(1:42 p.m. — Updated with comments from Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian)
Sheriff Daron Hall was scheduled this week to make an appearance in Washington, D.C., on a panel discussion hosted by a think tank with alleged hate group ties and founded by a prominent backer of the English Only provision, but he has cancelled the trip after local immigration activists brought the group's history to his attention.
Hall was set to appear Thursday at an event hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a non-partisan group with a long history of association with the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigration organization that has been placed on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups.
CIS recently completed a study on 287(g) and invited Hall to participate in a forum held at the National Press Club entitled “Immigration and Crime: New Studies Examine Crime among Immigrants, Local Enforcement Efforts.”
But last Friday local immigration activists voiced their concerns to the sheriff about the group's connection with FAIR, according to sheriff’s department spokeswoman Karla Weikal.
“Some of the advocates locally came to the sheriff and expressed some concerns about maybe some of the affiliations this center may have,” Weikal told The City Paper. The office was not aware of the affiliations previously, Weikal said.
According to the 2009 Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report on CIS, the group was started in 1985 by former ophthalmologist and FAIR founded John Tanton, a figure at the center of many national immigration-related controversies. Most recently, Tanton's group ProEnglish was responsible  for the majority of the financial backing behind Metro Councilman Eric Crafton's English Only proposal.
“CIS' creation was part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the nativist cause — groups including the Federation for American Immigration Refrom (FAIR) and NumbersUSA,” the report reads.
CIS' Executive Director Mark Krikorian told The City Paper the SPLC has exaggerated Tanton's ties to his group. Tanton helped arrange the first grant for the think tank and CIS operated under FAIR's tax status for a few months after first opening, Krikorian said.
The exaggeration of Tanton's “tenuous and minor” connection to CIS is part of “a broader, concerted effort to delegitimize any skeptic of amnesty or increased immigration,” he said.
“They (SPLC) don't have the balls to describe us as a hate group, they have to do this McCarthyite kind of guilt by association thing,” he said. “Their function is to provide information for this campaign of vilification.”
CIS has been contracted by the U.S. Census Bureau for a study assessing the quality of immigration data and with the Justice Department on how immigration law can be used to combat gangs, Krikorian noted. He said the group is disappointed Hall will not make Thursday's appearance.
“The sheriff can do whatever he needs to do, we're going to be disappointed he's not here but that's his call to make,” Krikorian said. “It's the advocacy groups that are essentially lying to him that are at fault here.”
Hall decided to cancel his appearance because he did not wish to add further strain to the local debate on the controversial 287(g) program.
“[The sheriff] right now is in a mode of building bridges, and he just said if that's going to cause discord among the people [he's] trying to building bridges with, it's certainly something he doesn't want to participate in,” Weikal said.
Hall came under fire a year ago when he spoke at a dinner hosted by the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalists group also listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups.