Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 22, 2014

Office of Legal Counsel Analysis

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Legal Issues — by Philip J. Palin on November 22, 2014

In an unusual move, the administration has released the analysis of presidential authority undertaken by the Office of Legal Counsel in regard to the role and limits of the President to set priorities in the enforcement of immigration laws. Worth a careful read by all of us… on issues well-beyond immigration.

I will not have time to offer much more any time soon.  Our friends at Lawfare have begun a conversation that should be illuminating.  First up, Paul Rosenzweig on Executive Discretion and Immigration Law.

November 20, 2014

Mass migrations

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2014

Whatever the President says tonight and however the Congress responds, human migration — legal and illegal — will persist. Following is some of the context any effective policy or strategy will need to reflect.

The Global Context

Rapid population growth, rising economic expectations, and improved transportation networks have spurred unprecedented numbers of humans to move from places of economic disadvantage, social turmoil, and political oppression to places of greater wealth, security, and freedom.

Statistical sources are not always counting the same things in the same way. Many of the sources are estimates. And I am new enough at this topic I do not have confidence in my ability to rationalize the different approaches.  Accordingly the following numbers should be seen as suggesting scope and scale, not as a precise accounting.

The United Nations International Migration Report (2013) indicates that there are over 232 million international migrants.  These are citizens of one nation currently residing in another country regardless of status.

Approximately 41 million residents of the United States are foreign-born (13 percent of total population).  Of this total the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics estimates that somewhat more than 11 million are not legally authorized (3.5 percent of total population) to be in the United States.

In 2013 roughly 1 million migrants entered the United States with some sort of authorized status.  The United States is the single largest destination nation for migration, but there are other significant destinations.

The map immediately below reflects comparative migration in-flows.  The second map shows comparative Gross Domestic Product.

International migrationNet inflows of migrants (Worldmapper)

gdp 800x400Gross Domestic Product (Worldmapper)

While the poorest of the poor are not the most typical migrants, perceived vulnerability and/or persistent lack of economic mobility is clearly a major motivation.  In an origin-analysis for unaccompanied minors presenting at the Southern border in the first half of this year, DHS/CBP found a pattern that coincides with poverty and, especially, violence (see map below).

child_migrants_map

Historical Context

In 1875 when construction began on the Statue of Liberty there was no federal legislation restricting immigration.  In 1883 Emma Lazarus wrote these words,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Even by then it was a bit more accurate to write, “Let me choose among your tired…”  The Page Act of 1875 was aimed mostly at curtailing Asian migration to the United States. This was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.   The Immigration Acts of 1903 and 1907 excluded several classes of potential immigrants such as anarchists, lepers, epileptics, and those with a variety of psychological disorders. The Immigration Act of 1924 established quotas for some nations of origin. Mexican immigration was restricted for the first time in 1965.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 emerged from a set of political, economic, and ethical issues rather similar to the situation today.

Regular readers may be annoyed — but you are not surprised —  that I perceive a classical analogy.

Fundamental to Roman imperial policy was assimilation of “barbarians” (either conquered or immigrants).  This was especially true in the Fourth Century as several Germanic tribes pressed hard by Hunnish invasions and migration piled up against and over Roman borderlands. Gibbon seems to argue the Goths were too different and too numerous to assimilate.  So there is a traditional narrative that Rome fell to especially aggressive “immigrants.”  Some contemporary scholars disagree.  Alessandro Barbero and others point to the decision of the Emperor Valens in 378 to fight rather than make common cause with the Goths as a fundamental error. The Battle of Adrianople reversed several centuries of a culturally inclusive strategy and committed the Empire to an unsustainable effort to exclude. The city of Rome was sacked in 410.

Historians can argue what really happened then.  We are making similar choices now. As with Valens and the Goths, it is sufficiently complicated that even historians may be unable to agree on the implications of what we do or fail to do.

November 19, 2014

Origins of ISIS: a short cartoon

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 19, 2014

Via the Lawfare Blog, here is a short animated video narrated by terrorism expert Bruce Riedel explaining the history of what has become known as ISIS, ISIL, and/or the Islamic State.

 

November 13, 2014

Immigration: Prepping the bowl game

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 13, 2014

It appears our end-of-year celebrations and contests will include a sustained play-by-play on immigration policy.  USA Today warns of “political war” on the issue.  We will probably see the gaming continue deep into basketball season.  Baseball? The 2016 World Series?

Despite the clear importance of immigration policy and practice to the Department of Homeland Security (where it can be seen as consuming the majority of resources), I have not given much space to immigration in my own working concept of homeland security.

Given the perpetrators of 9/11 it makes some narrative sense why immigration, border, and related agencies were brought together in the new DHS.  I will not resist that how we facilitate flows of goods and people into the nation has some sort of security implication. (Though Prohibition and the drug trade and human trafficking and mass migrations across all of human history suggest how tough it is for a big place to be anything close to impermeable.)

In terms of a terrorist threat, while we can make it more complicated and — with unusually good intelligence or vigilance or luck — actually stop some threats at the border, I have never met a professional who thought any of our immigration and border apparatus to be equal to a well-planned terrorist operation.  Much more effective is to disrupt the planning in Yemen or Af-Pak or Raqqa or wherever.  Border protection is like football’s free safety.  If that is what’s left, it’s already been a very tough play. You really want to stop them at the line of scrimmage or farther back.

When it comes to other aspects of homeland security: preparedness, mitigation, resilience, response, recovery, etc., etc….  immigration has seemed to me tangential.  There are issues of communicating in languages other than English.  Some immigrant communities — or areas where they tend to live — are considered more vulnerable.  But there are also studies that find the tight social connections of recent immigrants to generate a resilience-advantage compared to wealthier but more isolated neighbors.

There are a few cases where immigrant communities have become flash-points for radicalizing clusters of (mostly) alienated second-generation young men.  But to view this as an immigration or border issue strikes me as, again, giving too much attention to the free safety and not enough attention to the front line. (If you can’t tell, more than forty years and thirty pounds ago I was a defensive tackle.)

But whatever the actual homeland security implications, Secretary Johnson and his senior staff are going to be plenty focused on immigration in the weeks ahead.

So… an attempt to frame the issue for our future dialogue:

I have already acknowledged a personal prejudice on this topic.  But I will attempt to listen and learn from those with alternative points-of-view.

There is a plethora of expert — and advocacy — resources available.  Just a few:

Migration Policy Institute

Bipartisan Policy Center: Immigration Task Force

Cato Institute: Immigration Studies and Commentary

American Immigration Council

Texans for Sensible Immigration Reform

Brookings Institution: Immigration Workstream

Immigration Reform Law Institute

Federation for American Immigration Reform

Heritage Foundation: Immigration Workstream

US Chamber of Commerce: Immigration Resource Collection

If you have other sources of information, please include them in your comments.  At some point I will try to develop an annotated list of sources.

