“Fake News” and Elections: How did disinformation campaigns come to focus on immigration? Part One: USA 2016

With numerous new studies investigating the impact of false and misleading news on election campaigns, it seems taken for granted that a majority of the false or misleading information relates to immigration. In a new research series, Migration Voter asks why the topic of immigration became central for those wishing to sway campaigns and referendums, looking at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. 

Online manipulation and disinformation tactics”

The US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House released their yearly study investigating freedom on the internet this week, Freedom of the Net 2017. This edition evaluated 65 countries on a range of indicators, including state restriction of internet access and attacks on independent media, but one finding really stood out for us at Migration Voter:

“Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.” Freedom House

The study discusses numerous forms of “online manipulation and disinformation” in the lead up to elections: completely fabricated news stories about the parties or candidates, bots and fake accounts retweeting and amplifying campaign messages,  and accounts with no discernable side simply sowing chaos and confusion.

But in many of the countries, the disinformation or manipulation focused heavily on one topic: immigration.

Although Freedom House and others studying this phenomenon seem to take it for granted, the power of immigration-related propaganda to shape elections is not a forgone conclusion. It would be equally plausible to focus on individual-driven scandals, the economy, corruption, or even divisive social issues like abortion or gay marriage, as elections have done in the past. So why the sudden shift, and why such a massive shift?

In this series we’ll be evaluating the new information available from Freedom House and numerous other sources to explore the following question: when trying to influence elections, why did foreign and domestic sources believe that focusing on immigration was their strongest bet?

United States

Examining the exit polls from the 2016 presidential election, one could only conclude that immigration was one of the top issues in the United States. 64% of people who voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump identified immigration as their biggest concern, more than any other subject on either side of the political divide. (Terrorism was the second biggest issue concerning people who voted for Trump.) Asked what should happen to “working illegal immigrants,” 84% of people who voted for Trump called for them to be deported. And 86% agreed with the proposition of building a wall along the US border with Mexico. People who voted for Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, generally opposed both mass deportations and the construction of a wall, while identifying “foreign policy” as the most important issue.

For someone concern about and opposed to immigration, it would be reasonable to vote for Donald Trump, who centered immigration policy starting literally day one of his campaign, calling for restricting immigration from Mexico and linking Mexican immigrants with crime.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best …They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump

He went on throughout his campaign to continuously highlight immigration- both lawful and unlawful, promising if elected to ban Muslims from lawfully entering the US, “build the wall,” end funding for sanctuary cities, and deport immigrants with criminal records (see how he fared on these campaign promises during his first 100 days here).

So did Donald Trump successfully align himself with voters’ already existent wishes on immigration? In other words, did he tap into a growing anti-immigrant sentiment? Or did he successfully persuade voters to think about immigration first and foremost when heading to the polls?

From Economy to Immigration

Looking back four years at 2012, exit polls show that immigration did not make it into the top four issues in the Presidential Election- for either side. Instead, Republican voters prioritized the deficit as the overall most important issue, with the economy ( which is obviously very related) coming in second.  On a second question about the economy, people who voted for Mitt Romney identified taxes as the most important economic issue and prices as the second- both concerns that have the potential to be affected more by domestic policy-makers than by immigration.

Capture

Exit polls from 2012, via CNN

In the years between the 2012 and 2016 election, migration from Mexico continued to decrease, continuing a downward trend that had started in 2004. Immigration from China and India increased, but the overall percentage of the US population that hailed from abroad rose modestly from 13% in 2013 to 13.5% in 2015- only 3.5% more than in 1850, when data is first available. At the same time, the Obama administration deported record numbers of people who came to the US irregularly, well over 2 million people.

Also during this period, popular opinion shifted: according to Gallup, who periodically polls Americans on the “most important problem” facing the country, fewer and fewer people identified the economy as the most important issue facing the United States.

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Via Gallup.

To summarize, in the time between the 2012 and 2016 election, immigration did not dramatically increase,  Mexican immigration to the US decreased, and record numbers of people were deported. It would appear that, more than tapping into frustration based on surges of immigrants or other observable facts, Trump’s campaign was successfully able to persuade a large number of voters that immigration was at the center of their frustrations, not the economy.

But Trump’s campaign had lots of help.

Fake News and Bots

By now, numerous studies have demonstrated that large amounts of the content surrounding the election, both real and fake (“real”, as in, arising from real people and websites, and “fake” as in, arising from concealed organizations pretending to be citizens or interest groups) focused heavily on immigration.

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Image via Slate:

Following Trump’s election, both the US media and Congressional investigatory committees have been heavily focusing on uncovering Russia’s attempt to influence the US election in favor of Donald Trump. So far this influence appears to have played out heavily over social media. Testifying before the US Senate, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said Facebook learned that a set of “coordinated, inauthentic accounts” had spread 80,000 pieces of content using paid ads between January 2015 and August 2017, reaching an estimated 11.7 million people directly, and perhaps 126 million people indirectly through shares, a number that is over one-third of the US population. The content covered a range of issues, including, Stretch notes, immigration.

