Donald Trump is out with his first TV ad of the general election, and it’s predictably despicable: an image of “Hillary Clinton’s America” being flooded with refugees and “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes” while “the system stays rigged against Americans.” The ad has drawn comparisons to the infamous anti-immigrant ad that California Gov. Pete Wilson ran in 1994 as he was trying to push through a ballot measure imposing draconian penalties on undocumented immigrants.
The ad, also unsurprisingly, cites the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the group whose reports provide a constant stream of ammunition to anti-immigrant politicians despite its troubling roots in white nationalism and history of skewing the facts.
The CIS citation comes about 10 seconds into the ad, when the narrator warns that in Clinton’s America, “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay, collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line.”
The ad’s citation appears to be referring to an April 14 CIS article on the implications of U.S. v. Texas, the Supreme Court case on President Obama’s DAPA and expanded DACA executive actions, which extended temporary deportation relief to some people brought to the country as children and some of their parents. This appears to be where the Trump campaign got the “collecting Social Security benefits” line, which it dishonestly links to its smear of “illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes” (the DAPA and DACA programs bar people convicted of most crimes from eligibility). Those who receive eligibility to work under the programs do become eligible for Social Security, which they pay into like nearly every other American worker, under rules that existed long before President Obama took office.
It’s telling that the Trump campaign is getting its arguments about immigration policy from CIS. The group is one of a large network of anti-immigrant organizations started by John Tanton, an activist with white nationalist leanings and a troublingly extreme “population control” agenda including such things as supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.
CIS itself is more conservative in its rhetoric than its founder—allowing it to gain a foothold among members of Congress and others eager for research supporting an anti-immigrant agenda—but the agenda it promotes is one that demonizes immigrants.
As we noted in a recent report on CIS and its fellow Tanton-linked organizations, CIS has been a proponent of the idea “that instead of embracing a moderate position on immigration in order to win back Latinos who favored George W. Bush, the GOP should put its energy and resources into expanding its popularity and increasing turnout among white voters, in part by scapegoating people of color”—a strategy that Trump’s campaign is putting to the test:
CIS spokespeople regularly make this argument, along with another one that has long been popular among white nationalists: that Latino immigrants will never vote Republican because they are inherently liberal. During the debate over the “Gang of Eight” bill, CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian argued that the GOP shouldn’t bother trying to increase its share of the Latino vote because “generally speaking, Hispanic voters are Democrats, and so the idea of importing more of them as a solution to the Republican Party’s problems is kind of silly.” In another interview, Krikorian argued that immigration reform would “destroy the Republican Party” and ultimately “the republic.” The next year, he charged that Democrats were using immigration as “a way of importing voters” and to “create the conditions, such as increased poverty, increased lack of health insurance, that lead even non-immigrant voters to be more receptive to big government solutions.” At one point, Krikorian told Republicans that they should oppose immigration reform simply to deny President Obama a political victory.
Steven Camarota, the research director at CIS, has said that the current level of legal immigration “dooms” conservatives. Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at CIS, has said that immigration reform would lead to “the unmaking of America” by “destroying the Republican Party” and turning the U.S. into a “tyrannical and corrupt” one-party state. He explained that Latinos aren’t likely to vote Republican because they “don’t exemplify ‘strong family values,’” as illustrated by high rates of “illegitimacy.” More than a year before Donald Trump made national headlines by calling for a ban on all Muslim immigration, Steinlight said that he would like to ban Muslims from coming to the country because they “believe in things that are subversive to the Constitution.”
Steinlight summed up the argument in 2005, when he said that immigration threatens “the American people as a whole and the future of Western civilization.” More recently, Steinlight told a tea party group in 2014 that the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill amounted to “a plot against America ” because it would turn the U.S. into a Democrat-led “one-party state” where citizens would “lose our liberty” and “social cohesion.” Steinlight has happily fed into some of the more vitriolic tea party hatred of President Obama, saying that the president should not only be impeached for his handling of immigration, but that “ being hung, drawn and quartered is probably too good for him .” On another occasion, Steinlight said that he’d like to attack religious leaders who support immigration reform with “a baseball bat.”