Trying the football analogy again, the two teams that are coming onto the field this season strike me as having very different strategies and styles of play:

Pragmatists versus legalists

Economic offense versus economic defense

Passing strategy versus ground strategy

Maybe Oregon versus Alabama?  Perhaps suggesting comparisons that go well beyond the gridiron.

The differences between the contestants are, in any case, so profound that I expect it may not be much of a game to watch.  The ducks may just sort of ride the tide.

I’ve never been a big fan of purist approaches to just about anything.

FRIDAY UPDATE: LOCKER-ROOM TALK

After I posted on Thursday the two teams started sending pre-game signals to each other.  Actually it sounded more like set-ups for a boxing match than most football games.  Anyway…

The Washington Post gives Capitol Hill trash talk top-of-the-fold prominence: Before immigration action, sides dig in.

Politico leads with Defiant Obama: I will use my power.

The Hill also calls the President defiant.

Roll Call quotes Senator Cornyn warning Presidential action on immigration could lead to a failure to fund the government.

Defiance abounds.

Our English word “defy” has its origin in a vulgar Latin term fidere meaning to trust, to have fidelity. That de on the front reverses the meaning.  Defiance emerges from mistrust.

October 30, 2014

Follow the money

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014

DHS BUDGET VISUAL

The graphic shows the rough 2014 budget proportions for the Department of Homeland Security.  The $45 billion figure for the DHS budget is based on an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

Late last week I was showing this pie chart to some graduate students who are exploring homeland security. They are on the edge of completing their law degrees, PhDs, or graduate studies in other fields. But they are interested enough in homeland security to have competed for and been selected for a Graduate Fellowship program at Rutgers University.

I asked, “What do you see?”

“It’s mostly about the border,” said one.

“Excluding the other,” said another

“Fear of the other.”

“Fear of each other.”

A young lawyer suggested this was a narrative theme — an analytical predisposition — that frames how we experience and make sense of reality. He and most of his peers agreed there was some evidence to support the  narrative. But we allow it to shape our orientation well beyond the evidence.

This is not where I was planning to take the discussion.  I was better prepared for a wonky consideration of incremental budgeting, legacy missions, Congressional oversight, etc., etc…

But I did not try to redirect.  We went with “otherness” as a homeland security problem.  Look again, you will see what they saw. Even if you can see other things and offer other explanations, I suggest their fresh eyes are not inaccurate.

It’s an interesting angle on reality, especially coincident with enhanced security being announced — despite the lack of specific threat intelligence.

Toward the end of Jean-Paul Satre’s play “No Exit”, a character proclaims, “So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE! (“L’enfer, c’est les Autres.”)

Most of us have experienced this unhappy truth. But many of us have also experienced, “without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours”… This is indeed the case everywhere, but not in love, which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more complete the distinction…” (Søren Kierkegaard). Without the other we are profoundly diminished.

Two antithetical intuitions equally true, depending on our attitude and the situation. A wicked problem? If so, extending well beyond homeland security.

How can we reason together through this paradox? Without the skill, discipline, and ethic of social reasoning we must defer to the mercy of randomness. I have often found randomness quite generous. But I aspire to — and have experienced — much more.  I know something about social reasoning in small groups.  Elinor Ostrom and others have told me interesting things about social reasoning in larger groups.  Is facilitation of social reasoning an appropriate tool of homeland security?

October 26, 2014

Embracing diversity

Filed under: Biosecurity,Border Security,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 26, 2014

obama pham(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

None of us much like what we perceive as mixed messages.  But many of us seek out diverse sources of information.

I am — as regular readers know too well — a big fan of diversity.  It is an intellectual and aesthetic preference, almost certainly a personality predisposition.

Diversity is also a key characteristic of resilience.  The more diverse a system the less prone it is to catastrophic collapse, the more creative combinations that exist the more likely the system (or sub-system) is to resist and, if necessary, rebound from challenges.

I am personally skeptical of most efforts to reduce variance, increase consistency, and especially any tendency to reserve decisions for some centralized authority.  I am aware such approaches can generate benefits.  But there are also trade-offs and I perceive we too often accept the trade-offs without recognizing what we are giving away.

Since Thursday I’ve been in Newark and New York.  The confirmation of Ebola in a physician who returned to New York after treating patients in West Africa has caused concern.  On Friday Governors Christie and Cuomo, acting more on their political instincts for advancing the common good than expert medical advice, announced a strict quarantine requirement for health care workers returning to JFK and Newark International airports.  This exceeds federal requirements. (Illinois soon followed for those arriving from West Africa into O’Hare.)

I was busy, but as I watched the local news a bit and read the reports I was pleased to see this diversity emerge.  I like it when state and local leaders exercise their best judgment and authority.  I respect political judgment, especially when it relates more to how human social systems actually operate and less about the next election.  I found the non-partisan, reasoned rhetoric of the Governors and Mayor de Blasio mostly helpful.  Medical therapies and social therapies can diverge.

At just about the same time, or at least during the same news cycle, President Obama was purposefully — and a bit awkwardly to my eyes — hugging nurse Nina Pham (above) who has recovered from the Ebola she contracted at her hospital in Dallas.  The intended message was, I hope, clear enough.  For the more literal minded, the President followed up explicitly in his weekly media message.

Meanwhile… Kaci Hickox a nurse arriving at Newark from Sierra Leone, asymptomatic, and according to a preliminary test virus-free, is nonetheless being kept in a 21-day quarantine against her will.  She writes in the Saturday Dallas Morning News:

I am a nurse who has just returned to the U.S. after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone – an Ebola-affected country. I have been quarantined in New Jersey. This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.

I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine… (The nurse continues with a rather horrific story of her welcome to the United States.  You should read it.)

The epidemic continues to ravage West Africa. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that as many as 15,000 people have died from Ebola. We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa.  The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.

The ACLU has announced it will take action challenging the New Jersey quarantine order.

Then as if to put into even sharper contrast the different angles on reality alive in Trenton, Albany, and Washington DC, on Sunday morning I read our UN Ambassador Samantha Power is in West Africa.  She has already visited the Ebola wards.  Should she be quarantined in isolation on her return?  Or in deference to separation of powers, will a sanitary cordon of the Ambassador’s residence at the Waldorf be sufficient?

Thursday and Friday I was mostly impressed with how New York local-media was handling the story. Saturday I was too otherwise engaged to notice. Now early on Sunday morning there is a nearly palpable urgency to take sides… or, if one does not feel confident/competent to choose sides, to bitterly complain regarding the incompetence of the “authorities” who should have had this sort of risk fully thought-through.  ”It’s not tight”, the President himself has complained.

In my experience reality is seldom tight. At a certain point working to make it tight strips the threads and even breaks the head.  Can we learn to engage diversity affirmatively, creatively, even systematically, as a potentially positive — in any case, persistent — aspect of reality?  In dealing with complex risks, I have found this to be an especially productive option.