Immigration Russia Facebook Ad 2016 Election

A sample facebook ad paid for by a Kremlin-backed group, according to the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

But Kremlin-backed groups also published free, “un-boosted” posts, and these may have had an even wider reach. Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, made public his data demonstrating that the reach could have been much higher than estimated by Facebook, especially considering the views of images on Facebook-owned Instagram. The unpaid posts were often lengthy diatribes containing odd wording or mistakes (“Now wait to see how many more states will also ban the so-called ‘refugees’ – more appropriately to call them ILLEGALS.”)

But regardless of the exact numbers of people reach (or influenced) by Russian created content, the influence coming from inside of the United States also tended towards discussing immigration negatively.

The Breitbart Effect

Hyperpartisan media outlets and social media users continued to flourish online and affect the visibility of and attention paid to more balanced sources of news and informationFreedom House

A study cited by Freedom House argues that, more than Russian influence, one “hyper-partisan” media outlet had an outsized impact on the outcome of the election by dragging the conversation of the mainstream media towards both Trump and the topic of immigration: Breitbart News.

The study, conducted jointly by researchers from Harvard and MIT, examined over a million stories published between April 2015 and election day, showing that Breitbart and a related network of conservative media outlets set a tone for the election that successfully influenced coverage from the mainstream media of both presidential candidates Trump and Clinton. For Clinton, this translated to covering scandals such as her emails, and for Trump, this largely translated to covering one of Trump’s primary campaign themes: immigration. By partway through the campaign, the number one word polled voters associated with Hillary Clinton was “email” and for Donald Trump, “immigration.”

While mainstream media coverage was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set: immigration. Right-wing media, in turn, framed immigration in terms of terror, crime, and Islam, as a review of Breitbart and other right-wing media stories about immigration most widely shared on social media exhibits. Immigration is the key topic around which Trump and Breitbart found common cause; just as Trump made this a focal point for his campaign, Breitbart devoted disproportionate attention to the topic.  – Benkler et al in Columbia Journalism Review

The chart below demonstrates just how prominent the theme of immigration was for Breitbart, based on the articles sampled.

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Proportion of Media Coverage Focusing on Immigration by Source – via Benkler, et al, Columbia Journalism Review

Numerous of the articles published on Breitbart contained information about migration that was false, misleading or simply confusing, combined with alarmist, eye-grabbing headlines. For instance, from August 2015, “Unchecked Immigration Greater Threat to US Than ISIS” was an opinion piece that borders on incoherence:

“Americans need to understand that too many legal immigrants from one region, country, or ethnicity which is opposes our historical norms cripples our country’s ability to have a future that stays faithful to our past.”

Another example from August 2015, “Mainstream: Polls Show Americans With Donald Trump on Immigration,” misleadingly stated that a majority of Americans backed Trump’s restrictive immigration measures, using as evidence a poll conducted by Trump campaign advisor Kelly Anne Conway and a poll that surveyed only Republican voters as prime examples.

In another example, Breitbart published in June 2016 this scandalous piece by former congressman Tom Tancredo, “Obama invites 18.7 million immigrants to avoid oath of allegiance, pledge to defend America,” claiming that then-President Obama had unilaterally exempted naturalized citizens from pledging to bear arms, a claim very far from the truth and apparently meant to frighten readers about gun rights, immigrant loyalty, and the motives of the Democratic president.

Why lie?

The combination of Kremlin-backed accounts spreading frightening falsehoods and memes about immigrants with Breitbart’s misleading alarmist invective provided a backdrop that reinforced and spread Trump’s messaging about immigration, touting his proposals (many of which have been impractical to enact) as the only solutions for America’s most urgent issue (according to them). In short, there is ample evidence for the sort of manipulation and disinformation spread during the US election campaign cited by Freedom House and many others. But it still doesn’t tell us why so much of that misinformation was about immigration.

What does it mean that both Kremlin-backed sources and the Conservative/ Far Right media led by Breitbart focused so heavily on misleading immigration-related stories? Were they sincerely concerned with representing the voices of Americans opposed to immigration? Were they attempting to help the Republicans by moving the national conversation to an arena they felt Democrats were weak on?

Both motivations are difficult to accept from the Russian side. What incentive would the Kremlin have to either amplify the concerns of any sub-section of US citizens, or to attempt to highlight policy differences between the two parties? As for Breitbart, the website had focused on immigration prior to both the election and to Donald Trump’s primary win, before which it was still possible that Republicans would lead a traditional campaign focusing on security and the economy. Moreover, it would seem unnecessary to conflate facts, lie and mislead about immigration if Breitbart sincerely wanted to highlight a real political movement.

So what was the real motivation? It seems to us that Breitbart, Trump and the Kremlin all recognized the power of activating a divisive issue like immigration and fueling fear and uncertainty with false and misleading information. As a wedge against both centrist Republicans and Democrats, it could prove capable of making Trump stand out from opponents on both sides with a clearly defined problem and a simple, clear-cut solution. After the primaries, it could be used to move the conversation away from complex areas like foreign policy or the economy, and on to a topic Democrats would be reluctant to engage with but the media would be forced to report on. They knew that such a strategy could bring fringe groups with unusual, even radical views into the mainstream, where they could force real changes that most politicians would have previously been unwilling to touch.

They didn’t just hope, they knew. Because they had just watched the exact same tactic work in the UK.

