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California's social services agency website included links to anti-immigrant group

This story comes to us thanks to a tip from a KPBS audience member. They discovered that the state of California shared links from an anti-immigrant hate group on its Department of Social Services website. KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis looked into it.

For at least five years, the state of California has been sharing an anti-immigrant group’s talking points on a website that is intended to be a clearinghouse of resources for refugees and other immigrants.

The Department of Social Services’ website featured links to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since at least 2017— one year after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled CIS an anti-immigrant hate group.

The links on the website are meant to "provide information on California’s refugee programs, populations served and organizations that collaborate with the California Department of Social Services — Refugee Programs Bureau (RPB) — to provide benefits and services,” according to the state website.

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CIS features white nationalist and antisemitic writers in its weekly newsletters and consistently publishes reports that “hype the criminality of immigrants,” said Caleb Kieffer, senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Kieffer added "they are one of the leading anti-immigrant think tanks in the country at the moment.”

One of the links took people to a CIS website that included articles on: “Why Immigration Detention is Necessary;” “Why Alternative Programs Don’t Eliminate the Need for Immigration Detention;” and “Sanctuary Cities.”

Another CIS link took visitors to a fact sheet on Haitian immigrants in the United States.

CIS was founded in 1985 by John Tanton, “a Michigan ophthalmologist turned population-control alarmist whose racist beliefs stirred him to create a network of organizations with a simple agenda: heavily restricting the immigration levels to the United States in order to maintain a white majority,” according to the law center website.

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More recently, CIS collaborated with Stephen Miller, an aide to former President Donald Trump, who pushed many of the administration’s anti-immigration policies.

Social Services removed the links from its website Monday, minutes after an inquiry from KPBS News.

“These links are old and were posted in error,” Scott Murray, deputy director of public affairs and outreach program, wrote in an email. Murray did not respond to multiple follow-up questions including when the links were first posted, and how they ended up on the state’s website.

Internet archive websites show CIS links on the Social Services website as far back as 2017. It’s unclear when they were originally posted.

CIS presents itself as an impartial think tank by publishing newsletters and fact sheets, Kieffer said, so he understands how Social Services could have mistakenly included it in a list of resources.

“Credit to them for taking them down immediately and recognizing the harmful nature of these links,” he said. “I recognize that this can happen because this is how they were set up to function.”

Still, Kieffer said it is “concerning” that they were shared in the first place.

“When we give groups like CIS a platform, we kind of further mainstream this anti-immigrant, nativist and xenophobic rhetoric,” he said.