The poi­son of the black­list

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY MARK KRIKORIAN The writer is ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Immigration Stud­ies.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a “hate group”? This is the ques­tion at the heart of an at­tempt to dele­git­imize and sup­press views re­gard­ing immigration held by a large share of the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

Since 2007, the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter has me­thod­i­cally added main­stream or­ga­ni­za­tions crit­i­cal of cur­rent immigration pol­icy to its black­list of “hate groups,” in­clud­ing the Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Immigration Re­form, the Immigration Re­form Law In­sti­tute and Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Pop­u­la­tion Sta­bi­liza­tion, among oth­ers. In Fe­bru­ary, my own or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Cen­ter for Immigration Stud­ies (CIS), got its turn.

The wicked­ness of the SPLC’s black­list lies in the fact that it con­flates groups that re­ally do preach ha­tred, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Na­tion of Is­lam, with ones that sim­ply do not share the SPLC’s po­lit­i­cal pref­er­ences. The ob­vi­ous goal is to marginal­ize the or­ga­ni­za­tions in this sec­ond cat­e­gory by bul­ly­ing re­porters into avoid­ing them, scar­ing away writ­ers and re­searchers from work­ing for them, and lim­it­ing in­vi­ta­tions for them to dis­cuss their work.

The ra­tio­nale of­fered for CIS’s in­clu­sion on the black­list is im­plau­si­ble even for those pre­dis­posed to sup­port black­lists. The SPLC long ago made a hate fig­ure of John Tan­ton, a con­tro­ver­sial Michi­gan eye doc­tor it breath­lessly de­scribes as the “pup­peteer” of var­i­ous groups skep­ti­cal of cur­rent immigration pol­icy, in­clud­ing CIS. But what­ever his vices and virtues, they are ir­rel­e­vant to CIS; as he him­self has writ­ten, “I also helped raise a grant in 1985 for the Cen­ter for Immigration Stud­ies, but I have played no role in the Cen­ter’s growth or de­vel­op­ment.”

Why CIS should only now qual­ify for the black­list is some­thing the SPLC of­fered no ex­pla­na­tion for. Only in a blog post by Amer­ica’s Voice, an al­lied group, were SPLC spokes­men quoted ex­plain­ing how CIS meets their “rig­or­ous cri­te­ria for des­ig­nat­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions as hate groups.” Judge the rigor for your­self. Rea­son one: CIS has pub­lished work by in­de­pen­dent re­searcher Ja­son Rich­wine, who wrote a con­tentious Har­vard Univer­sity dis­ser­ta­tion on IQ a decade ago. (His work since has been on other sub­jects.) If this is ev­i­dence of “hate,” then the SPLC is go­ing to need a big­ger black­list; other places that have pub­lished Rich­wine’s work in­clude Forbes, Politico, RealClearPol­icy and Na­tional Re­view, and his co-authors have in­cluded fel­lows at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and New Amer­ica.

Rea­sons two and three are al­most too triv­ial to be­lieve: CIS’s weekly email roundup of immigration com­men­tary (from all sides) has oc­ca­sion­ally in­cluded pieces by writ­ers who turned out to be cranks; and a non­res­i­dent CIS fel­low at­tended the Christ­mas party of a group the SPLC dis­likes. Se­ri­ously, that’s it.

Against th­ese silly ob­jec­tions is CIS’s cen­tral role in the immigration pol­icy de­bate. I of­fer the fol­low­ing not to boast, or even as ev­i­dence that our per­spec­tive is cor­rect, but merely to demon­strate the ab­sur­dity of the black­list ef­fort. CIS has tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress more than 100 times over the past 20 years. We’ve also tes­ti­fied be­fore the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights, and our work has been cited by the Supreme Court and the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral. We’ve done con­tract work for the Cen­sus Bureau and the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Our direc­tor of re­search was se­lected by the Na­tional Academies of Sciences as an out­side re­viewer for last year’s mag­is­te­rial study of the fis­cal and eco­nomic im­pacts of immigration. Our authors in­clude schol­ars at Har­vard, Cor­nell Univer­sity, Colorado State Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Mary­land and else­where. We are one of the most fre­quently cited sources on immigration in the me­dia (in­clud­ing in The Post).

Equat­ing a group that has such a track record of en­gage­ment in the pub­lic pol­icy de­bate with, for in­stance, the Holy Na­tion of Odin has noth­ing to do with warn­ing the pub­lic of “hate.” The SPLC’s true pur­pose can only be to de­prive the Amer­i­can peo­ple of points of view they need to hear to make in­formed and in­tel­li­gent col­lec­tive de­ci­sions.

Of course, po­lit­i­cal com­bat­ants call each other names all the time; I’ve suc­cumbed my­self on oc­ca­sion. But the SPLC stands apart; it’s backed by a quar­ter-bil­lion-dol­lar war chest, suc­cess­ful brand­ing by SPLC co-founder and di­rect mar­ket­ing im­pre­sario Mor­ris Dees, and a pose of dis­in­ter­est­ed­ness and neu­tral­ity that has gained it cred­i­bil­ity with many in the me­dia and law en­force­ment.

Yet the SPLC’s protes­ta­tions of neu­tral­ity are false. It is an in­te­gral part of the immigration ex­pan­sion coali­tion, as even the briefest look at the “Im­mi­grant Jus­tice” page on its web­site will con­firm. Re­gard­less, the SPLC’s smear­ing of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents con­tin­ues to be re­ported as news; hours af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of the lat­est SPLC black­list, the New Yorker re­tailed the “hate group” charge against CIS.

My goal is not to plead to be taken off the SPLC’s black­list, but to con­demn the black­list it­self and the will­ing­ness of news or­ga­ni­za­tions to par­tic­i­pate in this si­lenc­ing cam­paign by us­ing the black­list la­bel in their sto­ries. This at­tempt to nar­row pub­lic de­bate is harm­ful to our civic life. Widely held con­cerns among the cit­i­zenry don’t just go away be­cause gate­keep­ers of pub­lic de­bate de­cide not to al­low them to be aired. As the cliche has it, this is why you have Pres­i­dent Trump. And fur­ther at­tempts at sup­pres­sion will yield worse.

The South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter’s true aim is to limit pub­lic de­bate.

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