 

NEXT in our series: The Brexit Referendum in the UK 


and Further Reading
Freedom of the Net 2017, Freedom House, Nov. 2017
Exit Polls of 2016 US Presidential Election, Published by The New York Times, collected by a consortium including ABC News, The Associated Press, CBSNews, CNN, Fox News and NBC News.
Exit Polls of the 2012 US Presidential Election, Published by CNN
Trump Calls Mexicans Rapists (video clip), Youtube
In Historic Shift, New Migration Flows from Mexico Fall Below Those from China and India, Migration Policy Institute, May 2015.
Frequently requested statistics on immigrants and immigration in the United States, Migration Policy Institute, Feb. 2015
Gallup News: Most Important Problem, Gallup, Accessed Nov. 2017
What we know about the Russians’ use of Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Slate, Oct. 2017
Testimony of Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel. US Senate Judiciary Committee on Crimes and Terrorism, October 2017.
Sample Kremlin-Backed ads, Democrat House Select Committee on Intelligence
Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda. Benkler et al, Columbia Journalism Review, October 2017.
Oath Creeper, Snopes.com,
Header Image via KellyBDC on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2hv3EB6, (CC by 2.0)

 

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AfD’s American Model

By Christina Lee

Results from yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Germany are in, and they could spell big changes for the future direction of migration policy in Germany. Although the dissolution of the Grand coalition between the CDU and SPD, as well as the re-entrance of neo-liberal FDP into the Bundestag will certainly have a major impact, the story of the evening for people interested in migration is the success of the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, who arrive in parliament for the very first time as the third strongest party with close to 13% of the vote.

This is a major achievement for the young party, which started in 2013 as a Euroskeptic, neo-liberal party and has shifted to making opposition to immigration, diversity, and people who are Muslim the focus of their campaign (our summary of their manifesto can be found here). While many are explaining the party’s success as a backlash to the status quo or as a sign that German society is moving to the right on the issue of migration, we at Migration Voter are equally convinced that the AfD has managed to harness some very powerful methods for gaining and keeping public attention, tricks that they learned by following the success of the right-wing political movement in the United States.

Trump-style Publicity

During the election campaign, the AfD stood out very markedly from their peers by their confrontative and combative style. On their webpage and in social media marketing blasted on facebook and twitter they urged Germans to “take their country back” and depicted the CDU’s Merkel in a burqa or measuring “ordinary” Germans against refugees (and weighing refugees more). They used vibrant, jokey ads mocking Islam and multiculturalism while highlighting women and children, and moved away from the more sober and alarming advertisements they used in the last election, exhorting voters against the Euro and warning of Germany’s imminent destruction.

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As the Spiegel revealed, their “meme”- based social media strategy was likely influenced by their engagement of the US-based PR firm Harris Media, a group that formerly worked on the election campaigns of US Republican Donald Trump and the British anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic party UKIP. As the company touts on its homepage, their founder has been called “the man who invented the Republican internet’ and has been involved in campaigns in favor of fracking and natural gas and opposed to Syrian refugees and solar energy.

The shift towards lighter, meme-worthy advertisements coincided with a press strategy that seemed aimed at garnering any attention, even negative. Like Trump during his campaign in 2016, the AfD barraged the media almost daily with controversial statements and events geared towards grabbing headlines. This would lead to interviews and greater coverage until the next controversial remark would appear and start the cycle again. For instance, AfD candidate for Berlin Beatrix von Storch invited the controversial ex-UKIP representative and right-wing media personality Nigel Farage to come speak at a private campaign event, where he led the crowd in cheering for Donald Trump and Brexit and harshly mocked the media, Merkel,  SPD candidate Martin Schulz and former US President Barack Obama.

Another example came a few days later when a conspiracy theory-laden email, apparently written by co-lead candidate Alice Weidel, leaked to the press. In it, she (allegedly) writes in 2013 that Germany has been “overrun by Arabs, Sinti and Roma” as a result of policy pursued by the government,  “pigs”.. who “are nothing other than marionettes of the victorious powers of the second world war, whose task it is to keep down the German people.” The full letter was published in Welt am Sonntag to objections from Weidel, who initially threatened to sue and later stopped claiming that the document was false (after it had been in headlines several days.)

Just as the firestorm around Weidel was dying down, her co-candidate Alexander Gauland’s taboo-shattering statements at a meeting with supporters broke out in the press, in which he stated (in an apparent dog-whistle to the extreme far-right) that Germans “have a right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars.” This resulted in another round of media condemnations, accompanied with headlines and interview requests for Gauland.

In all these cases (and these are only a few examples), the AfD was itself publicizing the “gaffes” as evidence that the mainstream media was attacking them and attempting to harm them before the election.

Tea-party Crowd Infiltration

The AfD doesn’t seem to just be taking inspiration from President Trump, however. The actions AfD used to protest pre-election rallies of Merkel were extremely reminiscent of the tactics used by Tea Party organizers to get attention for their movement opposing Obamacare.

As investigative journalist Jane Meyer writes in her book Dark Money, which covers the rise of anonymous forms of political financing, Tea party protestors were instructed in how best to disrupt town hall meetings about health care in 2009, creating the illusion of a mass outbreak of anger by ordinary citizens that had in fact been carefully arranged in advance by professionals.