MONDAY UPDATE:

According to several news sources, New York will “loosen” its screening protocols.  Here’s a bit of the AP report:

Gov. Cuomo back peddled Sunday on his insistence that medical workers returning to New York from Ebola-stricken countries would have to undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine at a government-regulated facility

The governor, in a joint news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio, said health care workers and citizens who have had exposure to Ebola patients in West Africa will be asked to stay in their homes for the 21-day quarantine.

During the 21 days, the quarantined person will be checked on twice a day by health care professionals to take their temperature and evaluate their condition, Cuomo said.

Here’s the official statement from the Governor’s office.

Constant change in response to feedback, adapting to new information (new expressions of reality) is another feature of diverse and resilient systems.  And just to be clear: in the most resilient systems while change is constant a core-coherence persists.  Which highlights the big difference between consistent and coherent, between control and collaboration…

SECOND UPDATE:

According to NJ.com and other news outlets, Nurse Kaci Hickox will now be allowed to quarantine at home in the state of Maine. The New Jersey Governor’s office released a transcript and video to provide context for this shift.

October 11, 2014

Secretary Johnson on the border

Filed under: Border Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 11, 2014

Thursday the Secretary of Homeland Security gave a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  I was on the west coast.  But DHS has given the speech — and related PowerPoint — considerable priority.

It is a fact-filled report — with obvious political and policy implications — but the presentation is lawerly in its gathering of evidence.  Very much a reflection of Johnson’s worldview.

I encourage you to read/see the entire package at  http://www.dhs.gov/news/2014/10/09/remarks-secretary-homeland-security-jeh-johnson-border-security-21st-century?utm_source=hp_feature&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=dhs_hp

July 31, 2014

The government we deserve?

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 31, 2014

UPDATE: Friday Morning:  According to The Hill: “Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion border spending bill Thursday in a 50-44 vote. The Senate voted against waiving a budget point of order on the measure, which would have provided funding for authorities to handle a wave of child immigrants crossing the border.” MORE.

Later today the House is expected to try again to pass a narrower package.  According to Roll Call: “It could happen as early as Friday morning — the GOP will gather at 9 a.m. to discuss new policy proposals to accompany a $659 million appropriations bill they abruptly yanked from consideration Thursday. Republicans departing from an emergency conference meeting Thursday afternoon told reporters they felt confident that, through a process of educating colleagues and agreeing to make some changes to existing legislative language, they could muster enough votes to pass the new measure. MORE.

But with Senators already leaving town for a five-week recess, whatever the House does will be symbolic rather than substantive.  The House will blame the Senate. Democrats will blame Republicans (and vice-versa).  Congress will have fulminated and flailed, but in the end the legislative branch failed to act.

UPDATE: 4:30 Eastern:  Republican leadership has announced the House will delay its recess until a vote is taken on border-related legislation.  MORE from The Hill.

I will be driving for a couple of hours.  Texting while driving is dangerous, blogging is worse.  This is about all from me today… and tomorrow will not be a good day for me to be online.  Blogging is not all I do.

As Bill Cumming mentioned, it’s been interesting to watch the “dance of legislation.”  Beautiful ballet it ain’t.

UPDATE 3:00 Eastern:  Several news outlets are reporting the House is unlikely to vote today on a border related supplemental.  The Hill is using the word “canceled” in regard to the vote.  Roll Call is using “postponed”, saying there is still a small chance of the vote being rescheduled.  Just moments ago Politico led their coverage with, “The House descended into chaos on Thursday, unable to plot a path forward on a bill to address the border crisis.”

I have received email and voicemail from those claiming to be inside the process on Capitol Hill.  Some I do not know.  One writes, “Every effort at responsible legislative action is being countered by those, some Democrats and some Republicans, who threaten the political equivalent of all out war.  This is not parliamentary maneuver or even political hard-ball, but hostage-taking and career-threatening extortion. It makes House of Cards look like Little House on the Prairie.”

It is my understanding that unless the House passes something, there will be nothing to reconcile with the Senate (presuming something emerges there) and legislative input to the oft-referenced “crisis” on the border will be null.

I’m told a meeting is just getting underway among Republican leaders to find some way through to more than null.  I’ve got other work, but will be back when I can be.

UPDATE 1:30 Eastern: The Hill reports that Democrats in the House will not vote for the so-called Granger supplemental.  This means divisions in the Republican caucus must be overcome for the legislation to pass in the House.  The House is expected to vote early this afternoon.  I will probably be offline when it happens… if it happens anytime close to schedule.

UPDATE Noon Eastern: Roll Call reports: “Just hours after shifting gears on a strategy to pass a $659 million appropriations bill to bolster resources at the U.S.-Mexico border, House Republicans are moving ahead, more confident they have the votes. Rank-and-file members emerged from a GOP Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Thursday morning with a sense that the gambit — giving conservatives a standalone vote to stop the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after they pass the border funding bill — would be enough to bring conservative holdouts on board. MORE.

At 11:17 AM Reuters reported:  ”The Congress on Thursday is set to debate “emergency” border security legislation that lawmakers acknowledge will not be enacted but will enable them to campaign for re-election by arguing they worked to address a humanitarian crisis. Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to respond to the crisis in which tens of thousands of Central American children have tried to enter the United States illegally. With Congress on the verge of beginning its five-week summer recess, the votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-held Senate on Thursday will mark a holding pattern.” MORE.

UPDATE 11:00 Eastern:  Statement by the White House Press Secretary: “It is extraordinary that the House of Representatives, after failing for more than a year to reform our broken immigration reform system, would vote to restrict a law enforcement tool that the Department of Homeland Security uses to focus resources on key enforcement priorities like public safety and border security, and provide temporary relief from deportation for people who are low priorities for removal.  In the face of Congressional inaction, the Administration’s use of Deferred Action for DREAMers in 2012, which has benefitted more than 500,000 young people who are Americans in every way except on paper, is the most significant progress we have made toward immigration reform in years.  By failing to act on an immigration reform bill that requires that people who are here illegally pay taxes, undergo background checks and get on the right side of the law, the House is instead driving an approach that is about rounding up and deporting 11 million people, separating families, and undermining DHS’ ability to secure the border.”

–+–

ORIGINAL THURSDAY MORNING POST:

Yesterday (Wednesday) late morning the Senate voted 63-to-33 to end debate on the emergency supplemental.  (See Senate Appropriations Committee language.) This advanced the proposed appropriation toward floor amendments and an up-or-down vote.  According to Politico, “GOP senators who don’t support the Senate Democrats’ package – which also includes funding for wildfire aid and for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system – lent their votes for the procedural vote in hopes of amending the measure more to their liking.”

