Krikorian wanted to establish CIS as a credible voice that drew on substance and scholarly inquiry rather than emotion. “We have to dare to be dull,” he says. His opponents invariably portray him as a purveyor of “junk science.”
He was quippy and quotable. Within months of taking over CIS, he appeared at a news conference to dispute a study that asserted immigrants weren’t taking jobs from Americans. “When was the last time you saw an American cabdriver in Washington, or an American construction worker in Texas?” he said. Later his group titled a report “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name: Inside the Green Card Marriage Phenomenon.”
As CIS gained traction, critics scoured its roots for clues about its intentions. Two groups — the Southern Poverty Law Center and later a cohort of Republicans pushing for immigration reform — focused on John Tanton, a Michigan eye doctor who is the father of the modern anti-immigration movement. Tanton helped found FAIR, U.S. English and a NumbersUSA, a group that advocates reduced immigration. And in 1985, he also set in motion the Center for Immigration Studies, or CIS. Tanton wrote that the think tank “for credibility . . . will need to be independent from FAIR, though the Center for Immigration Studies, as we’re calling it, is starting off as a project of FAIR”; it was being formed because the movement was losing “ground in the Battle of Ideas.”
In 2002, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a scathing report that accused Tanton of consorting with white supremacists, of disseminating racist screeds through a publishing house he had founded and of supporting eugenics. A decade later, the Republican immigration advocates would paint the Tanton-founded groups as advocates of a zero-population growth mind-set.
The law center’s claims of racism were buttressed by the appearance of some white nationalists at annual “Writers Workshops” organized by Tanton’s publishing operation, the Social Contract. Krikorian has attended the workshops. “The fact that Krikorian shows up at these things shows he is unwilling to sever a relationship with bald-faced racists,” says Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “These guys are always coy about their relationship with Tanton.” (According to IRS records unearthed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, CIS gets about half its funding from the Colcom Foundation, a group whose philanthropy director is a longtime Tanton collaborator. The foundation is dedicated to fostering “a sustainable environment to ensure quality of life for all Americans by addressing major causes and consequences of overpopulation and its adverse effects on natural resources.”)
Krikorian calls white nationalism “pernicious” and “an evil thing.” But he draws a cause-and-effect correlation between white nationalism — as well as “black nationalism” and “Chicano nationalism,” for that matter — and immigration. High levels of immigration, he says, have led to the creation of a political ideology of multiculturalism. He cites, for instance, the census designation of Latino/Hispanic; he’d rather that ethnicity not to be highlighted. The backlash is nationalism, he says.