“The anger appeared spontaneous. But the investigative reporter Lee Fand discovered that a volunteer with [Koch sponsored org] FreedomWorks was circulating a memo instructing Tea Partiers on how to disrupt the meetings. Bob MacGuffie, who ran a Web site called RightPrinciples.com, advised opponents to “pack the hall.. spread out” to make their numbers seem more significant, and to “rock the boat early in the Rep’s presentation… to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

Of course, there is nothing illegal about protesting in this way, but it is a distinctive style of protest that is particularly misleading to outsiders. That is why it is interesting that the AfD, with help from other groups, engaged in such a similar tactic in protesting Angela Merkel at her campaign appearances. Opponents of the Chancellor were told about events and given free rides to them on buses provided by the AfD, NPD and local right-wing groups (including some outlawed ones), reports Die Zeit, and were instructed on how best to gain attention: spread out, be loud, and actively seek out reporters. It worked. Numerous reports showed Merkel being booed and whistled at by angry crowds on the campaign trail.

“A maximum of ten percent of the attendees make noise, but they are so conspicuous that they subsequently determine the picture.”

Shadowy donors

It is common on the left and the right to lament the outsized influence of money on American politics, and there have been numerous articles and books written exploring the way that anonymous billionaire donors shape US elections. One way, which ProPublica explains in detail, is to donate anonymously to tax-exempt 501c3 organizations. Under US law, 501c3 organizations must report how they spend their money, but not necessarily where they receive it from. So long as the organization works for “public welfare”, the donations are also tax deductible, even if used for political lobbying and materials such as flyers, billboards and campaign ads. These non-profits are, in theory at least, not supposed to directly engage in politics. However, in recent elections, they have spent millions on advertisements supporting their candidates.

In Germany, the state partially finances election campaigns, which tend to be much cheaper and shorter than American election campaigns. Nevertheless, the AfD seems to have taken inspiration from American politics in a way that is quite unusual for Germany, by funding large portions of their campaign through anonymous donations funneled into a non-profit association.

As the non-profit watchdog group Lobby Control reports, AfD is the only party that has a registered association (e.V) providing millions in support from anonymous donors.

Since spring 2016, it has been taking part in election campaigns by an opaque association – with measures such as large-scale billboards and internet spots worth several million euros . Who is behind the association is unclear; traces lead to the Swiss PR agency Goal AG. The donors deliberately use the association as a legal gap to remain anonymous. This is an unprecedented dimension of non-transparent electoral campaign support in Germany.

The supporting organization engages in campaigning for the AfD via newspaper inserts, billboards (as seen on their website) as well as internet ads and video spots. These and the AfD’s own fundraising have been effective at ensuring a massive online presence for the AfD- an upcoming analysis from Oxford that Der Spiegel previewed will apparently demonstrate that fully 30% of tweets about the election were in favor of the AfD.

A Successful Strategy

In sum, it is difficult to dismiss out of hand that the AfD may have taken some inspiration from Donald Trump and other right-wing movements in the US. In messaging and in tactics, the AfD appears to have liberally borrowed ideas and even occasionally slogans (such as the “Make Germany Safe Again” hat Beatrix von Storch was sporting in a recent twitter selfie.) Undeniably, these tactics have been extremely successful, helping take the party from the fringes to the third largest party in parliament.

What remains to be seen is whether the combative tactics of the campaign will translate well to governing. Unlike in the US, a multi-party system like Germany makes coalition building a practical necessity, and the AfD will need to build more proactive policies into their platform if they want to be anything more than an angry opposition. But here as well there is a US model, for we can see that by bashing the media and creating now altercations with public figures and even other world leaders, President Trump has managed to maintain his base’s support. Whether the AfD achieves its aims is one thing, whether it is able to retain power now that it has gotten some, is another.


Sources and Further Reading
AfD Engages US Agency, (in German) Der Spiegel, Aug. 2017
Nigel Farage’s Full Speech in Berlin Youtube.com
These pigs are nothing more than puppets of the war victors” (in German) Welt am Sonntag, Sept. 2017 (email reproduced in article)
AfD Candidate Weidel is no longer talking about forgery, (in German) Welt am Sonntag, Sept. 2017
Gauland Speech in Kyffhäusertreffens des Flügels (in German), Youtube.com, Sept. 2017
Dark Money, Jane Meyer (New York: Anchor) 2017, page 238.
Alternative Mobs” (in German) (with video) Die Zeit, Sept. 2017
How Non-Profits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare, ProPublica, 2012
Exemption Requirements: 501c3 Organizations, The Internal Revenue Service
Germany: Campaign Finance. The Law Library of Congress.
Why Germany’s Politics are Much Saner, Nicer and Cheaper Than Ours, The Atlantic, 2013.
Party Check before the Election (in German), Lobby Control, Sept. 2017
Recht und Freiheit Verein
Oxford Study: Why the AfD Dominates the Twitter Campaign. Der Spiegel, Sept. 2017.
Header Image: via Beatrix von Storch on twitter

Could backlash over Charlottesville damage Trump’s immigration reform plans?

By Christina Lee

Last week US president Donald Trump endorsed a proposal for a new immigration policy, known as the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, co-sponsored by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton. The plan would dramatically alter the US immigration system by reducing family reunification in favor of a points system that would allocate visas to people based on qualifications such as language and skills. It would additionally abolish the diversity visa program, set a modest limit on accepted refugees, and remove residency and employment rights for parents of US citizens. The entire text of the bill can be read here.