Later today (Thursday) the House is expected to vote on a $659 million package. (See House Appropriation Committee’s supplemental language and funding amounts.) According to Roll Call, “Two-thirds of the funding will be for border security, with $40 million going to prevention and $197 million going to humanitarian assistance, according to a GOP aide. It will run through Sept. 30.”

The Republican caucus is not wholly on board.  Last minute changes are possible.  There is even some talk of passing the stop-gap measure with bipartisan votes, rare on big bills.  According to The Hill, “House conservatives emerging from a late evening meeting in Cruz’s office said they would oppose the $659 million legislation and warned it might fail on the House floor, an embarrassing prospect for the new GOP leadership team.”

At 11PM Wednesday night, Roll Call reported:

In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants. One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats. On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents. Republicans charge DACA has acted as a magnet for unaccompanied children to come to the United States, although recent immigrants are not eligible.

Republican Senators McCain and Cornyn are rumored to be working on a version of the House bill that could pass the Senate, presumably as an in extremis measure. But Wednesday afternoon some White House staff threatened a Presidential veto if the House measure makes it through the Senate and to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

As of Thursday dawn it does not appear likely that the House and Senate will reconcile their alternatives anytime soon.  The Hill reports, “…before the House and Senate are to adjourn for a five-week recess, there is little chance that legislation dealing with the wave of immigrants crossing the border will reach President Obama’s desk.”

Both chambers are expected to complete work tonight.  I will provide updates to this post throughout today as legislative action is taken.

Given the apparent division and indecision on Capitol Hill, it is interesting to see that a July 23-27 public opinion poll found significant public consensus related to the current border issue.  Here are the results for two of the questions asked of a statistically valid sample:

Which statement comes closest to your views about what the U.S. should do about
the children who are currently arriving from Central America without their parents. We should…

70 percent   Offer shelter and support while beginning a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.
26 percent   Deport them immediately back to their home countries
2 percent     None of these
2 percent    Don’t know/Refused
100 Total

Now I’m going to read you a few pairs of statements. For each pair, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views — even if neither is exactly right. The first pair is…  Which statement comes closer to your own view?

38 percent    The families of children arriving from Central American are taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country
56 percent    The families of children arriving from Central American are doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances
3 percent      Neither/Both (VOL.)
3 percent      Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)
100 Total

Joseph de Maistre wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”  The American nation is authentically divided on many important issues.  Our government reflects this division.  But in this particular case, a significant majority of the people-as-a-whole seem wiser, more merciful, more generous than a majority — or a stubborn minority? — of our legislators.

July 30, 2014

William Wilberforce

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 30, 2014

On this day in 1833 William Wilberforce died.  On August 1, 1833 slavery became illegal in the British Empire. Passage of this law had been a decades-long goal of Wilberforce.

Wilberforce was a religious man and an effective politician.  Abolition of slavery was only one of his many parliamentary and social causes.  Most of which he practically advanced.

This week several steps are being taken to potentially amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Wilberforce Act).  Several have pointed to this law as the cause of the surge of children presenting at the US border.   It is seldom so simple.

The life of Wilberforce demonstrates the potential of law — and law-makers — to advance the boundaries of human justice.  Ethical, economic, and political complications also challenged Wilberforce.  But his life in politics is a model for the practical, patient, persistent — courageous and insistent — application of legislative give-and-take.  He always tried to elicit the best from his allies and adversaries, saying, “Be happy, and your joyful work will prosper well.”

Given our current challenges at the border and elsewhere, another Wilberforce quote seems especially relevant: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”

July 28, 2014

This week the battle for the border will be on Capitol Hill (stand-off predicted)

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 28, 2014

The onslaught of children at the southern border of the United States has several sources.

It appears that a law passed in late 2008 to deal with human trafficking — especially the trafficking of children — has had an almost opposite effect.

The law, which allows a wide class of children greater protection once they reach the US border, has been mis-characterized by criminal parties (especially in Central America) in order to motivate families to pay for their children to be smuggled through Mexico to the US border.

Over roughly the last year a rapid increase in children presenting themselves at the border has overwhelmed the existing immigration hearing system producing a defacto ability for children to remain in the United States for an extended period pending hearing.  This has reinforced the claims made by criminals.  It is also a problem that too many US officials tended to minimize until this last Spring.

Families are also motivated by a dangerous and deteriorating situation — especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — where a confluence of economic turmoil, organized gangs, corrupt officials and other profound dysfunctions encourage taking significant risks in order to escape. The President of Honduras suggests many of these problems have their origin in the US demand for drugs.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas recently released a report that highlights significant problems when children are repatriated.  These problems have been exacerbated by the surge in numbers.  Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek published a story last week on the range of challenges involved in repatriation.

On Sunday conservative commentator George Will told Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, “My view is that we have to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans’.”

To mitigate the current crisis Congress needs to act this week before it leaves for a long August break.  Unless additional funding and policy changes are legislated the Secretary of Homeland Security warns, “… we’re going to run out of money to deal with this. I’ve got my CFO working overtime this week working out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act.”

Some suggested measures include:

Clarify the current legal situation with Central American families: This has been ongoing since at least March.  Some progress seems to have been achieved.  In June the number of children arriving at the border was reduced by about half compared to prior months.  The US government has increased official communications.  But unofficial information has potentially been even more influential.

Expedite the hearing process: Additional immigration judges, changes in law, and procedural adjustments could reduce the current log-jam and more quickly return children not found to qualify for some extended immigration status.  This would presumably reduce the motivation to make the risky and costly trip to the US border.

Amend the 2008 law, especially to facilitate prompt-return: Mexican and Canadian nationals can be returned without the hearing process currently afforded other children. But many are resisting this given the dangers facing Central American and other children. Under current law there is a prima facie right to hearings and the ethical implications of eliminating this right strike many as unacceptable.

Enhance security at Mexico’s southern border:  Reducing out-migration from Central America (more than a thousand-miles south of the US border) makes theoretical good sense.  There are, however, problems with corruption and lack of capacity related to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration. Still it is worth attention over the long-term.  It is more and more in Mexico’s self-interest as a stronger Mexican economy and comparative security also attracts immigrants.

Enhance US border security: Considerable progress has been made over the last ten-to-twelve years.  More on current House Republican proposals in this regard is available here.  Also see related prior post at HLSWatch

Allow application for refugee status in the country-of-origin: The idea being this would discourage the risky journey while responsibly addressing those most seriously threatened.

Increase country-of-origin efforts to encourage staying at home.  Both governmental and non-governmental programs exist to reduce severe want and fear.  Many would benefit from additional support.  Yesterday, George Will (see original reference above) argued, “Long term, the most effective legislation passed concerning immigration wasn’t an immigration bill at all. It was Bill Clinton’s greatest act, passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that put North Americans on the path to prosperity. We need to do something similar for the countries in which these children are fleeing.”

What other near-term mitigation efforts or longer-term solutions do you have?

