Center for Immigration Studies

2011-09-07 03:46:27

Identification: Right-leaning think tank that advocates limiting immigration into the United States and reducing the undocumented population already present

Date: Established in 1985

Significance: Through its many publications, public statements and links to conservative legislators, the Center for Immigration Studies has become an influential voice in the congressional debate over immigration policy.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) describes itself as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization. It also claims to be the only think tank in the United States devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal and other impacts of immigration on the United States. Its stated mission is to expand the base of public knowledge and understanding of the need for an immigration policy whose first priority is the broad national interest. The center further describes itself as driven by a “pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision that seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome to those admitted.” It is not allowed to conduct direct lobbying.

The longtime director of CIS, Mark Krikorian, advocated a policy of “attrition through enforcement,” that is, enforcement of immigration laws that would increase the numbers of deportations of undocumented immigrants.Hesought not mass deportations that would have an adverse effect on businesses employing undocumented aliens, but rather a steady reduction in the numbers of such aliens already residing in the United States. One of the programs that the center promotes is “EVerify,” a voluntary program begun in 2004 that certifies that companies are hiring only people who are legally entitled to U.S. residence.


CIS was founded in 1985, and its board of directors has usually included several persons affiliated with American universities. Since its beginning the organization has not been without its detractors. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, has charged that CIS is one of several organizations established by the anti-immigration activist Dr. John Tanton, who, it claims, espouses a white nationalist and nativist agenda. At least some of the center’s funding has been supplied by foundations on the right of the political spectrum. Among the other anti-immigration organizations with which Tanton is reputed to be affiliated are the lobbying group the Federation for American Immigration Reformand its legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute. Other supporters have include the grassroots organizers NumbersUSA, and Project- USA. These groups ostensibly have influence with many conservative politicians on the federal and state levels.

In addition to government crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented workers and the workers themselves, the center advocates greater federal emphasis on border policing. It also opposes awarding amnesty to undocumented workers who, it believes, should be “induced” to return to their native countries. The center has claimed that immigration to the United States declined by about 1.3 million from mid-2007 to mid-2008, a decrease that it attributes to the stricter immigration enforcement policies it supports. Some who oppose the CIS’s stance have termed such an assertion arguable because the extent of illegal immigration is not precisely known and the figures the center cites are not statistically provable. Such critics counter that any reduction in immigration could be attributable to the worsening U.S. economy, rather than stricter law enforcement.

Although accused of advocating “restrictionism,” the Center for Immigration Studies has attained a measure of credibility with media outlets that frequently quote its statements and statistics. The center receives some respect for including differing opinions in the forums it presents and in its books, reports and papers as well as monthly “backgrounders,” usually present a nonconfrontational tone. Director Mark Krikorian, who has stated that “modern America has outgrown mass immigration,” has often testified before congressional committees on immigration. He has also engendered some controversy by linking immigration with global warming by arguing that immigration moves people from low-polluting countries to the United States, which is a high-polluting country. He specifically cites the numbers of automobiles driven by undocumented immigrants.

In 2009, Krikorian’s critical comments on the way U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor pronounced her name also created some stir. Another CIS employee has implicated immigration in the rise of big government because, in his opinion, highly populated societies are more highly regulated societies. Among the other ways that CIS attempts to influence immigration issues is its Edward Katz Award, named for a former board member, which is given to journalists “who best challenge the norm of immigration reporting.” Among its recipients is the former CNN commentator Lou Dobbs.

Roy Liebman

Further Reading

  • Briggs, Vernon. Immigration: The Neglected Orphan of Economic Policy. Washington, D.C.: Center for Immigration Studies, 1993. A Center for Immigration Studies “backgrounder” report that calls for a halt to mass immigration as a means to aid the American economy. 
  • Hanson, Victor D. The Universe of the Illegal Alien. Washington, D.C.: Center for Immigration Studies, 2003. Another CIS “backgrounder” that examines the adverse role undocumented workers play in the life of the United States. 
  • Krikorian, Mark. “Borderline Insanity.” The National Interest, March 22, 2005, pp. 70-73. The CIS director proposes that a swath of land along the United States-Mexican border be plowed up to produce a mile-wide no-man’s-land in which it would become easier to apprehend immigrants attempting to cross the border illegally. 
  • _______. “Enforcement at Work: The Strategy of Attrition Is Bearing Fruit.” National Review, August 4, 2008, 23. Makes the case that illegal immigration is declining due to stepped-up enforcement and the reality of “self deportation.” 
  • _______. “‘Give Me the Tools’: They Have Them— So Use Them (Immigration Reform in the United States).” National Review, July 9, 2007, 20. Urges that current immigration laws be fully and forcefully utilized to prevent further illegal immigration. 
  • _______. The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal. New York: Sentinel, 2008. Argues against granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants. Also proposes that standards of skill and merit be applied to prospective new immigrants, and that they be required to learn English. 

See also: American Protective Association; Commission on Immigration Reform, U.S.; Dillingham Commission; English-only and official English movements; Illegal immigration; Proposition 187; Stereotyping; Xenophobia.