Last week the White House seemed geared up for a fight over the topic, sending out combative adviser Stephen Miller to convince the press (video here). But events over the weekend completely stole the spotlight from even this incredibly controversial topic.

On Saturday, a rally of white supremacists erupted in chaos and violence in the collegiate town of Charlottesville, Virginia. A protest organized by a coalition of right wing groups under the banner ‘Unite the Right‘ met to demonstrate the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and ended in tragedy when a participant mowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing one.

There has been massive national and international outcry against the incident as well as Trump’s initial response, which many claimed did not explicitly disavow white supremacist groups as he condemned violence “on many sides”. He made an additional statement on Monday which then did so, calling white supremacist groups “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans”. Nevertheless, the incident and Trump’s response has prompted a massive surge of interest in white supremacist/ white nativist groups- some of whom have ties to members of the Trump administration. With concern and interest about such groups at an all-time high, will the main architects of Trump’s immigration policy be discredited by these ties? Let’s take a closer look.

Trump Adviser Stephen Miller tied to Unite the Right Speaker Richard Spencer

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Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2fRfWWN

Perhaps the most direct line between Saturday’s rally and the White House goes through Stephen Miller, presidential adviser and speechwriter, one of the chief architects and proponents of the Muslim Ban, and the individual tasked last week with introducing and defending Trump’s immigration reform package to the media.

One of the headliners of the Unite the Right rally was open white supremacist Richard Spencer, founder of National Policy Institute, a white nationalist/ Identitarian think tank based in Virginia. Spencer formerly attended Duke University with Stephen Miller and worked together with him in the Duke Conservative Union to host far-right anti-immigrant activist Peter Brimelow (founder of the nativist website VDARE, where Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is a frequent commentator) on campus for a debate on immigration, according to two former members of the Union.

In an interview with Mother Jones, Spencer confirmed the two knew each other and shared views on multiculturalism and immigration.

“It’s funny no one’s picked up on the Stephen Miller connection,” Spencer says. “I knew him very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one’s talked about this because I don’t want to harm Trump.”

Miller denied the connection to Mother Jones, but did not answer questions about his activities at Duke.

Trump Adviser Kris Kobach Has Ties to White Nationalist Groups and European Anti-Immigrant Extremists

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Image via Andrew Rosenthal on Flickr, (CC by NC-2.0) http://bit.ly/2wgwEWA

Kris Kobach is the current Kansas Secretary of State, a White House adviser, and President Trump’s appointee to a newly established Commission on Election Integrity. He is also a long-standing advocate of radical immigration reform who was advising on immigration policy from the earliest days of the Trump administration.

As the above tweeted photo shows, and Kobach later confirmed as noted by the Kansas City Star, in 2015 he was among speakers at an event of The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist publishing house that hosts conferences and publishes a quarterly journal highlighting anti-immigrant and anti-“globalist” thought. Previous speakers at TSCP events include Peter Brimelow of VDARE (who was person Spencer and Miller invited to speak at Duke, as noted above), and Jared Taylor, the editor of white supremacist website American Renaissance, author of the book White Identity and one of Spencer’s cited major influencers.

Kobach has also branched out beyond the US to forge connections to extremists from Europe.  In March, Kobach hosted Austrian anti-Muslim activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Kansas, a meeting Sabaditsch-Wolff documented meticulously for anti-Muslim website Gates of Vienna. She expressed numerous outlandish opinions to Kobach, including her suspicion that George Soros is funding the travel of people seeking asylum through Europe with 500 euros bills, that “Sweden is the European country that is closest to collapse”, and that women in Europe no longer feel safe in public.

Trump Assistant Sebastian Gorka tied to Hungarian Nazi Group

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Image via 7th Army Training Command on Flickr, (CC by 2.0) http://bit.ly/2uXhGk6

Dr. Sebastian Gorka works in an advisory role at the White House and is often seen making the rounds on morning press shows and talk radio to argue forcefully for Trump’s policies. Gorka was born in the UK to parents who fled as political refugees from Hungary following 1956 Rebellion. He has nevertheless been a forceful advocate against allowing refugees like his parents to come to the US, telling Sean Hannity, “We help people when we can help them,” he said. “But that is not a contract for national suicide.” As a spokeman, he has also represented the White House on immigration issues to defend the Muslim Ban and now the RAISE Act, which would also reduce numbers of people allowed to come to the US as refugees.

However, as an active member of Hungarian politics, Gorka was evidently tied to several extreme-right and anti-Semitic groups, including far-right Jobbik. But, as the Forward revealed, he is also allegedly a formal member of a nationalist group that helped deport thousands of Jews from Hungary during World War II and is banned from immigration to the US because of its Nazi ties, the Vitézi Rend.  A high-ranking member of the organization confirmed his sworn membership to The Forward.

“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

The government of Viktor Orbán has made Hungary a welcoming place for individuals with extremist anti-immigrant and anti-Semitics views like Jobbik, but also for American white nationalists. Richard Spencer and another scheduled speaker at the Unite the Right Tally, Daniel Friberg, met up in Budapest in 2014 for a NPI conference (where Spencer ironically ran into problems with the Hungarian police for potential immigration violations, according to Hungarian news site Index.)