Most informed observers doubt that the House and Senate will take practical legislative steps before they are scheduled leave Capitol Hill late this week.  More on fast-breaking legislative prospects from:

The Hill

Roll Call

Politico

–+–

UPDATE:  Monday morning’s Diane Rehm Show, heard on many NPR stations, focused on efforts to address the “child migrant crisis”.   Joining Ms. Rehm and receiving call-in questions and comments were:

Laura Meckler, staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
Carl Meacham, Americas program director at Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mark Hugo Lopez, director, Hispanic trends, Pew Research Center
Marc Rosenblum, deputy director, U.S. immigration policy program, Migration Policy Institute

You can listen to the hour-long discussion at the following website by clicking on the “LISTEN” icon or word.

July 9, 2014

Border Musings

Filed under: Border Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

A couple of random thoughts about the border.

- – - – - – - – - -

What means “secure?” A lot of criticism directed towards the President over the current crisis at the border comes back around to either he has not “secured our border” or that before money should be directed toward HHS efforts at housing and caring for the immigrant children or to bolstering the judicial process they must be go through according to a 2008 law he must first “secure our border.”  

By what measure is it not secure? Or, to put it in the context of the present crisis, what border town is overrun with these Central American children?  To listen to the media, you would think these kids are spreading out from the border like those killer bee maps that once made the rounds.  Yet it seems that these children are getting up to the border and basically turning themselves in. Instead of providing the money the Administration says is necessary to deal with this issue, some Congressmen are calling for the National Guard to be deployed.  What are they going to do?  Shoot the kids as they approach the border?  

- – - – - – - – - -

Apparently if the President doesn’t show up at some border crossing or detention center during his current trip to Texas it will be his “Katrina moment.” Politico give some context to this charge:

Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district is situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, said he hoped Obama’s decision not to visit the border wouldn’t be his “Katrina moment.” The congressman was referring to then-President George W. Bush’s widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush was famously photographed in the aftermath of the storm surveying the damage from above while aboard Air Force One, a photograph he called a “huge mistake” in 2010.

“In this case where there’s a crisis, a leader’s going to be defined on how he or she handles that crisis,” Cuellar said on CNN Wednesday morning. “You can send surrogates to the border, you can be 500 miles away like how he’s going to be in Dallas today, but he ought to go down there.”

I agree with the first part of that statement about crisis leadership.  I do not agree with the second.  Much sound and fury has been aired demanding that President Obama travel to “the border” (exactly where to see what is never specified).  Only if, ONLY IF he would, obviously the Administration’s entire response to this situation would change.

How?  I have no idea.  I can imagine a Presidential visit would boost the morale of the men and women working at the, uh, locations he visits.  Beyond that, it is unclear what positive impact a Presidential visit to one or two locations on a limited stretch of the border will have.  Will the amount of time he spends on the issue change?  Probably not.  Will the directions he gives his Cabinet secretaries gain added urgency?  Unlikely.  Will his critics find something new to complain about? Undoubtedly.

There is still much to learn and apply from the mistakes made in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina.  Perhaps some can be applied to this situation at the border.  However, I hope people will refrain from throwing around simple comparisons for political scoring sake.  The men and women working their hardest to resolve this crises, at the border and throughout the country, deserve better than that.

July 3, 2014

Hope, fear, and prospect theory

CBP and 8 year old

Photograph by Jennifer Whitney  for the New York Times

Chris Bellavita hopes the QHSR  will advance homeland security.  I fear too few will engage the QHSR to produce a sufficient effect. (Chris, btw bases his hope on evidence from the first QHSR while I deploy mostly worry and cynicism.)

Parents in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and elsewhere hope their children will find a better life in the United States. Others in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, Murietta, California, and elsewhere fear these children will unravel the rule of law.

Some Sunni Salafist fighters hope they are creating the foundations of a just and righteous society across what is now Northern Syria and Iraq, eventually the whole world.  Many Shia faithful and others fear they are numbered among the unrighteous to be converted or killed.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and many geeks still unknown, hope to bring the whole world into our hand-helds, opening exciting opportunities for meaningful relationships and untold riches.  Some of us fear our credit-scores — and more substantive identities — are being delivered into the hands of criminals, terrorists, con-artists, corporate voyeurs, NSA spooks and more.

The current Executive hopes to establish and consistently apply a rigorous set of principles and due process by which evil can be prevented and sacred values preserved (while sources and methods are protected).  Senators Paul and Wyden among others fear that any hidden act claimed as lawful is a hot-house of hubris where the very best intentions will be incrementally reversed.

They want to retire to the beauty of the shore or mountainside or river or forest or such.  The prospect of hurricane, flood, earthquake, and fire prompt some second-thoughts.

We are tempted — especially those of us in homeland security — to treat risk as something that might be measured as accurately as an average shoe-size… if only we can gather enough shoes.  Imelda where art thou?

But the risk that matters most may be imagined more than measured.  Big hirsute Hobbit feet may be the common heuristic, no matter how many ballerinas bounce about us.

Over thirty years ago Tversky and Kahneman showed us, “Decision making under risk can be viewed as a choice between prospects or gambles.”  It is how we frame our expectations that decide our perspective on risk and thereby determine what choices seem rational.

For most our frame-on-reality is decided by a reference point: typically an expectation of the status quo persisting.  If we are more-or-less satisfied (or psychologically risk-averse) we worry more over the prospect of losing than embrace an opportunity to gain.  This can apply even if we have little to lose.  We  tend  to over-weight the downside and under-estimate positive likelihood.

Unless we are risk-seeking. As is typical with criminals, terrorists, and teenage boys. By the early 1990s Tversky and Kahneman had found, “Risk-seeking choices are consistently observed in two classes of decision problems. First, people often prefer a small probability of winning a large prize over the expected value of that prospect. Second, risk seeking is prevalent when people must choose between a sure loss and a substantial probability of a larger loss.”

There are other variations of human rationality that do not square with “expected utility” (rationality according to economists).  But risk-seeking has particular relevance for homeland security.

When my great-grandfather returned to England from another colonial war and had the audacity to marry a Scots seamstress of another (Christian) faith, they faced the disdain of family and very constrained prospects. Perceiving only losses to lose, he and she set out for Philadelphia.  The risk was real, but seemed less to them than remaining in Newcastle.

Nineteenth century Newcastle had a murder-rate considerably less than today’s Tegucigalpa (10 per million versus 1690 per million).  Who says the parent of the eight-year-old in the picture above has not made a reasonable calculation?

Today I will purchase a lottery ticket with a small probability of winning a large prize.  Early this week a new Caliphate was proclaimed.  Was the self-styled Caliph’s reasoning all that different than mine?

There are too many whose reference point is a land-of-loss, especially loss of hope.  The risks they are willing to take — heroic or demonic depending on taste — are worth our notice, a touch of fear, and some courageous creativity.  If reduction of risk-seeking is a goal, our target is their prospective imagination.

