By Luciana Lopez
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two groups that support far-reaching curbs on legal immigration to the United States and ideological screening of would-be immigrants to test their beliefs say Donald Trump's presidential campaign has consulted them on his immigration policy.
NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, which for years have denied accusations they harbor radical views on immigration, told Reuters they had met or had telephone calls with either Trump or senior members of his campaign over the past year.
Trump's campaign declined to confirm the meetings.
Trump, the Republican nominee, has won over millions of supporters with his calls for a wall on the Mexican border and a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. But the calls have also drawn an outcry from immigrant rights groups and condemnation from abroad.
While Trump's immigration proposals push the Republican Party sharply to the right, NumbersUSA and CIS also want to slash legal immigration, going beyond the New York businessman's call to keep it “within historical norms."
NumbersUSA says on its website that immigrants are the main driver of population growth, take jobs that should go to U.S. workers, and fuel urban sprawl that threatens farmland and wildlife habitats.
"The aim should be to halt all immigration possible," NumbersUSA head Roy Beck wrote in a blog in March.
NumbersUSA wants to cut legal immigration to 500,000 a year immediately, said Chris Chmielenski, the group's director of content and activism.
About a million immigrants obtain legal permanent residence status in the United States every year, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Around 11 million undocumented immigrants were living in the United States in 2014, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.
The head of CIS, Mark Krikorian, has argued against legal immigration extensively. Last year he wrote in the National Review that mass legal immigration would end U.S. conservatism, because immigrants tend to have more liberal views on issues like gun rights.
CONVERGENCE OF IDEAS
Beck told Reuters he had met with Trump in New York and had also spoken with people “at the top” of his campaign repeatedly since last autumn, when NumbersUSA accepted invitations to meet several Republican presidential hopefuls.
Much of the contact was by phone and email. Beck would not provide details of what was discussed or say who took part in the discussions.
In early August, NumbersUSA shared a 10-point immigration with the Trump campaign. Of the 10 points, six were echoed by Trump in a major immigration speech on Aug. 31.
Those points included calls for the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal records and the mandatory use of the “E-verify” system to check a job applicant’s legal status.
The Trump campaign declined to comment on the apparent overlap. The policy was written with input from Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Border Patrol agents.
Beck said the overlap showed the "convergence" of ideas between his group and the campaign but he acknowledged he had "no indication that they sat down and looked at our 10 steps and said let’s take six of them."
Based in Arlington, Virginia, NumbersUSA describes itself as the "the nation's largest grassroots immigration-reduction organization with more than 5 million participants." It is credited with helping block immigration bills in 2007 and 2013 that aimed to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens.
Krikorian, of CIS, whose slogan is "Low-immigration, pro-immigrant," said his group had also received requests for research and studies from the Trump campaign for months.
In an Aug. 15 speech, Trump outlined his plan for ”extreme vetting” of immigrants, calling for an ideological test to gauge their views on things like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights to ensure the country only admits people “who share our values and respect our people."
CIS was an early proponent of ideological screening - widely criticized as discriminatory and a violation of freedom of thought - to protect U.S. culture and national security following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but it was unclear if Trump consulted CIS on the idea.
The Department of Homeland Security already requires people seeking legal status in the United States to show they adhere to the principles of the Constitution.
Krikorian took part in a roundtable of national security advisers at Trump's New York headquarters in August, after which he said he was asked by Trump’s campaign to be a "surrogate." A surrogate can act on behalf of a campaign, by speaking at rallies and other events.
Krikorian said he turned down the Trump campaign’s request.
Hate watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have accused NumbersUSA and CIS of attempting to use mainstream arguments to sell proposals aligned with white nationalism.
"These are the organizations that are the leading edge of the nativist movement in this country," said Frank Sharry, executive director of immigrants’ rights group America’s Voice.
Both organizations reject the claims.
“We’re absolutely opposed to nativism,” said Beck, adding that NumbersUSA's recommendations come from a desire to protect American workers. His group stresses that it blames bad immigration policy and not immigrants themselves.
Krikorian said CIS wants "an ethnically neutral policy that lets in fewer people in the future and does a better job of welcoming those people we do legally admit to our country.”
(Reporting by Luciana Lopez, additional reporting by Emily Stephenson and Emily flitter, editing by Richard Valdmanis and Ross Colvin)