****

The sight of swastikas at the Unite the Right rally, as well as chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us” provokes unnerving historical precedent with nazi movements like the one  Gorka allegedly belongs to. The white nationalists and neo-nazis at Saturday’s events no doubt represent a small group of fringe Americans- but that makes the numerous ties to Trump’s administration, and especially the architects and defenders of his immigration policy, even more difficult to overlook.

 


Sources and Further Reading
The RAISE Act, US Congress, August 2017
Stephen Miller addresses the press about the RAISE Act, Youtube (video), Aug. 2017
Trump condemns Charlottesville violence but doesn’t single out white nationalists, Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2017 (with video)
Trump denounces KKK, neo-Nazis as ‘repugnant’ as he seeks to quell criticism of his response to Charlottesville, Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2017 (with video)
Stephen Miller Defends President Trump’s Travel Ban, Fox News, Jan. 2017 (video)
Immigration ban architect Stephen Miller foreshadowed his policy on journey from Duke to the West Wing, Duke Chronicle, Jan. 2017.
Meet the White Nationalist Trying To Ride The Trump Train to Lasting Power, Mother Jones, Oct. 2016
Kris Kobach rejects criticism for speaking at a ‘white nationalist’ conference, Kansas City Star, Nov. 2015
World gets glimpse of deportation plan Kris Kobach took to meeting with Trump, LA Times, Nov. 2016
Kobach Email Confirms Aim of Voter Fraud Commission is to Gut Vital Voting Rights Law, Slate, July 2017
Introducing Kansas to the Great European Migration Crises, Gates of Vienna, March 2017
Sebastian Gorka (biography), Institute of World Politics
Dr. Sebastian Gorka: ‘U.S. Is a Judeo-Christian Nation But That’s not a Contract for National Suicide!’ Breitbart, Nov. 2016 (with video)
EXCLUSIVE: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary, The Forward, Feb. 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member, The Forward, March 2017.
Ineligibility based on Human Rights Violation, State Department
The alien police took custody of the Organizer of the Race Protection Conference, Index.hu, April 2014.
Header Image via Anthony Crider on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2xaBhOu (CC by 2.0)

100 days in, has Trump kept his promises on migration?

By Christina Lee & Christian Jorgensen

Way back in November 2016, US President Donald Trump released a clear and enumerated list of goals to be achieved during his first 100 days in office. A number of these pertained to migration and asylum, putting down onto paper concrete promises that backed up the immigration-heavy rhetoric of his campaign.

Now officially 100 days in to Trump’s presidency, it’s clear that this list was more than mere campaign promises: quite a few of them have been attempted by the Trump administration, in exactly the wording promised. (You can read the entire list here.) Below, we break down the progress the Trump administration has made toward keeping his promises on migration and refugee policy.


√× Cancel all funding to sanctuary cities

“Sanctuary cities” is a broad term used by both pro and anti-immigrant movements to describe cities who do not prioritize local enforcement of federal immigration laws. While what this actually entails can vary widely, there are a number of cities that identify as “sanctuary cities,” and unrelated and separate to this fact, many big cities receive millions of dollars in grants and funds from the federal government. President Trump campaigned on a promise to withhold federal funds from these “sanctuary cities” if his administration does not feel they fall in line with federal immigration policies.  Given that “sanctuary city” is not an official designation but rather a vague declaration of intent that means different things to different cities, it was bound to be difficult to use this as a basis for withholding federal funding – but the President did try.

In January, Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States“, which calls on the government to “Ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.”  The executive order contains other provisions, but this clearly matches his promise.

The executive order was followed up in April by a letter sent by the Justice Department to nine so-called sanctuary cities, in which the cities were told that they must demonstrate their compliance with federal immigration law or lose certain federal grants.

Two of letter recipients- San Francisco and Santa Clara- immediately took legal action to challenge the and prevent the law’s enforcement, seeking a declaratory judgement that the order violates the Tenth amendment of the Constitution, which retains all powers not delegated to the federal government by the constitution to the individual states. The argument here is essentially that the federal government has the prerogative to enforce federal immigration laws, but it may not force state governments to use their resources to do so. They also challenge the order for being vague and groundless (as we mentioned, lacking a standard) and for violating due process by removing funds without an opportunity to challenge. Strangely, the Trump administration’s argument seems to be that the order is actually toothless, given that it can only apply to a very small number of millions of dollars worth of federal grants.

Even so, the court agreed with the cities. In the order granting an injunction against enforcement of the order, the ninth district wrote:

The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds. Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that the total financial incentive not be coercive. Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves.

These issues with the Executive Order are not limited to San Francisco and are likely to cause some major problems for Trump’s sanctuary city order generally. So the verdict on this promise must be: Tried and blocked.


“Begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.”

This goal has only been partially achieved, but then, he did only say “begin.” Within Trump’s first 100 days ICE data shared with national news agencies has shown that 54,564 individuals have been deported as part of the “Operation Cross Check” roundup. However, it should be noted that only 30,664 are individuals with a criminal record.  This number obviously does not include the many individuals currently going through deportation proceedings so it could be that the number is nearing 2 million.

So although ICE is apparently targeting non-criminal persons with irregular status for deportation and not only people with criminal records, this promise can be marked as: in progress.


×√“Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.”