June 12, 2014

Foxes, hedgehogs and homeland security

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

                                                                                         Archilochous

PART I: COUNTERTERRORISM

On May 21 the Secretary of Homeland Security affirmed that counterterrorism is the primary mission of the Department.  But speaking to a large crowd of mostly state and local officials, Mr. Johnson evidently felt compelled to — or did not have the energy to do more than — review the many activities of the Department and, at least to my ears, focused particular attention on the challenge of illegal immigration (See Part II below).  The DHS website does not provide a transcript.  I wonder if whoever prepared the read-out was actually there.

On May 28 the President told West Point graduates:

For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy…  So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. 

The domestic analog of this strategy also needs to empower its partners.  Our homeland security framework should be especially attentive to vulnerabilities and creative regarding strengths. This is certainly important in terms of counterterrorism, but applies across most other hazards as well… if we will take the opportunity to notice.

Neither this White House nor its predecessor has given anything close to the same quality of attention to partnering with the private sector or the states or other crucial domestic players that is given to collaborating with NATO or the G-7 or key individual allies. The diplomatic-military-intelligence triad enjoys an advantage of clout, connections, and intellectual capital that far exceeds what we call homeland security.  Counterterrorism and cybersecurity are just about the only aspects of HS that earn any sustained attention by policy elites.

And this is no longer the elite of yore: foxes ala Isaiah Berlin moving from investment banking to the OSS to the Herald-Tribune to an embassy or two and then decamping for a few years at the Ford Foundation.  More and more our modern masters are process managers, mathematicians, and other rather wonky hedgehogs “who know one big thing”.  And they are inclined to leave other big things — if any might emerge — to someone else.  They notice what they know.

Since mid-May I have had two separate conversations with recently retired senior counterterrorism guys.  One has been out for about a year.  The other just retired last month.  They sounded alot alike.  Most of what they said you already know.  What struck me was what they did not say — seemed unwilling to seriously address — even in an informal setting and with their official duties behind them.  (But then again, look what I am doing with the conversations.)

The potentially meaningful silence I observed related to terrorist motivation. Americans currently fighting in Syria were mentioned by both.  Domestic terrorist trends were discussed. Recent events in the Sahel were reviewed.  In each exchange there were similar references to “behavioral indicators” and “spatial analysis” and “antecedent conduct” and “heuristics” and “covariance” and “probability”.   There was considerable reluctance to engage any questions related to ideology, religion, tribal-identity, grievance, or social, economic, and political “co-indicators”.  When these questions were asked both experts bridged-back to statistics as quickly as possible.

Speaking of statistics, an N of 2 is seldom significant.  But still the similarity was striking.  Rather than discussing fleshy and potentially very bloody human beings, my conversation partners might have been describing Brownian physics: The random motion of particles suspended in flux.

PART II: IMMIGRATION

I considered Secretary Johnson’s May 21 remarks misaligned with his audience.  He had a crowd with rather specific priorities.  He gave a generic speech.  Lost opportunity.

The somewhat greater focus I heard him give immigration may have been more the result of narrative punch than proportion or intention.  The Secretary mentioned that on Mother’s Day his wife joined him to visit a hosting center in Texas for detained unaccompanied minors (UAMs in trade-talk).  I was not taking notes, but his brief description was sufficient to imagine the kind of purgatorial scenes widely reported this week.

Immigration Center

Holding area for unaccompanied minors in Nogales, Arizona (USAToday).  Please note portable toilets in the far ground. Those are cots in the fore ground.

Mr. Johnson shared being profoundly affected and having since taken several steps to mitigate the troubling situation. This was more than three weeks ago.  I have wondered how much the Secretary’s action might be cause of (or only coincident with) this week’s media blitz.  I also wonder if our attention to this issue will be any more long-lasting or effectual than that given the kidnapped Nigerian school girls.  The crucial difference may be that Secretary Johnson is paying attention and has the authority to ensure others notice and act as well.

In the case of both Nigeria and Nogales a “policy problem” has been personalized.  In each case the “others” — even the “its” — who are victims have reclaimed their humanity. Or more accurately many of us have acknowledged what was always the case, but we had neglected to notice.

We are usually as effective depersonalizing victims as we are dehumanizing terrorists.

III. (IN)ATTENTION, INTENTION, AND INFLUENCE

Behavioral indicators and other more objective analytic techniques have emerged, in part, to discourage unthinking, unhelpful, misleading, gross profiling of potential terrorists; such as most Muslims or at least those with beards… or Sikhs who wear beards and turbans (but are not Muslim and at least in the United States have only been the target — not the source — of terrorism).

I am in favor of science, social science and statistics. I very much depend on hedgehogs and have tried to be better at burrowing into a hedge myself.

But this need not — ought not — exclude the knowledgeable, mindful, insightful application of the humanities (e.g. languages, literature. art, philosophy, religion, history).  We should especially avoid excluding our humanity.

In dealing with homeland security problems we need to recognize cause and effect.  This can often be done with a decidedly disinterested stance.  But there are other contexts when subjective human insight can play an important role. There is a place for empathy even in counterterrorism.

At West Point the President also said, “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.”  We might begin by recognizing that many of our most precious values are disruptive to more traditional societies… as well as some neighbors down the street.  Being disruptive is often — even accurately — perceived as threatening.  Living our values with integrity while defusing the unintended threat to others is a task requiring both fox and hedgehog, as many as we can get with eyes and ears wide open to the unexpected.

In Philadelphia Secretary Johnson saw a thousand state and local leaders and he didn’t seem to fully recognize their potential.  In the particular moment he was unable to differentiate this crowd from other crowds. He only saw what he was prepared to see. But fortunately when Secretary Johnson saw a thousand illegal immigrants crowded into a detention center in McAllen, Texas he recognized: these are children.  Not just UAMs. His observations and  actions were informed by being a father as well as a cabinet secretary.  Solutions will remain elusive, but much more likely when the problem is engaged as a whole.

August 13, 2013

Crossing over into Canada

Filed under: Border Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 13, 2013

Today’s post was written by someone who – other than being an American citizen — has nothing to do with homeland security.   She lives in the northwest US.

My 12 year old wanted to visit a foreign country this summer. We figured the easiest way to do it would be to visit Canada for the weekend. We would just dip our toes into the country by visiting Victoria for two days. A mere two-hour ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington to Sydney, British Columbia would put us in an entirely different country! But not that different really. After all it’s only Canada. It’s just up the road. You just get in the car and go. Right?

Nope.

We knew things had changed since 9/11. We could no longer cross the border to Canada by answering questions only slightly more rigorous than “do you have any fresh fruit or vegetables?” like they ask at the California border. We knew a passport was involved.

I had a passport, but my 12 year old did not. His expired when he was 5 and we had not renewed it.

