This week, House Judiciary Republicans are hosting another hearing on immigration, and as always, their star witnesses are far-right extremists instead of specialized experts. First and foremost, they’ve selected an unreliable policy director for an anti-immigrant hate group founded by a white nationalist. Another witness, a partisan whistleblower who worked with the fraudulent Project Veritas, lodged allegations closely resembling QAnon conspiracy theories. A third witness founded a pair of right-wing organizations encouraging rural Texas counties to declare an “invasion” of immigrants. Once again, the MAGA House has come to focus on far-right conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant grievances instead of actually addressing the issues at hand.
Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)
Jessica Vaughn Works for A Well-Known Hate Group: The Center for Immigration Studies. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) a hate group: “Since 1985, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has served as the anti-immigrant movement’s go-to think tank. The organization publishes dozens of reports and hundreds of blog pieces each year that are cited by elected officials and the media. But its reports have been widely criticized and debunked by groups such as the Immigration Policy Center, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the CATO Institute.”
- CIS Is An Anti-Immigrant Hate Group. CIS is known for spreading anti-immigrant sentiment through reports seeking to legitimize fringe, far-right theories such as “terror babies” and narratives of immigrant criminality to push for hardline immigration restrictions like reducing quotes, shuttering the border, and even ending birthright citizenship.
- CIS Is Fueled By White Nationalism and Promotes Racist Rhetoric. CIS has long been known for hiring white nationalists and antisemites. Executive Director Mark Krikorian is a regular attendee and speaker at a notorious white nationalist workshop—which Vaughn herself spoke at in 2012—and the group even commissioned a policy analyst known for embracing racist pseudoscience. In 2017, the SPLC documented over 2,000 mentions of white nationalist content in CIS studies.
- The House GOP Has Called On CIS Staffers To Testify Over One Hundred Times. As SPLC points out, “CIS currently has the monopoly when it comes to testifying before Congress. In total, CIS staffers have testified over 100 times, and 11 times since the beginning of 2016. FAIR has not testified before Congress since 2012, according to its website.”
Jessica Vaughn’s Top Studies Are Plagued with Factual Inaccuracies and Omissions. Vaughn has often come under fire from immigration experts and even other right-leaning think tanks for factual inaccuracies, faulty statistics, and glaring omissions to push her preconceived anti-immigrant conclusions. In February 2017, for example, she claimed that a group of asylum-seeking immigrants were convicted terrorists, though less than a third of those named faced terrorism charges. These errors and omissions don’t just demonstrate her lack of credibility as a researcher—they show that she is happy to manipulate facts and statistics to suit her narrative.
Jessica Vaughn Held Close Ties with the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security. CIS has long had a strong relationship with the Department of Homeland Security—particularly during the Trump administration, which was responsible for neglecting detained children, holding them for days or even weeks on end. One one occasion, Vaughn published an analysis based on non-public DHS statistics, “which have not been released to the public, but were obtained by the Center,” strongly suggesting that she personally received early access to data and information from the agency.
Tara Lee Rodas
Health and Human Services Whistleblower, Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity & Efficiency
Tara Lee Rodas Worked With the Fraudulent Far-Right ‘Project Veritas’, Reporting Outlandish Allegations Of Government-Sanctioned Human Trafficking. In November 2022, Tara Lee Rodas, a whistleblower working within a federal government agency called the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity & Efficiency, came to Project Veritas with allegations that the Department of Health and Human Services “knowingly” sent unaccompanied migrant kids “in the hands of criminals,” claiming she was kicked off a site in retaliation for raising concerns. Project Veritas is infamous for peddling disinformation and conspiracy theories, and has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements in lawsuits over defamation and fraudulent misrepresentation. In fact, the Washington Post won a Pulitzer for uncovering an attempt by Project Veritas to mislead the paper into publishing false information. The fact that Rodas went to a firm known for misrepresentation and spreading false information strongly suggests that this investigation has no credibility.
Tara Lee Rodas’ Claims Bear A Strong Similarity To False QAnon Conspiracy Theories. Years before Rodas launched her whistleblower complaint, the far-flung QAnon conspiracy theory began on fringe internet message boards alleging that Democratic officials were behind a satanic child sex trafficking ring. This outlandish conspiracy has never had a shred of merit but banded-together a coalition of far-right extremists who uplift former president Trump as a savior-like figure and continue to push wild accusations against top government officials. In Summer 2020, QAnon supporters began disseminating false information on social media about child trafficking rings allegedly set up underneath Central Park—hijacking a real movement against horrifying injustices for their own fabricated narrative. By early 2022, the conspiracy shifted from Manhattan to the southern border, an “unfounded conspiracy theory that migrant children are being funneled into pedophilia rings” through government shelters that locate and screen sponsors to take in unaccompanied migrant children. Rodas’ allegations almost perfectly fit the QAnon narrative, alleging that these government-run shelters had “knowingly” been “paying to put children in the hands of criminals.”
- QAnon Conspiracists Started Setting Up Border Camps To Apprehend and “Screen” Migrant Kids Months Before Rodas’ Allegations Went Public. In May 2022, QAnon supporters set up dozens of camps, backed by far-right vigilante militias, to apprehend and “screen” unaccompanied migrant kids in what the Southern Poverty Law Center described as a “hotbed for far-right vigilante activity attracting extremists from across the country to engage in migrant detainments.” QAnon groups even forced a local butterfly sanctuary to close after mounting threats and allegations of trafficking.
- Actual Human Trafficking Organizations: QAnon Propagated Human Trafficking Conspiracies “Causing More Harm Than Good.” “In the past few months, an internet-driven theory known as QAnon has propagated a story – in truth, a conspiracy – about human trafficking. The narrative being promoted includes many debunked stories, like the recent allegation of Wayfair selling furniture with children hidden inside. These conspiracies ultimately claim a group of political elites, deep state government officials and Hollywood actors are conspiring against the President while running a highly-organized global child sex trafficking ring. […] Their focus instead on a ‘shadowy global cabal’ renders real traffickers and survivors invisible. We’re looking in the wrong place.” [Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, 9/4/20]
Far-Right Media Praised Tara Lee Rodas’ Claims As Proof Of Sex Trafficking Conspiracies. Rodas’ so-called findings were met with praise on far-right media. Widely seen as a heroic investigator, she was cited as expert testimony by the likes of Breitbart and InfoWars alongside Fox News and the Epoch Times. Fringe figures praised her findings, claiming that she exposed a “maze of child sex slavery,” “taxpayer-funded human trafficking,” and even government-sponsored “child slave labor.” She even convinced several GOP Senators to demand investigations into her allegations.
Founder and President, Alliance for a Safe Texas, President of Secure the Border
Sheena Rodriguez Encourages Texas Counties to Declare A Border “Invasion,” An Inflammatory and Racist Claim. Rodriguez is the founder and president of Alliance For A Safe Texas, a right-wing organization that pushes Texas counties to “declare an invasion” at the southern border. In August 2021 alone, she successfully convinced Hardin and Medina counties to pass such resolutions. Rodriguez has further urged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott to declare an “invasion” along the southern border, declaring: “We are in the midst of an active invasion the Biden administration is inviting.” This rhetoric is inflammatory and racialized, suggesting that Americans are under attack, at risk of physical harm, or at risk of displacement due to increased immigration flows, primarily from Latin America. “Invasion” rhetoric plays into the far-right “Great Replacement” theory, and contrary to this narrative, many immigration experts say that nearly all migrants are unarmed, with most fleeing poverty and violence in hopes of asylum.
- Counties Declaring An “Invasion” Can Secure Millions In Disaster Funding From Texas’ “Operation Lone Star.” Rodriguez’s organization has suggested that locals should take over border security: “The state of Texas cannot depend on the federal government to uphold its duty to protect Texans. Texas has the constitutional and moral obligation to defend its citizens when the federal government won’t. The authority is there.” Countries that have declared a border invasion have received millions of dollars in funding from Texas lawmakers. Kinney County received nearly $3.2 million to the county for law enforcement and the prosecution of migrants, and county officials have profited handsomely from targeting, detaining, and prosecuting migrants, pocketing around $3 million in bond money from migrant defendants.
Sheena Rodriguez Supports Legislation Allowing Rural Texas Towns To Regulate Federal Child Detention Facilities. Rodriguez has advocated for SB 572, a bill that would allow Texas municipalities with fewer than 10,000 residents to regulate residential child detention facilities contracted through federal agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or HHS. SB 572 would allow small towns to take unspecified “other measures necessary” to protect detainees without any limitations or higher oversight stipulated.