Mark Krikorian's Response to a Big Question from NPR's Steve Inskeep

Some personal observations

By Jerry Kammer on January 13, 2019

In an interview Wednesday on NPR's "Morning Edition", host Steve Inskeep asked Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a pointed question: "Are you ever uncomfortable with some of the people who agree with you? Because a lot of racists end up in the same position you're in."

If was a fair question on a fraught issue in which CIS is a prominent voice. Inskeep is a tough but fair-minded interviewer who can be forgiven for not observing that Krikorian, unlike the racists who oppose immigration, has explicitly sought to position CIS as a "pro-immigrant, low-immigration" organization that seeks reforms not rigged to repeat the failure of the ill-fated Immigration Reform and Control Act, which Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1986. (Those are the sort of devilish details that can bury an interview in a landslide of complexity and nuance).

Inskeep's question presented Krikorian with a challenge that has confronted migration restrictionists for decades — to the delight of the left-right coalition that seeks loose borders and useless enforcement of immigration limits. Way back in 1980, Time magazine observed, "Ku Klux Klansmen have paraded around Florida lately, dispensing their old nativist bile and giving a bad name to an argument that has more thoughtful and respectable proponents." In 1995, liberal journalist Michael Lind was dismayed that "any suggestion that the arrival of almost a million legal immigrants a year has any effect on job opportunities and wages in the United States is said to be sinister, racist scapegoating."

Here is Krikorian's full response, as published on the NPR website:

Yeah. I mean, every side has people who are, you know, sort of objectionable. I mean, there are triumphalist, sort of anti-white triumphalists on the pro-immigration side. And then there are people who are pro-white racists on the low-immigration side. You just sort of have to deal with that and address the people of goodwill on both sides of this debate.

The response was both admirable and concise. This was the Mark Krikorian I have come to know and respect, even as I have sometimes disagreed with him. I especially appreciate his openness to vigorous internal debate and challenge from his staff. Unlike rigid ideologues on both sides of the debate, he encourages the sort of open, vigorous discussion that our country needs. He has ensured that CIS carries forth the vision of our founding chairman, Otis Graham. In his memoir, Immigration Reform and America's Unchosen Future, Graham wrote of his determination to work for reduced immigration "without disparaging immigrants or their cultures, reserving condemnation for our own incompetent and shortsighted public officials and ethnocentric lobbyists rather than the immigrants caught in the mighty currents of globalization."

Critics of CIS, especially the culture warriors of the no-borders left, have sought to hold us responsible for the defects of John Tanton, the Michigan environmentalist who worked with Graham to get CIS off the ground. In my work at CIS, I have taken a hard look at Tanton, who combined a genius for organization and a prescient understanding of the environmental consequences of population growth with a tin ear for the sensibilities of immigration. I concluded that while Tanton did more than anyone else to establish the modern movement to restrict immigration, he also did considerable damage to that movement.

I came to work at CIS because Mark Krikorian offered me the opportunity to do the sort of deep-dive reporting that I had loved to do as a reporter. Like many other immigration reporters, I had interviewed him many times because he was a significant voice in a national policy debate whose participants often produced more heat than light. While Krikorian could come across as a hard-liner for enforcement of immigration limits, he was no racist. He offered well-informed and articulate counterpoints to such immigration advocacy groups as the National Council of La Raza and the National Immigration Forum. And he certainly did not merit the hysterical attacks of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Heidi Beirich, who has made a business out of cheap-shots aimed at poisoning the debate and coaxing checks from liberals with good intentions and bad information.

I came to work as a CIS research fellow because I trusted the assurances of Krikorian and Steve Camarota, the director of research, that I would be able to work under the same standards of integrity and accuracy that I had learned as a reporter. But I told my wife that those standards meant I would have to resign if I came to believe that CIS was infected by racism or that I could not do the work I wanted to do.

In my decade at CIS I have never had to ponder resignation. Sometimes I have disagreed with Krikorian and Camarota, but I have never doubted their decency or character. I believe CIS is an important institution, that it plays a valuable part in a vital national debate in which the advocates for expansive immigration and loose borders are vastly better funded. That is why I was pleased, but not surprised, at how well Mark Krikorian responded to Steve Inskeep. It was a good way to mark my tenth anniversary at the Center for Immigration Studies.