ears in the Trump administration, particularly DHS.
“What they’re trying to do meshes with what our organization has always tried to do,” he told The Daily Beast.
These three groups share a co-founder: John Tanton, a population control activist who flirted with racist pseudo-science, supported Planned Parenthood, and argued that immigration and population growth were bad for the environment. Immigrants’ rights advocates argue that the groups are covertly white supremacist and motivated by animus towards people of color. These groups, meanwhile, argue that activists who support immigrants’ rights are secretly in the pocket of corporate interests looking to drive down wages by bringing in immigrants willing to work for less than native-born Americans.
David Leopold, who formerly headed AILA, told The Daily Beast he found CIS’s invitation unsettling.
“I don’t know what the Center for Immigration Studies would be doing there honestly,” he said. “I don’t know why they would be there. What business do they have there? Do they represent people in proceedings? What business does Mark Krikorian have at the ICE liaison committee meeting?”
And Frank Sharry, who heads the activist group America’s Voice, said he shared those concerns and found CIS’s invitation “very disturbing.”
“You have this nativist cabal that has been on the outside looking in for 25 years and now they’re on the inside looking out, and they’re going to have outsized influence,” he said. “In fact, you could say that these groups—CIS and their fellow travelers—are going to own what the Trump administration does on immigration and refugee policy. I’m sure that makes them very happy. I think it should make the country alarmed.”