Far-right anti-immigration groups have over the last four years enjoyed a high level of access within the Trump administration. From arranging meetings to collaborating on policy, these groups appear frequently in records obtained by American Oversight, revealing their influence in an administration that has instituted the most restrictive anti-immigration measures in decades.
Many of those policies can be traced back to White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller. Emails uncovered by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have revealed that prior to joining the Trump campaign before the 2016 election, Miller had shared articles and ideas circulated on white nationalist websites, pushing concepts like the “white genocide” conspiracy theory and painting non-white immigrants as criminals (a narrative he has pushed while in the administration as well).
But while Miller’s sway over policy is well-known, far-right anti-immigration groups — some of which have been designated by SPLC as hate groups — have not only also been in frequent communication with Trump administration officials; some of their alumni have even secured positions in the government.
American Oversight has obtained numerous documents showing contact between these groups and administration officials, and have compiled them below. The records show key players in the far-right anti-immigration space meeting with officials, sharing data and information on immigrants, and consulting on policy.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), founded by eugenicist John Tanton, regularly drafts articles with falsified data to disparage immigrants. CIS representatives have testified at congressional hearings in support of severely limiting immigration. Notably, Stephen Miller, in his vocal support of the original Muslim-country travel ban in February 2017, cited a CIS study to make incorrect claims about individuals from the targeted countries.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is an anti-immigrant hate group that was also founded by Tanton. FAIR lobbies for anti-immigrant legislation at the state and federal levels, has a history of pushing for policies such as repealing birthright citizenship, and is considered the mouthpiece of the anti-immigration movement.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) is the legal arm of FAIR, often filing amicus briefs in immigration-related lawsuits, drafting anti-migrant legislation, and filing suits against cities and states with sanctuary laws. Dale Wilcox is IRLI’s executive director and general counsel, and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach previously worked as IRLI counsel.
NumbersUSA pushes action alerts in support of anti-immigrant legislation, conducts polls among its supporters on immigration policies, and presents its findings as views of the public at large.
The Remembrance Project, founded by Maria Espinoza, is an anti-immigrant hate group that regularly pushes false tropes about immigrants as being criminals and “invaders” and has targeted sanctuary cities since its founding in 2009. In 2017, the group relocated to Washington, D.C. to support President Trump’s creation of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, claiming it was Espinoza’s idea. Remembrance Project representatives who appear in documents we’ve obtained include Espinoza and Robin Hvidston (California director).
Advocates for Victims of Illegal Aliens, an offshoot of the Remembrance Project, was created in 2017. The group claims to advocate for victims of violence by immigrants and was invited to the White House in June 2018 — its members spoke after Trump and thanked ICE Senior Adviser Jon Feere, Trump, and other officials.
Miller and other administration officials have frequently pushed a false narrative linking immigration with crime, meeting frequently with groups like the Remembrance Project and amplifying news stories that advance that narrative. Records have revealed a close working relationship between Miller and ICE Senior Adviser Jon Feere, who previously worked for CIS, with Feere appearing to help Miller push his agenda, sending Miller news clips and updates.
In April 2017, the administration created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office within ICE. The office is headed by Barbara Gonzales, whose calendars indicate she met with CIS multiple times in 2018 and 2019, with Feere also occasionally in attendance. She also attended a Remembrance Project webinar in July 2018, and met with the group in November.
In March 2017, then-Department of Homeland Security official Gene Hamilton also exchanged emails with the Remembrance Project’s Maria Espinoza, and agreed to connect her with ICE. Espinoza emailed Hamilton after a meeting she’d had with him and then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, which she wrote was “an exciting first step in what we believe will be a great partnership.” She sent Hamilton information on “the scale of illegal alien crime,” including linking to the website of North Carolinians For Immigration Reform and Enforcement, an anti-immigrant group that posts what it claims are monthly reports of crimes committed by immigrants. Espinoza also referenced discussions she’d had with the DHS officials about potential grants for which her organization could apply to “help fund our pro-Trump agenda.”
That same month, CIS Fellow Ronald Mortensen wrote an opinion piece for the Hill newspaper with the headline “Most illegal aliens routinely commit felonies.” In the article, Mortensen said, “The myth of the law abiding illegal alien is just that: a myth.” The next year, on May 24, 2018, President Donald Trump nominated Mortensen to be assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
On Jan. 22, 2018, CIS’s Marguerite Telford sent John Zadrozny, who previously worked at FAIR and was then at the White House, an article by CIS’s Jessica Vaughan titled “500 Ex-DACA Criminals & Gang Members Still At Large: Will They Get Amnesty Too?” The email was forwarded, apparently through ICE, to Cissna, who asked his staff to track down the data that Vaughan had cited.
American Oversight has also obtained records showing Miller praising a Justice Department Office of Public Affairs newsletter containing a number of stories about immigration and violent crime. That set of documents also includes a May 2018 email the Remembrance Project’s Espinoza sent to Miller regarding a case involving an undocumented immigrant; Miller then forwarded the email to Hamilton, who by that time was working at the Justice Department.
The president himself has also frequently pushed this false narrative, bringing victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to various events. On June 22, 2018, Trump met with family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants — which he has called “angel families.” Anti-immigrant hate group Advocates for Victims of Illegal Aliens was there and many attendees explicitly thanked Feere.