We almost didn’t get to go because getting a passport for our 12 year old would take most of the rest of the summer. But then, joy! We read that children under the age of 16 could travel to Canada with only a birth certificate and it didn’t even have to be the original.  A copy would do. My son and I could take our trip after all.

We made reservations, battled our way through the Seattle traffic and arrived in Anacortes well before the ferry to Sydney was to depart. We got in line and inched along.

At last the ticket booth came into view. A man in a day-glo green vest asked us where we were headed. We told him.

Do you have a letter for the boy?” he asked.

“A letter? I have his birth certificate,” I replied.

“You need a letter from his dad saying it’s okay for you take your son to Canada,” he said. “If you don’t have it you might have trouble on the Canadian side.”

“What does the letter need to say? Is there a form? Are there guidelines that tell me what I must include in the letter?” I asked.

We were three cars away from the ticket agent who would be asking for the letter we didn’t have.

“You just need a note from your husband saying it’s okay.”

This letter – the one that would determine if we could visit Canada or not was sounding less official than the permission slips I sign for my son’s school field trips and more like an excuse I write to the teacher when he’s tardy. Apparently any old slip of paper would do.

Over in the passenger seat my 12 year old was freaking out.

“They aren’t going to let me into Canada!” “What will they do with me?” “Am I breaking the law?”

I suggested writing a letter on behalf of my husband and signing his name. I picked up a pen and piece of paper to begin.

“But that’s forgery!” my son yelled as he grabbed the pen from my hand. “You can’t do that! I won’t let you! It’s against the law! I respect my country and my government!”

He was really worked up.

“Even if Dad says it’s okay?” I asked.

“No! It’s breaking government laws and I won’t let you do that!” he replied.

Then he accused me: “Are you some sort of hippie? Are you going to paint the van all flowery and sit there and be like, ‘hey man, we don’t have to respect the system?’”

By now it was our turn to face the person who was going to demand the letter.

With great trepidation, but trying to maintain a cheerful attitude while my son was by now afraid to speak, we approached the agent. I gave her my passport and my son’s birth certificate.

“Do you have a letter from his dad saying it’s okay for you to take him to Canada?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll let you go, but you might have trouble when you get to Canada. I really shouldn’t do this,” she said as she waved us on. I thanked her and drove on to the ferry.

Did we just get away with something? Were we breaking the law? Was she saying it was okay for us to do that? It was all very confusing to my law-abiding, bureaucratically naive son.

But we were on the ferry, on our way to Canada and we couldn’t turn back. Would the Canadians let us in the country without the letter? If they didn’t would they send us back to the US? Would they put us in some sort of holding cell? Would they put us in jail? Canadian jail? Border patrol jail? Were we doomed to ride back and forth on the ferry forever? We did not know. Our border crossing had taken a dark turn.

We arrived in Sydney and drove off the ferry to join the line of cars waiting to be granted entry into Canada. Ours was the last car off the boat.

We worried our way through the line of cars. By now my husband had texted me a letter. Would that do? We had no idea, but it was our turn. My son and I both tried to be cool.

The Canadian was extremely friendly. She was downright sunny as she asked us for our documents. She asked for the letter and I gave her the phone. It had a picture of the letter from my husband.

“Will this do?” I asked.

She smiled and said she knew how it was when you realized you needed something at the last minute. She asked me my address and how long we’d be in Canada. Then she turned to my son.

“Why are you traveling without your dad?” she asked him.

“He’s in California looking at colleges with my older brother,” was my son’s reply.

Polite talk about older brothers going off to college ensued.

“Enjoy your visit,” she said. She waved us on. We were in!

She was nice, my son and I commented to each other as our worries faded and we turned our attention to being in Canada.

Driving along at 90 km/h wondering how much a $1.41 liter of gas really cost we started taking pictures and texting them to the other half of our family. Then it dawned on me. Just what did that text about international data and roaming charges I got from AT&T while we were on the ferry mean?

Epilogue

After the ordeal the letter caused, you can bet upon returning to the United States we made sure we a paper copy in our hand.

But when it came time to cross the border, none of the 3 border patrol people we faced were in the least bit interested in seeing our letter. I handed it to the first US border patrol person and she literally gave it back to me saying, “I don’t need this.”

REALLY? But I worked so hard to make sure I had it! By now I was pretty darned proud of my letter. But no matter, she looked at our other documents and waved us on telling us to get in lane 8 to wait for the ferry.

Lane 8 was a holding pen.

We were surrounded by fence topped with barbed wire. On the other side of the fence people were freely going about their business boating and otherwise enjoying the sunny weather. Granted there was a gift shop in the holding pen, but it was clear if we wanted out, we’d have to talk to yet another authority and show our documents. It was starting to feel un-American.

We boarded the ferry, made one stop in Friday Harbor where passengers disembarked but did not board, then sailed on the Anacortes, Washington looking forward to being back in the United States of America. We drove off the boat and found ourselves in line once again. Are we going to have to talk to yet another official?

Yep.

The border official asked us for our “papers.” That sounded un-American as well. But he was dead serious and appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest, so we were not about to quibble.

I gave him my passport, my son’s birth certificate and the letter.

You will not be surprised to learn that he did not want to see the letter either. He glanced at our other documents, and asked, “What were you doin’ in Canada?”

“Visiting Victoria,” I answered.

“How long were you there?” he asked.

“Three days,” I replied.

“Did you buy anything?” he asked.

I responded with the truth. “Some cereal and a purse. Do you want to see them?”

“No,” he said and waved us on.

My son and I thought my response was hilarious. Cereal and a purse! We giggled ourselves silly as we drove toward home.

But it wasn’t really that funny.

Crossing the border had made us nervous. And tense. Uneasy. And yes, even a little afraid.

But it was over now, so we felt free.

Free enough to laugh.

June 22, 2013

Doubling the Border Patrol? Not a Smart Idea

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Christian Beckner on June 22, 2013

Immigration reform legislation has been debated for the last couple of weeks on the floor of the Senate, and late last week a compromise emerged – in the form of an amendment from Sen. Corker and Sen. Hoeven – that appears to have secured enough votes for the bill to survive a cloture vote in the coming week and then move to final passage.  This New York Times story provides a good overview of the state of play.

One of the key provisions in the amendment (which is technically being wrapped into a larger substitute amendment) is $30 billion in funding over the next decade to add 19,200 new Border Patrol agents, nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol from its current staffing level of 21,370 agents.

This proposal is a terrible idea – one that would be wasteful of taxpayers’ money and is not based on sound operational or technical analysis as to what investments are really needed to improve border security.

Before discussing this in depth, let me be clear: I would like to see broad-based and balanced immigration reform legislation be enacted, and it is sensible for a component of that legislation to be focused on border security, as is the case with ‘Gang of 8′ base bill.  Many of the border provisions in the base legislation are reasonable, including proposed investments in technology and infrastructure (although strong oversight is needed on these, given the history of SBInet) and the proposal to increase the number of Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPO’s, who are different from Border Patrol agents).

