Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) is hammering the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for his plans to speak Tuesday at an event hosted by a hardline immigration group that many Democrats regard as bigoted.

Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the scheduled appearance by Thomas Homan, ICE’s acting director, lends a dangerous legitimacy to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an anti-immigration think-tank that’s anchoring the event at the National Press Club[1] in Washington, D.C. 

In a letter sent to Homan on Monday, Crowley characterized CIS as “a hate group” and asked him to cancel his plans to headline the gathering.

“It is highly inappropriate for a senior official of a federal agency to engage with a group that spreads such abhorrent viewpoints, including white supremacism and anti-Semitism,” Crowley wrote, “and I urge you to immediately retract your plans to speak.”

The entreaty was quickly rebuffed by a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who emphasized that the event — a forum designed to address public safety concerns — is a public event set to be staged at a reputed venue and live-streamed on C-SPAN.

“This [is] a valuable opportunity for productive civil discourse and a healthy debate on a topic of incredible interest,” Katie Waldman said Monday night in an email. 

“DHS is committed [to] sharing with the public facts about immigration and border security. We expect it will be informative for the public — even members of Congress.” 

Crowley’s charges against CIS lean heavily on the analyses of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a liberal activist group that tracks extremist activities around the country. 

In 2016, the organization put CIS on its annual list of “hate groups,” where it’s remained since. SPLC cited CIS’s[2] “repeated circulation of white nationalist and antisemitic writers in its weekly newsletter” and its publication of writings by Jason Richwine, a former analyst at the Heritage Foundation who resigned in 2013 following a public airing of his college dissertation, which asserted that immigrants have lower IQs than “the white native population.” 

CIS, which advocates both for lower levels of legal immigration and tougher enforcement against those in the country illegally, has rejected all charges of bigotry. Writing in The Washington Post[3] last year, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian said SPLC’s hate-group listing was merely “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.”

“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,” he wrote.

Krikorian acknowledged that, on occasion, the CIS newsletter has referenced authors “who turned out to be cranks.”

The debate over immigration — and CIS’s role in it — has exploded under President TrumpDonald John Trump...

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