Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 28, 2015

DHS: Another seven days

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 28, 2015

According to The Hill:

A partial government shutdown was narrowly avoided late Friday evening as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a surprise move to back legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for one week.

Pelosi’s support helped Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) move the one-week bill through the House in a 357-60 vote just after 10 p.m., with 55 Republicans and 5 Democrats voting against it. The Senate passed the one-week funding bill in a voice vote.

President Obama signed the bill just before midnight.

On Thursday Secretary Johnson gathered various federal, state, and local participants in homeland security to highlight the impact of a closure or continued delay in adopting more than a stop-gap Continuing Resolution.  See details at DHS website.

Friday the Secretary released a 46-page Contingency Plan providing some specifics on how a hiatus in funding would impact each DHS agency and function.

–+–

There are 247 Republicans in the current House of Representatives.  As recent votes demonstrate just about fifty are much more “Know-Nothings” than Reagan Republicans.  Lincoln specifically fought the influence of the original Know-Nothings during the founding of the Republican Party.

The Know-Nothing movement of the 19th Century was a mostly non-urban, middle-class, nativist reaction to dramatic social and economic transformation that happened to coincide with a rapid influx of Irish and German Catholics.  The strong anti-immigrant stance of the movement can be seen as projecting on specific “others” the blame for a great deal of threatening “otherness.”

In the current context, the power of this nativist — and nostalgic — minority is amplified by what I call the Cantor Effect and the structure of most party primaries.

The surprise defeat of Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader, in his 2014 primary has been credited (accurately or not) to the power of this highly motivated and well-organized rump of the Republican Party.  They will show up and vote when other Republicans have not. Most estimates with which I am familiar suggest roughly 25-to-35 percent of self-identified Republicans perceive border security and immigration as top priorities.  But in many congressional districts nearly two-thirds of actual primary voters consider these and related issues top priorities.

These latter-day Know-Nothings are not just willing to hold DHS hostage to achieve their rather specific objectives.  They are holding-hostage the entire Republican Party, threatening Cantor-like outcomes in primaries across the nation unless their colleagues accommodate their priorities.

Hostage-taking is a reasonable choice for a minority attempting to punch-above its actual weight.  Responding to such a tactic is always treacherous.

February 22, 2015

Count-down to February 27

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 22, 2015

The Continuing Resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security will expire this Friday, February 27.

This week is likely to see considerable last-minute and bipartisan efforts to avoid a DHS shut-down. But some perceive a shut-down will advance their political interests, either to reverse the President’s executive action on immigration or to highlight Republican intolerance and incapacity to govern.

According to The Hill:

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on a House-passed Homeland Security bill that includes the immigration amendments, marking the fourth attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to defeat a Democratic filibuster. The effort is expected to fail, leaving Republican leaders in both chambers with the sticky question of how to proceed.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said that the House has done its job and the ball is in the Senate’s court. But an impasse in the upper chamber could force his hand. That sets the stage for a high-stakes meeting of the House Republican conference on Wednesday morning, where GOP leaders are sure to hear an earful from all sides less than 72 hours before Homeland Security funding expires.

Jeh Johnson will appear today on all five of the Sunday talk shows (Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday), so you should not have a tough time catching the administration’s talking points.

The annual process for DHS grant funding has already been seriously delayed.  Many state and local programs have been continued by internal borrowing.  But if this week’s deadline is missed — as now seems likely — several law enforcement, firefighting, emergency management and other groups  will probably send grant-dependent homeland security programs into a hungry hibernation.

My personal schedule this week will not allow much tracking of the give-and-take.  If you see insightful comments or coverage, please link to the comments here.  If possible I will try to monitor and push some of what you’re hearing to the main page.

February 12, 2015

WSJ Opinion: DHS Appropriations and related issues with Capitol Hill updates

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2015

–+–

Republicans in Congress are off to a less than flying start after a month in power, dividing their own conference more than Democrats. Take the response to President Obama ’s immigration order, which seems headed for failure if not a more spectacular crack-up.

That decree last November awarded work permits and de facto legal status to millions of undocumented aliens and dismayed members of both parties, whatever their immigration views. A Congressional resolution to vindicate the rule of law and the Constitution’s limits on executive power was defensible, and even necessary, but this message has long ago been lost in translation.

The Republican leadership funded the rest of the government in December’s budget deal but isolated the Department of Homeland Security that enforces immigration law. DHS funding runs out this month, and the GOP has now marched itself into another box canyon.

