Meet Deepak Bhargava: Well-Connected, Well-Funded Immigration Activist

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on June 19, 2012

On Monday, C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program included an interview with Deepak Bhargava, the executive director of the Center for Community Change, which helps to fund and coordinate immigrant-rights organizations around the country.

Bhargava, who was cited in a recent Washington Post article as one of the advocates who pressured President Obama to ease up on the deportation of illegal immigrants, expressed delight at the president's decision last week to suspend deportation of, and grant work permits to, the young "Dreamers" who came here illegally as children.

Bhargava is well connected with the Obama administration. One of his former CCC board members is Cecilia Munoz; once a top official of the National Council of La Raza, she is now in charge of domestic policy issues for the White House.

Before providing some information on CCC, I'd like to make one personal note: I support the move to allow the Dreamers to stay in the United States. Having lived here for many years, having grown up here, and having been educated here, they are now our children. Their success would be our success. Their failure would be our failure.

Now back to CCC.

According to the group's 2010 filing to the IRS as a public charity, CCC received $65.9 million in funding over the previous five years. It has distributed a significant amount of that money to grassroots organizations around the country, many of which advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. In recent years, CCC has also directed the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) "to establish communication and alliances across cultural, ethnic, racial, and social divides."

According to the Source Watch project at the liberal Center for Media and Democracy, CCC has had several dozen institutional funders, including such powerhouse foundations as the Atlantic Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Four Freedoms Fund, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Tides Foundation.

Backed by such big bucks, Bhargava, a former legislative director at ACORN and a current member of the national advisory board of the Open Society Institute, has done well for himself. According to CCC's 2010 IRS filing, his annual compensation package totaled $194,000.

Since 2005, CCC has received more than $3 million from Carnegie alone, including a $1 million grant in 2010 that — according to Carnegie — would "help immigrants advocate for their needs and participate effectively in civic life." Another $1 million grant from Carnegie this year hailed the organization's history of "forging partnerships between immigrant communities and African-American, faith-based, low-income white, unions, and other groups."

As we reported in our examination of Carnegie's immigrant-rights funding, one CCC campaign has sought to rally nationwide grassroots opposition to the E-Verify system. It claimed that E-Verify "would be a disaster for the economy and American workers", that it would "put the jobs of ALL Americans at risk."

As that statement demonstrates, CCC sometimes demonstrates a casual interest in fact. On "Washington Journal", Bhargava made several statements that were misleading or flat wrong. In his most flagrant flub of the facts, Bhargava told a caller that illegal immigrants "can't pay taxes because they are not legal."

As the well-connected, well-educated (former student activist at Harvard), and well-paid Bhargava certainly knows, illegal immigrants are obligated by law to pay taxes. While they can't obtain a legitimate Social Security card, they can obtain a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Indeed, many immigrant-rights advocates urge their clients to get right with the IRS in anticipation of a future amnesty program that would require them to demonstrate an effort to comply with the tax law.

Bhargava also staked out contradictory sides of the debate over federal policy that every year is handing out about a million green cards. He both hailed the policy's commitment to family unification and lamented that it does not provide more avenues for workers to get in line. As Bhargava well knows, many critics of current immigration policy think green cards should be awarded less on the basis of nepotism and more for ability to contribute to our society and economy.