This promise appears to predict the so-called “Muslim Ban,” which was passed but has been blocked by a federal appeals court in Hawaii. As we pointed out back in January, this was always going to be a very difficult promise to keep, given the multiple complications involved in enshrining religious discrimination into immigration law. The Trump administration ended up opting for a ban based on countries (which we predicted was more likely) and faced the problem we thought he might: by only banning a handful of majority-Muslim countries, his ban appeared arbitrary and not serving a compelling national security interest. If he had selected the top countries who had produced terrorism he would have included some non-Muslim majority countries (like Belgium) or important US allies like Saudi Arabia. By avoiding both these pitfalls, he reinforced the conclusion that the ban was necessary for political and discriminatory reasons, rather than for security the of American citizens. Thus it failed to pass muster and was blocked by several judges, with a renewed and reworded version being blocked indefinitely by the federal district court of Hawaii.

So the Muslim ban is another promise that was: tried and blocked.


×√ End Illegal Immigration Act Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall; establishes a 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or two or more prior deportations; also reforms visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying and to ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.

This act, as worded, has not been passed, but several of the provisions within have been discussed. As we wrote about in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has introduced new procedures and guidance to make re-entry more difficult and to make enforcement of immigration rules stricter across the country. The main provision discussed being the wall along the U.S.’ southern border with Mexico that Trump touted as a top priority during the 2016 campaign. According to top Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

The main provision discussed above is, of course, the wall along the U.S.’ southern border with Mexico, which Trump touted as a top priority during the 2016 campaign. In January, Trump signed an executive order (“Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements“) calling for the “immediate construction” of a wall along the border with Mexico.

According to top Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) the wall will cost up to $15 billion dollars, however, Congress has currently not agreed on any budgetary amount that they are willing to spend, and Mexico is apparently unwilling to fulfill Trump’s promise that they would pay for it. In a televised address to the nation in January, Mexican President Nieto denied that Mexico would fund the proposed wall, saying “I’ve said time and again; Mexico won’t pay for any wall.”

In April President Trump, in order to keep his promise of reforming visa rules, signed an executive order, called the “Buy American, Hire American” law, that works to reform the HB1 visa program. An HB1 is a visa program that allows companies to hire workers from other countries with certain specialties usually focused in the areas of science and technology. Although the executive order has not currently changed the HB1 visa, what it has done is called for various federal agencies to start creating reforms to the HB1 process. President Trump believes this will lead to firms being forced to “Hire American” though of course it is yet to be seen if this will be the case.

So for this promise, Trump’s progress must be judged as: partially in progress, partially not attempted.


X Restoring National Security Act. Rebuilds our military ….. establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values.

This was from the outset a vague promise that didn’t have much hope of being passed. After all, it would require America to have a defined set of values outside of the Constitution, the main thrust of which is to allow for different values. We have not yet heard any news of new guidelines to customs and border control to quiz people on values and support of American people, so this must be considered: not attempted.


Conclusions: Despite attempts, Trump is far from his immigration goals, and getting further

A majority of people who voted for Trump (64%) identified immigration as the most important issue in the 2016 election and were likely gratified to see Trump making immigration reform a centerpiece of his campaign. As his success rate here shows, however, Trump may have overpromised on what he could achieve in a number of areas. It’s unclear whether Trump regarded these promises as achievable, but the presence in his cabinet of hardline anti-immigrant activists suggests that advisors may have pushed him to embrace unrealistic goals that were on their wishlist for years, but had little chance of success.

When it comes to immigration, the question for people supporting the President has to be: is it enough to try and fail or are the results what really matter?

Sources and Further Reading
Donald Trump’s Promises for the First 100 Days, NPR, November 2016.
Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, White House, Jan. 2017
Sanctuary Jurisdiction Cases, USDC for Northern District of California (PDFs of order available to download.)
Justice Department Warns Sanctuary Cities, NPR, April 2017.
ICE data shows half of immigrant arrested in raids had traffic convictions or no record, Washington Post, April 2017.
Will Trump go forward with a “Muslim Ban” and if so, how? Migration Voter, Jan. 2017.
Hawaii Court Order blocking Muslim Ban, Vox (PDF) Mar. 2017
Is the ‘Trump Era’ of Immigration Enforcement starting to take shape? Migration Voter, April 2017
Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements, White House, Jan. 2017
McConnell: Here’s how much the border wall will probably cost, Business Insider (video), Jan. 2017.
Mexico: We will not pay for the border wall. BBC (video), Jan. 2017.
Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, White House, April 2017.
Here’s an H1-B Visa, and Here Is How Trump Wants to Change It, Fortune, April 2017.
Border Wall Cost
Background on ICE statistics (More)
2016 US Presidential Election Exit Polls via the New York Times.
COVER IMAGE via Gage Skidmore ON FLICKR, http://bit.ly/2pmmXl5 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Is the “Trump era” of immigration policy starting to take shape?

Someone who voted for US President Donald Trump on the basis of his promises to get tough on immigrants and refugees could be forgiven for being a bit disappointed some 80 days into his administration. Mexico does not seem any closer to paying for a wall, the “Muslim ban” failed to pass legal muster (as MigrationVoter predicted), and Trump seems to have abandoned, at least for the moment, promises to crack down on funding for sanctuary cities and overturn DACA. (This last one is a real tough one to swallow for anti-immigration advocates. As Mark Krikorian of Center for Immigration Studies writes on his blog, he expected to be disappointed, but not “for Trump to break an explicit promise regarding his headline issue on the administration’s first business day in office.”)