The specific White House abuse was claiming prosecutorial discretion to exempt whole classes of aliens from deportation, dumping the historical norm of case-by-case scrutiny. A GOP sniper shot at this legal overreach would have forced Democrats to go on record, picked up a few supporters, and perhaps even imposed some accountability on Mr. Obama.

But that wasn’t enough for immigration restrictionists, who wanted a larger brawl, and they browbeat GOP leaders into adding needless policy amendments. The House reached back to rescind Mr. Obama’s enforcement memos from 2011 that instructed Homeland Security to prioritize deportations of illegals with criminal backgrounds. That is legitimate prosecutorial discretion, and in opposing it Republicans are undermining their crime-fighting credentials.

The House even adopted a provision to roll back Mr. Obama’s 2012 order deferring deportation for young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents—the so-called dreamers. The GOP lost 26 of its own Members on that one, passing it with only 218 votes.

The overall $40 billion DHS spending bill passed with these riders, 236-191, but with 10 Republicans joining all but two Democrats in opposition. This lack of GOP unity reduced the chances that Senate Democrats would feel any political pressure to go along.

And, lo, on Thursday the House bill failed for the third time to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome the third Democratic filibuster in three days. Swing-state Democrats like Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp aren’t worried because they have more than enough material to portray Republicans as the immigration extremists.

Whatever their view of Mr. Obama’s order, why would Democrats vote to deport people who were brought here as kids through no fault of their own? Mr. Obama issued a veto threat to legislation that will never get to his desk, and he must be delighted that Republicans are fighting with each other rather than with him.

Restrictionists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions are offering their familiar advice to fight harder and hold firm against “executive amnesty,” but as usual their strategy for victory is nowhere to be found. So Republicans are now heading toward the same cul de sac that they did on the ObamaCare government shutdown.

If Homeland Security funding lapses on Feb. 27, the agency will be pushed into a partial shutdown even as the terrorist threat is at the forefront of public attention with the Charlie Hebdo and Islamic State murders. Imagine if the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of DHS, fails to intercept an Islamic State agent en route to Detroit.

So Republicans are facing what is likely to be another embarrassing political retreat and more intra-party recriminations. The GOP’s restrictionist wing will blame the leadership for a failure they share responsibility for, and the rest of America will wonder anew about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

The restrictionist caucus can protest all it wants, but it can’t change 54 Senate votes into 60 without persuading some Democrats. It’s time to find another strategy. Our advice on immigration is to promote discrete bills that solve specific problems such as green cards for math-science-tech graduates, more H-1B visas, a guest-worker program for agriculture, targeted enforcement and legal status for the dreamers. Democrats would be hard-pressed to oppose them and it would put the onus back on Mr. Obama. But if that’s too much for the GOP, then move on from immigration to something else.

***

It’s not too soon to say that the fate of the GOP majority is on the line. Precious weeks are wasting, and the combination of weak House leadership and a rump minority unwilling to compromise is playing into Democratic hands. This is no way to run a Congressional majority, and the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton .

End of WSJ Editorial

–+–

The Hill reports on differences between House and Senate Republicans on the DHS appropriations bill.

Politico reports that Speaker Boehner insists the House will not pass another DHS appropriations bill.

Roll Call reports that Senator Mark Kirk (Republican, Illinois) indicates Republicans should proceed with a so-called clean bill for DHS appropriations.

Last night Politico posted a piece that suggests a DHS shut-down is more and more likely. “The immigration matter was debated privately at a Republican lunch Wednesday in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, with leading conservatives, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, asserting that Democrats would be the political losers if a DHS shutdown occurs, several senators said. Other immigration hardliners, like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Bill Flores (R-Texas), also argued Wednesday their party would be in a stronger political position if Congress fails to meet the Feb. 27 funding deadline.”

February 5, 2015

Immigration physics

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,International HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on February 5, 2015

The continuing resolution under which the Department of Homeland Security is being funded will end on February 27. The House has passed a new DHS appropriations bill. This week Senate Democrats have used procedural votes to block further progress by the House bill.

Riders on the House appropriations measure would constrain Presidential discretion on immigration enforcement.  Many Republicans perceive this is needed to deter illegal immigration and to reassert what they understand to be appropriate constitutional boundaries. The President is “making” rather than enforcing the law, they complain.  Many Democrats, including the President, perceive the House bill to be constitutionally myopic or naive, operationally impractical, and deeply inhumane.

