Krikorian doesn’t control any votes in the immigration fight that is consuming Congress, and he wields no legal authority over the mass of humanity streaming across U.S. borders every day. His domain is something less tangible but no less potent: the realm of ideas. In less than a decade, this rumpled, 52-year-old think-tank director — this affable provocateur, this whorl of potential contradictions, this threader of logic needles — has become one of the chief intellectual architects of the movement to slow immigration to a trickle. Krikorian championed “enforcement by attrition,” the concept that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seemed to translate with such disastrous results as “self-deportation.”
Since 1995, Krikorian has run the Center for Immigration Studies, which is now housed in a small suite of offices on K Street. The tiny institute — about a dozen staffers operating on a $2 million annual budget, puny by comparison with the business interests and big liberal think tanks it duels — generates an astounding volume of studies and opinion pieces with the common themes that mass migration exacts a heavy economic and psychic toll on the United States. But Krikorian’s greatest platform may be the media, where he’s taken up permanent residence as the ever-reliable counterpoint in stories about efforts to change the immigration system and as a blogger at National Review Online. “I’m a hack and a flack,” Krikorian says, chuckling. “I give good quote.”
This is why he is a man to be reckoned with, especially for those who want to crack open the border a bit more and let immigrants who are already here illegally find a path to citizenship. The targeter has become the target, pressed from the left and the right to explain the provenance of his organization, its motives, its means.
And so, a Washington question of the moment — Can immigration reform pass? — might be reframed this way: Can Mark Krikorian be stopped?
The voices of Mark Krikorian’s childhood sounded like Armenia. His parents had been born in the United States, but for reasons that they never articulated with any great precision, they spoke English to each other but only Armenian to their children. “It just sort of seemed like the thing to do,” Krikorian says. Their fealty to the language of their forefathers was so complete that Krikorian couldn’t speak English when he started kindergarten.