TransBorder Profile: Center for Immigration Studies


Center for Immigration Studies
1522 K Street N.W., Suite 820
Washington, DC 20005-1202
(202) 466-8185
fax (202) 466-8076,

The Center for Immigration Studies cultivates an image of dispassionate research and analysis about immigration. Unlike the other major restrictionist institutes in Washington, DC, CIS distances itself from the grassroots backlash against immigration. The institute uses its website not to mobilize anti-immigrant forces but to disseminate its many research papers – all of which conclude that “mass immigration” is a threat to the country’s stability.


Although it does not directly engage in anti-immigration organizing, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian in his National Review column did praise a “vigilant citizenry” that “inundated” Senate offices to help defeat the comprehensive immigration reform bill in June 2007.

CIS says it is "the nation's only think tank devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States." It was founded in 1985 to support the organizing and lobbying work of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

According to CIS, its mission is "to expand the base of public knowledge and understanding of the need for an immigration policy that gives first concern to the broad national interest. The Center is animated by a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted."

Frank Sharry, a leading pro-immigration voice in Washington, wrote: "Let's be clear. CIS was birthed by FAIR, the militant anti-immigration group. The CIS executive director moved from FAIR to CIS to head up the organization. Although now independent, the two organizations share the same basic agenda: an American version of what in Europe is called 'zero immigration.'" According to Sharry, CIS portrays itself as a "squeaky clean" think tank, but CIS is "simply churning out high-sounding, low-credibility grist for the high-pitch, low-road anti-immigration forces in the United States."

The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial position is strongly pro-immigration, reported that CIS is part of a network of restrictionist organizations founded by John Tanton. In the late 1970s, Tanton, a former president of Zero Population Growth, began setting up an interconnecting array of immigration restrictionist and English-only organizations, starting with FAIR in 1979.

The WSJ wrote: “In fact, CIS, FAIR, NumbersUSA, Project-USA and more than a half-dozen similar groups that Republicans have become disturbingly comfy with, were founded or funded (or both) by John Tanton, a retired doctor in Michigan. In addition to trying to stop immigration to the U.S., appropriate population-control measures for Dr. Tanton and his network include promoting China’s one-child policy, sterilizing Third World women and wider use of RU-486.”

“FAIR, where Mr. Krikorian once worked, is run by Dan Stein and shares advisers and personnel with CIS and other members of the Tanton nexus. As our Jason Riley noted in a March 15 op-ed, ‘By Dr. Tanton's own reckoning, FAIR has received more than $1.5 million from the Pioneer Fund, a white-supremacist outfit devoted to racial purity through eugenics.’”

Krikorian struck back in a blistering rebuttal, calling the Wall Street Journal part the “high-immigration Right.” Krikorian observed, “Of my Center for Immigration Studies, the Journal's Jason Riley wrote, among other things, that despite the fact that CIS ‘may strike right-wing poses in the press,’ we nonetheless ‘support big government, mock federalism, deride free markets and push a cultural agenda abhorrent to any self-respecting social conservative.’”

Krikorian said, "The high-immigration Right works hand-in-glove with the anti-American Left." Like other anti-immigration groups, CIP critiques sectors of the left and right for sharing with Corporate America the common agenda of “open borders.”

Krikorian wrote that CIS “is not now, nor has it ever been, a supporter of China's one-child policy. The Center for Immigration Studies is not now, nor has it ever been, a supporter of RU-486. CIS is not now, nor has it ever been, a recipient of money from a eugenicist foundation called the Pioneer Fund. We take no position on anything that does not involve U.S. immigration policy.”

It is certainly true that CIS emerged as part a network of groups funded initially at least through John Tanton’s U.S. Inc., which included FAIR. But like FAIR, CIS is narrowly focused on immigration issues. In fact, the main criticism of CIS is that it interprets many issues – from climate change to government budget deficits – through the prism of immigration as a driver of population growth.

The decision of Tanton and other anti-immigration strategists to establish CIS as an anti-immigration think tank has paid off handsomely in terms of media presence. As the book jacket of his new book, The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal, notes, Krikorian is the “nation’s most frequently quoted immigration expert.” CIS research director Steve Camarota is also called upon by the press to offer the anti-immigration voice in mainstream news stories.

As Krikorian makes clear in his book, CIS is concerned not just with illegal immigration but with all immigration. Krikorian writes: “Obviously, different kinds of immigrants will have different impacts; an illegal alien, for instance, undermines the rule of law but places less of a burden on government services than an otherwise similar legal immigrant. Likewise, a skilled immigrant does not have trouble learning and speaking English, but he may be more susceptible than his low-skilled counterpart to a politics of ethnic grievance and be more able to pursue dual citizenship and a transnational lifestyle. Despite the different effects that different kinds of immigrants my have, the common thread remains – modern America has outgrown mass immigration.”

Initial funding for CIS came from U.S. Inc, a funding umbrella founded and operated by John Tanton. With a budget of nearly a million dollars, CIS counts on funding from right-wing foundations, including Carthage Foundation, Scaife Family Foundation, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sara Scaife Foundation, and John Olin Foundation. According to MediaTransparency, CIS received $1.7 million from right-wing foundations between 1991 and 2006.

CIS board members are: Peter Nunez (chairman), Vernon M. Briggs, Jr., Thomas C.T. Brokaw, William Chip, T. Willard Fair, Otis Graham, Jr., George Grayson, Carol Iannone, Frank Morris, Sr., and Anita Winsor-Edwards.


Each year CIS offers the Edward Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration, but this award goes only to those journalists who make a case against immigration and generally in right-wing publication. Lou Dobbs, host of the Broken Borders program on CNN, won the Katz award in 2004. The most recent recipient was Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute. Katz was a former CIS board member and an owner of a major communications firm.


Like its counterpart anti-immigration organizations, CIS has long held that immigration represents a major threat to environmental sustainability because of its contribution to population growth. In a 2008 report, CIS went further than any other restrictionist organization in attempting to link climate change to immigration increases.


In a report coauthored by Krikorian and NumbersUSA environment expert Leon Kolankiewicz, CIS concluded: “The findings of this study indicate that future levels of immigration will have a significant impact on efforts to reduce global CO2 emissions. Immigration to the United States significantly increases world-wide CO2 emissions because it transfers population from lower-polluting parts of the world to the United States, which is a higher-polluting country. On average immigrants increase their emissions four-fold by coming to America.”


Immigration is also largely responsible for “big government.” Writing in the Washington Post (Sept. 2, 2008), CIS’ Steve Camarota claimed that projected population growth "would have implications for the size and scope of government; more densely settled societies almost always are more heavily regulated societies." Most of the 106 million additional cars we'll have on our roads in 42 years will have been placed there by the immigration policies of Congress and the White House, not through the individual choices of Americans, asserts CIS. According to Camarota,  "It's important to understand that the new projections show us one possible future. We must decide as a country if this is the future we want."


At the heart of CIS analysis is a belief that the United States cannot sustain further population increases and that immigration is the main driving force of population gains. As such, CIS argues that illegal immigration must end, that the undocumented population should be pressured to leave through an “enforcement through attrition” immigration policy, and that legal immigration should be minimal.


CIS' one-argument-fits-all approach to nation's social, economic, and environmental problems leads to simplistic explanations that work well as soundbites but not as policy.


- Tom Barry, Sept. 3, 2008



Also see: Right Web Profile – Center for Immigration Studies


Other related TransBorder Profiles:




Immigration Reform Caucus

Enforcement First Caucus

Immigration Law Reform Institute