The National Immigration Forum (NIF) was founded in 1982 by Dale Swartz, former director of the immigrant-rights project at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and an ally of the National Lawyers Guild. Harriet Schaffer Rabb, a Ford Foundation trustee and a co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Columbia School of Law, played a major role in helping Swartz establish the new group.
In an effort to “embrace and uphold America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants” where newcomers are treated in a “fair and supportive” manner, NIF today seeks to advance what it terms “sound federal immigration solutions” through policy recommendations, communications outreach, and coalition building. As the Center for Immigration Studies explains, the Forum’s preferred path to these “solutions” includes “open borders, amnesty, and anti-rule-of-law immigration policies.”
Specifically, NIF seeks to “legalize” all illegal immigrants who have clean criminal records, while substantially increasing the number of visas available for those who wish to come to the U.S. either to rejoin family members or to work. The ultimate objective, as plainly stated by NIF, is to make legal immigration so easy that no one will need to resort to illegal means to enter the country. “The NIF is particularly keen on opening the borders to unskilled, low-income workers and then making them eligible for welfare and social service programs,” writes William Hawkins, senior fellow with the U.S. Business and Industry Council. “Under this scheme, the country would be importing a new underclass living in poverty…. Once legalized, this expanded wave of immigrants are to be encouraged to vote.”
NIF denounced the mild immigration reforms enacted in the mid-1990s as “the harshest crackdown on the rights and opportunities of immigrants in 70 years.” In particular, the Forum condemned the 1996 efforts to expedite deportations of illegal aliens, to deport non-citizens who commit “minor” crimes, to deny welfare and social-service programs to illegal immigrants, and to track the arrival and departure of every person crossing U.S. borders.
NIF’s opposition to tracking immigrants has extended even to those arriving from countries with known terrorist links. For instance, the Forum strongly objected to the creation, in 2002, of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which utilized intelligence and criminal-record databases to check the fingerprints and photos of Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Sudanese, and Syrian nationals who held non-immigrant visas that were believed to pose an “elevated national security risk” by the State Department and the INS. But according to then-NIF executive director Frank Sharry, “these heavy-handed tactics seem more like the old Soviet Union and South Africa.”
NIF also: (a) opposed the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003, which sought to empower state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws; (b) endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which aimed to roll back, in the name of civil-liberties protections, a number of post-9/11 national-security policies; and (c) co-sponsored the pro-amnesty Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition.
NIF’s work today is centered around four major policy concerns:
1) Immigration Reform and Workforce Needs: Lauding the “estimated 10-11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.” as dedicated “workers” who make great “contribut[ions] to our economy,” NIF â€¨supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011. â€¨Introduced by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, this pro-amnesty bill outlined a program for legalization, the DREAM Act, and AgJOBS legislation.
2) Integration and Citizenship: NIF has criticized the U.S. government for traditionally taking a “laissez faire attitude when it comes to encouraging immigrants to become citizens”; for charging naturalization application fees that “have become a barrier to citizenship for many low-income immigrants”; and for requiring aspiring citizens to clear the “hurdle” of “learning English.”
3) Borders and Interior Enforcement: This program depicts congressional spending on “more border guards, fences, and technology to guard the border” as a mere “political gimmick,” in light of the fact that:
NIF also opposes the detention of “nonviolent immigration violators,” alleging that they are frequently abused and denied “adequate health care.”
4) State and Local Immigration Developments: NIF condemned Arizona’s 2010 immigration law which deputized state officials to enforce existing statutes that the federal government was refusing to enforce—as an unjustifiably “harsh crackdown on immigrants” whose labor was “critical to Arizona’s economy.” Further, NIF endorsed the Obama administration’s decision to sue Arizona and other states that had passed similar laws.
In 2012, NIF launched its “Bibles, Badges and Business” (BBB) initiative, which was designed to influence Republican legislators by recruiting traditionally conservative pastors, law-enforcement officials, and business owners to take the pro-amnesty side in the immigration debate. As NIF executive director Ali Noorani reasoned, “A conservative voter is going to listen to a conservative leader, especially in conservative states.” in December 2012 alone, NIF helped facilitate more than 70 immigration-related meetings on Capitol Hill—of which 56 were with Republican lawmakers. Supported avidly by Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, BBB was ultimately very effective in persuading Christian conservatives in particular to drop their opposition to amnesty—as a way of adhering more faithfully to “the teachings of Christ.”
To augment the efforts of BBB, NIF created the Evangelical Immigration Table, a project featuring an array of nominally Christian ethnic-identity groups endorsing mass amnesty as a means of “respect[ing] the God-given dignity of every person” and “protect[ing] the unity of the immediate family.”
In February 2013, NIF executive director Ali Noorani said he was “encouraged by the President’s [Obama’s] leadership in prioritizing immigration reform this year.”
NIF has received funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the J. M. Kaplan Fund, and George Soros‘s Open Society Institute. To view a list of additional noteworthy supporters of the National Immigration Forum, click here.
For additional information on NIF, click here.
 In 2012, NIF praised the Obama administration’s effort to earmark $19.75 million of taxpayer funds for “an immigrant integration initiative … encouraging immigrants to become citizens.” The Forum also supported the Senior Citizenship Act of 2011 (â€¨H.R. 2957), which was introduced in the House by Representatives by Democrat Jerrold Nadler. The bill called for allowing applicants older than age 65 to take the U.S. naturalization test in a language other than English, and for altogether exempting from the test anyone aged 75 or older. In addition, NIF supported â€¨H.R. 1617, a 2011 bill advocating the provision of public resources “to increase capacity to teach America’s newcomers English and help them prepare for citizenship.”