After decades of laying careful groundwork, the Federation for American Immigration Reform — a once-fringe organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a “hate group” — thinks it has won.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration appointed Julie Kirchner, formerly FAIR’s executive director, as ombudsman in the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services, further alarming immigrants rights advocates who have warily observed the group’s growing influence.
The Trump administration is embracing the kind of hard-line immigration policies FAIR has advocated since its founding in 1979, and six individuals, including Kirchner, who have advised the president on immigration, either now or during the campaign, also happen to have long-standing ties to FAIR.
“There’s a new crew in town,” FAIR president Dan Stein said in November.
Read more about FAIR’s plan to influence immigration policy and meet the key Trump advisers linked to the group:
Repeatedly hailed as a “true immigration reformer” on FAIR’s website, Sessions has long been an ally of the organization and advocated a hard-line immigration agenda when he was in the Senate. FAIR in 2007 presented Sessions with its “Franklin Society Award” for leading an aggressive challenge to a failed immigration reform bill, which, among other things, would have offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S.
Sessions was a keynote speaker at a 2007 FAIR advisory board meeting and regularly attends the group’s annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event, where prominent conservative talk-radio personalities discuss immigration issues. Sessions received at least $2,000 in campaign contributions from a PAC affiliated with FAIR’s founder between 2008 and 2014.
As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which encompasses all immigration courts in the U.S. and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He played a central role during Trump’s campaign and continues to be one of the president’s key advisers on a range of issues.
Conway’s polling firm, the Polling Company Inc., worked for FAIR and other Tanton groups beginning in the 1990s and, according to Mother Jones, helped the organization to “shape their messaging.”
“We employed her polling company for many, many years, and as a result of that, we felt confident that she brought to the Trump campaign a great deal of hands-on experience on the issue,” Stein said.
Conway served as Trump’s campaign manager and stayed on in his administration as a counselor to the president, a vague title but one that gives her a top security clearance.
Along with Steve Bannon, Miller is credited with driving the president’s populist, nativist agenda and has been described as an “architect” of Trump’s blocked executive order limiting immigration and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
In 2009, Miller joined Jeff Sessions’ staff and rose through the ranks to become the Alabama senator’s communications director in 2012. During that time, he reportedly cultivated a close relationship with Robert Law, the director of government relations at FAIR, who joined the group in 2013. “I would not be surprised if Miller played a large role in crafting Trump’s platform,” Law told Roll Call in February. “Every single component of it is basically what we have fought for, for a very long time.”
Kirchner worked as FAIR’s executive director for 10 years before leaving in 2015 to advise Trump on immigration issues during his campaign. She seldom speaks to the press, but she did write a post on Medium on behalf of the campaign to support Trump’s incendiary claim that Hillary Clinton willfully failed to enforce immigration laws as secretary of state.
Trump appointed Kirchner to a temporary senior staff position at Customs and Border Protection on Jan. 23. Then on May 2, Kirchner was named ombudsman to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, meaning she will be responsible for helping immigrants navigate the legal minefields of the immigration system.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, provides legal counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, FAIR’s litigation arm, and advised Trump on immigration policy during the transition period. Kobach took credit for drafting the bare bones of Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration and securing the border.
Kobach also said that he advised Trump to pursue an investigation into baseless allegations that “millions” of undocumented immigrants voted in the election, a conspiracy the president has wholeheartedly embraced. For years, FAIR has expressed concern about alleged voter fraud by undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Barletta, a Republican, serves the 11th district of Pennsylvania. He emerged as a prominent surrogate for the Trump campaign — at one point, he was reportedly considered for labor secretary — and was a member of Trump’s transition team.
Barletta has long been an outspoken immigration hard-liner; when he was Hazleton’s mayor, he led a crackdown on undocumented immigrants that included imposing penalties on landlords who rented to them and businesses that hired them. Those policies were drafted with the help of Kris Kobach and the Immigration Reform Law Institute.
Barletta is listed among FAIR’s national advisers, and between 2008 and 2016, a PAC affiliated with the group’s founder gave $8,500 to his campaigns.