In July 2017, CIS Research Director Steven Camarota emailed Hamilton and USCIS official Michael Dougherty to ask whether they could “delay” an announcement on a temporary hike in new H-2B temporary worker visas so that CIS could “put some stuff out” to make the case against increasing the number of such visas. Both DHS and the Labor Department seem to have adopted CIS’s desired timing on the announcement, allowing the group, which opposed the increase, to publish materials referencing an announcement from the administration that was coming “any day.”
The Trump administration’s “public charge” rule — which creates a wealth test for green cards by giving officials greater power to deny permanent residency to immigrants they deem likely to use public benefits — was announced on Sept. 22, 2018. Vaughan from CIS tweeted approval of the measure, and according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, NumbersUSA sent two action alerts in support. In June 2019, the DOJ’s Gene Hamilton met with USCIS official Robert Law, who had previously worked at FAIR, about the Pearson Memo, which provides guidance for determining when someone would be “inadmissible” for being a “public charge.”
On March 7, 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a lawsuit challenging three California laws the federal government claimed violated the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause: SB 54 (which prevents state and local law enforcement agencies from using money or personnel to investigate or detain persons based on immigration status); AB 450 (which prohibits private employers from consenting to a search from federal immigration authorities on behalf of an employee); and AB 103 (mandates a review of immigration processes and situations in which noncitizens were apprehended.
According to SPLC, Robin Hvidston, leader of We the People Rising and California director of the Remembrance Project, said, “It’s refreshing to hear an attorney general talk about upholding our laws.” SPLC also reported that We the People Rising sent an email asking supporters to contact Sessions to “let him know you support sanctuary lawsuit,” and that a March 8 NumbersUSA email to supporters said, “Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid down the law — literally — in person, to law-enforcement officials in California’s state capital of Sacramento.”
The year before, on Feb. 27, 2017, Espinoza had emailed Stephen Miller about a “defiant Sanctuary City,” asking him, “If Trump allows this to take place, how can he say he is cutting off funding for sanctuary cities?” Miller forwarded the email to Jody Hunt, then-Attorney General Sessions’ chief of staff.
A little over a week after that, in an email to other Justice Department officials about sanctuary cities, Hunt mentioned that Miller and White House strategist Steve Bannon had called earlier. While redactions cover any details about that call, Hunt asked the other officials to “[p]lease coordinate together to move in this direction.”
The spring of 2018 saw anti-immigrant groups raising alarm about a peaceful “caravan” of Central American asylum-seekers making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. “Migrant caravans” became a political talking point for Trump in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, and the March 2018 caravan had also been the subject of a number of emails between anti-immigrant groups and administration officials.
On March 30, 2018, Marguerite Telford, the communications director for CIS, emailed White House officials Theo Wold and John Zadrozny about the caravan, asking who was funding it. Cissna then emailed other officials, including Zadrozny and Robert Law, seeking confirmation that the caravan existed.
The next month, Andrew Arthur of CIS testified before the House Subcommittee on National Security about the caravan, at a hearing titled “A Caravan of Illegal Immigrants: A Test of U.S. Borders.”
As another group of asylum-seekers made their way from Central America that fall, the alarmism renewed. On Oct. 16, Trump promised to cut funding to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala if they “allow their citizens, or others, to journey” to the U.S. According to SPLC, NumbersUSA and FAIR urged the president to take action on the same day.
Nov. 28, 2017: Robert Law invited FAIR’s Bob Dane and IRLI’s Dale Wilcox to the USCIS ombudsman conference, saying, “It would be great to have a FAIR/IRLI presence since AILA has been heavily promoting.” The AILA is the American Immigration Lawyers Association, an association of attorneys, many of whom represent immigrants seeking permanent residence. Dane from FAIR said he would attend.
Nov. 28, 2017: Shari Rendall of FAIR sent Robert Law research on E-Verify laws.
Dec. 26, 2017: Mark Krikorian, the executive director of CIS, sought data on E-Verify from Law, and referred to an upcoming meeting in January 2018 between Cissna and Krikorian. Law mentioned that he had been working on Temporary Protected Status.
Dec. 28, 2017: IRLI sent Law a copy of a public comment.
In January and February of 2018, Cissna and other DHS officials — including USCIS’ Robert Law — had meetings with NumbersUSA and the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), as well as with Mark Krikorian, Andrew Arthur and other CIS representatives. In February, Arthur appeared as a witness during a congressional hearing, where he called for greater enforcement power for the U.S. Border Patrol agents.
July 24, 2018: Dale Wilcox of IRLI thanked Robert Law for an introduction to White House officials Hunter Morgen and Theo Wold. Wilcox said IRLI continued to defend the president’s policies and that it had previously worked with John Zadrozny.
July 25, 2018: Law sent an email with the subject “AB amendment” to “gnewman,” possibly Grant Newman, the chief of staff at NumbersUSA. The subject line could possibly refer to California’s AB 450, which prohibited employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to access workplaces without a warrant and which was challenged by the federal government in court.
Aug. 15, 2018: Then-USCIS Director Cissna delivered a keynote address at an event hosted by CIS. CIS arranged for Cissna to use a back entrance to the venue and to limit attendance to pre-vetted guests.