Past disappointments aside, yesterday gave some signs to advocates against immigration that Trump has not abandoned all of his anti-immigrant promises.

First, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, himself a well-known advocate of restrictive immigration policies during his senate years, delivered a speech to border enforcement in Arizona intended to outline coming changes to the immigration and border enforcement system.

For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws and the catch and release practices of old are over.

Sessions announced two types of changes: 1) new recommendations to federal prosecutors mandating prioritization of certain types of crimes, 2) reforms to immigration courts.

New Recommendations to Federal Prosecutors

The new recommendations will require federal prosecutors to consider filing additional criminal charges against undocumented immigrants they capture, including: transportation or harboring of immigrants, fraud and aggravated identity theft (if they uncover forged identity documents) assault on a federal officer, and felony re-entry.

⇒ So what does this really mean? Sessions is essentially instructing federal prosecutors to stack charges against undocumented immigrants as high as possible. If any felony charges stick, that person will be labeled a criminal illegal alien, which as we know, is the group this administration has promised to target for deportation. By pushing for more felony convictions, they widen the number of people who can be considered “criminal aliens” and can make it more difficult or impossible for these people to ever return to the US.

Since these are recommendations, it is obviously at the discretion of prosecutors to push for multiple counts against undocumented migrants in their jurisdiction (and each count takes time and evidence to back up and litigate.) So to ensure that no prosecutors are tempted to ignore these guidelines out of disinterest or convenience, the DOJ has thrown in an additional component: all 94 district attorney’s offices (not just those from border areas) must now appoint a Border Security Coordinator – to headline the efforts against undocumented immigrants. If this is someone’s entire job, they are certainly more likely to prioritize the DOJ’s recommendations and try to convict undocumented immigrants of as any crimes as possible.

Changes to Immigration Court

Sessions announced a new streamlined procedure to appoint more federal judges to immigration benches, with the goal of hiring 50 this year and 75 next year to help reduce the backlog of immigration cases. In addition, all immigrants apprehended at the border will now automatically be sent to detention centers, where judges will directly come to them to decide their fates. For this, he promises to hire 25 new judges. (Note: This backs up an earlier memorandum from Department of Homeland Security calling for detention for all apprehended immigrants and more judges and officers, but it still isn’t clear whether this changes Trump’s federal hiring freeze for other kinds of supporting employees judges may need.)

⇒ So what does this really mean? People on both sides of the immigration debate agree that there is a need for a higher number of qualified immigration judges to ensure that people in immigration detention and awaiting decisions on asylum claims can have their claims adjudicated more efficiently. A “streamlined” procedure for hiring raises eyebrows, in that some may question whether it will be possible to get the best-qualified candidates to judge incredibly complex immigration cases in an abbreviated procedure. Given that under the existing system judges have faced criticism in the past, who knows whether or not this will be a downgrade. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

The potentially more interesting aspect is the 25 new detention center judges. Unlike criminal charges, immigration offenses do not typically entitle the accused to a lawyer. Having adjudication take place directly at the detention center decreases the likelihood of an individual being aware of their rights, such as the possibility of seeking asylum or applying for temporary protection or a special visa (like Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.)

It also raises concerns about the circumstances of detention. Automatic detention for everyone would presumably include children, and there is some question to the legality of this under international law (see, for instance, here and here.)

Newcomers to DHS from the Anti-Immigrant Community

Aside from Sessions’ very clear statements yesterday in Arizona, we received another hint this week at the Trump administration’s intentions to get tough on immigration. The Department of Homeland Security hired two high-profile advisors linked to the group FAIR and think tank Center for Immigration Studies. Both organizations were founded by the far-right anti-immigration activist John Tanton, and support policies like an end to birthright citizenship and heavily reduced legal immigration, as well as much stricter enforcement of existing laws.

According to the DHS spokesman, as reported by CNN Jon Feere, formerly of CIS, has been hired as an advisor to the director of ICE. Over at Customs and Border Protection, Julie Kirchner, the former executive director of FAIR, has been hired as an advisor to the commissioner. We’ll take a deeper look at the implications of these choices later in the week, but for now its worth noting that Trump’s once stalled plans on immigration seem to be moving along once more, and their direction is quite clear.

Sources and Further Reading
Injunction against Travel Ban- Granted (Hawaii et al v. Trump) US District Court of Hawaii, March 2017
Foreign Minister said Mexico not paying for wall- Mark Rubio on ABC NEWS, April 2017
Sanctuary City list on hold – Washington Times, April 2017
Declined Detainer Outcome Report- Suspended, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Will Trump go forward with a Muslim Ban, and if so, how?” MV, Jan 2017
Is Trump going to cancel DACA or not? Mark Krikorian, CIS, Jan 2017
Sessions on immigration– OntheIssues.org
Full remarks of Attorney General Sessions, US Dept. of Justice, April 2017
DHS Memo on Implementing Border and Enforcement Policies, DHS, Feb. 2017
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Hiring Freeze, White House, Jan. 2017
Hard-line anti-illegal immigration advocates hired at 2 federal agencies, CNN, April 2017
(Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2oXE0e8, (CC by SA 2.0)