However, the proposal to double the number of Border Patrol agents is different, and is something that deserves careful scrutiny by people on all sides of this debate before moving forward.

I have three primary concerns about this provision:

First, adding “boots on the ground” may make for a good soundbite, but it’s a costly and inefficient way to improve border security.   CBP spends around $3.2 billion/year today on personnel costs for the Border Patrol – a figure that doesn’t include the cost to train and equip them.  This $3.2 billion is already a very large chunk of DHS’s budget – as a point of comparison, it’s about 3-4 times greater than what the Department spends overall each year in support of its cybersecurity mission.  A proposal to double the Border Patrol would increase that total to over $6 billion/year in current dollars – and this would be an annual investment for the long-term, because of the difficulties associated with reducing such a workforce once you’ve expanded it.

Second, this proposal is not based on any real analysis about operational needs on the border.  Has anyone assessed what are these additional 19,200 agents going to do, or where are they going to work, or what infrastructure is needed to support them?  Not that I’ve seen, and I doubt that any analysis along these lines has been done.  And if we’re going to be making technology and infrastructure investments (e.g. fixed towers, UAVs, better comms) using funds available elsewhere in the legislation to improve the operational efficiency of the current Border Patrol agents, then why it is logical that we would also need twice as many of them?  As it is, we are already at the point where in some parts of the country, we’re seeing the “diminishing marginal returns” in border security that Secretary Napolitano spoke of a few months ago, exemplified by media reports where Border Patrol agents are fighting constant boredom.   Given this, I think it’s very hard to justify this proposal on its operational merits.

Third, it would be unwise to be spending billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol when many of the other parts of DHS (and other key security-focused agencies) are struggling under the weight of four years of flat and declining budgets, topped off in the last few months by the cuts of sequestration.  For example, the Coast Guard is cutting personnel and continues to be delayed in its acquisition of its next generation of maritime vessels due to budget constraints.  (And keep in mind that the Coast Guard’s maritime border security requirements in the Gulf of Mexico and southern California will likely increase as the southwest land border becomes more secure).  The FBI is expecting that it’s going to need to furlough agents next year because of sequestration.  Nearly every part of DHS has felt the impact of budget cuts by Congress in the last four years – in many cases trimming out needed fat, but now to the point where the cuts are having an operational impact.   But now, suddenly, the Senate is proposing to spend tens of billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol without one iota of analysis.

Given these three factors, I would hope that members of Congress in both parties would rethink this fiscally and operationally unwise proposal, regardless of their position on the broader bill.   There are many better ways to accomplish the shared goal of improved border security.  Some of these are already integrated into the base bill, and others, such as increased resources to investigate overseas human trafficking and smuggling organizations, and increases to the intelligence offices at CBP and ICE, and increases to state and local law enforcement grants in border states, would cost much less but collectively deliver a greater overall benefit to border security.

The agents who currently serve in the Border Patrol are hard-working and patriotic, and deserve our support.  But doubling their ranks doesn’t make any sense, and would be a fiscally irresponsible and operationally uninformed decision by the Congress.

April 4, 2013

Industry Consolidation: Implications for deadly violence in the United States

Filed under: Border Security,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on April 4, 2013

Monday the Associated Press released an investigative piece on the role of Mexican drug cartels in the United states.   According to this report,

Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States — an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world’s most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.

If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels’ move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering…

“It’s probably the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime,” said Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office.  MORE

(For much more detail on the Mexican drug cartels please see a March report by the International Crisis Group: Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico.)

One way to view Mexican drug operations in the United States is as an increasingly concentrated source of supply for a popular and high margin consumer product. In most major US cities — and increasingly in suburban and rural areas too — the Sinaloa Cartel is the primary source while a range of street/prison gangs handle wholesale and retail sales.

According to the 2011 FBI National Gang Threat Assessment,

There are approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) gang members comprising more than 33,000 gangs in the United States. Gang membership increased most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions, although the West and Great Lakes regions boast the highest number of gang members. Neighborhood-based gangs, hybrid gang members, and national-level gangs such as the Sureños are rapidly expanding in many jurisdictions. Many communities are also experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian, Caribbean, and Eurasian gangs. Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others, according to NGIC analysis.

The financial returns of the drug trade — and increased concentration of supply — is reflected in a more streamlined retail network.  This rationalization of major US regional markets is, among other results, producing what can be seen as significant Merger & Acquisition activities across the retail environment.  According to the National Gang Threat Assessment:

Mexican Drug Trading Organizations (MDTOs) are among the most prominent Drug Trading Organizations (DTOs) largely because of their control over the production of most drugs consumed in the United States. They are known to regularly collaborate with US-based street and prison gang members and occasionally work with select OMG and White Supremacist groups, purely for financial gain… The prospect of financial gain is resulting in the suspension of traditional racial and ideological division among US prison gangs, providing MDTOs the means to further expand their influence over drug trafficking in the United States… Gangs’ increased collaboration with MDTOs has altered the dynamics of the drug trade at the wholesale level. US gangs, which traditionally served as the primary organized retail or mid-level distributor of drugs in most major US cities, are now purchasing drugs directly from the cartels, thereby eliminating the mid-level wholesale dealer. Furthermore, advanced technology, such as wireless Internet and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) capabilities, has made the recruitment, collaboration, and coordination of criminal activity more efficient and lucrative, and allows direct contact between the gangs and DTOs.

One outcome of this radical shift in the supply chain for illicit drugs is the emergence of ongoing collaboration between Mexican sources, long-time African-American regional wholesalers, and several white Aryan retail networks (with lots of others in the mix).  But some suggest intense local violence — such as that experienced over recent years in Chicago — can also be understood as competition over market share.

For the most radical White Supremacist organizations this collaboration with the “lesser races” is a case of the ends justifying the means.  Drug profits are a lucrative way to fund the coming revolution… as well as the current lifestyle.  In the annual estimate of the Texas gang threat released earlier this week, the state Department of Public Safety provides this quick overview of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas:

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) was formed as a prison gang and places its racist ideology secondary to its everyday criminal activities. ABT is not considered a significant threat to the border areas of Texas but is considered a prevailing gang that threatens Texas internally because of its involvement in violent crimes, the methamphetamine business, and frequent property crimes.

For what it’s worth, most of my personal contacts in Federal and Texas law enforcement do not believe the recent assassination of Kaufman County, Texas prosecutors will actually be traced to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas — as frequently mentioned in recent days – much less the killing of the Colorado prisons director.  The assassination yesterday of a West Virginia sheriff has, however, spurred concerns related to copy-cat killings.

“While I don’t think they were involved this time, I’m sure,” said one long-time DEA official, “the drug-lords are watching very carefully how this all plays out. “

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