The constitutional issues strike me as murky, but not entirely outside reasonable consideration. Deterrence is often inhumane, in a way that’s the point of many negative actions intended to deter. The core issue — ethically and politically — is mostly about what ought be done with an estimated eleven million unauthorized immigrants already in the United States.  We are divided between arguments of principle and pragmatism, accountability and mercy.  These divisions are sufficiently deep that, so far, we do little more than question the intentions of those with a different opinion. Progress on this core seems so unlikely that each side is tempted to various end-runs and special plays.

Caught in the middle of this skirmish is the DHS budget. In the last week there has been more and more talk of letting the CR expire and holding the Department hostage. Why talk about it when playing chicken is so much more fun?

Last week Politico reported,

Top Republicans are increasingly unworried about missing the Department of Homeland Security’s funding deadline… Lessening the urgency, in some minds, of passing a Homeland Security funding bill is the fact that DHS’s operations wouldn’t necessarily shut down if funding expires after Feb. 27. In the October 2013 federal government shutdown, roughly 85 percent of DHS employees continued to work because their jobs were considered essential. However, their paychecks were withheld until the shutdown was over.

“In other words, it’s not the end of the world if we get to that time because the national security functions will not stop — whether it’s border security or a lot of other issues,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said, though he stressed that Congress shouldn’t ignore that deadline. “Having said so, I think we should always aspire to try to get it done.”

The Congressman’s first sentence, above, has gotten more attention than his second. This includes a White House website headline posted above remarks the President made on Monday at the Nebraska Avenue offices of the Department.

 If Republicans let Homeland Security funding expire, it’s the end to any new initiatives in the event that a new threat emerges. It’s the end of grants to states and cities that improve local law enforcement and keep our communities safe. The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that.

So, once again, the kids at each end of the country road are revving their engines and threatening to race down the tunnel of tall corn toward each other.

Homeland Security Watch typically works to avoid the starkly political.  In this case, I felt the need to at least acknowledge the current context, which seems to be hurtling toward collision.

In my judgment both Democrats and Republicans and both Legislative and Executive branches have trapped themselves in an analysis of symptoms.  The underlying condition is not unknown.  Last week Secretary Johnson mentioned it briefly,

Much of illegal migration is seasonal. The poverty and violence that are the “push factors” in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador still exist. The economy in this country – a “pull factor” — is getting better. There is still more we can and should do.

Push and pull are the essential elements of immigration physics. Presumably we do not want to reduce the pull.  That leaves dealing with push. How can we influence the force, reduce the speed, or change the direction of what’s pushing toward us?

Current approaches mostly wait to treat the issue until contact is made or imminent.  So we increase our investment in border protection and argue over deportation. Physics also allows action-at-a-distance.  Indeed in most cases, a small change in velocity introduced at a great distance has a much more profound effect than enormous force introduced at contact.

Last Spring and early Summer we saw a huge push of very young people toward our Southern border.  The push originated largely in three Central American states.  The force of the push related — and will relate — to poverty and especially violence.

In 2012 the Council on Foreign Relations published a special report that found:

Violent crime in Central America—particularly in the “northern triangle” of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—is reaching breathtaking levels. Murder rates in the region are among the highest in the world. To a certain extent, Central America’s predicament is one of geography—it is sandwiched between some of the world’s largest drug producers in South America and the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs, the United States. The region is awash in weapons and gunmen, and high rates of poverty ensure substantial numbers of willing recruits for organized crime syndicates. Weak, underfunded, and sometimes corrupt governments struggle to keep up with the challenge. 

The CFR report goes on to recommend a series of steps designed to bend the velocity and reduce the force behind the push factor.  Many of its recommendations are reflected in the high level plan that Vice President Biden recently outlined.  The President’s budget references $1 billion to address “root causes” in Central America.

But reading between the lines, I’m not sure I see much there.  The what is thin and the how a mere mist quickly evaporating.

In late December Eric Olson and others at the Woodrow Wilson Center produced a detailed report on the situation in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and recent US policy engagement with each.  It is a resource that should help all of us understand the complexity of the issues and why previous US policy engagement has not been successful.  They also outline several key recommendations to do better.  To summarize here would be a disservice to their careful analysis. Please read the original: Crime and Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle.

Many ancient physicists, including Democritus and Epicurus, perceived reciprocal collisions to be the source of both creation and destruction.  Newton helped us understand the possibilities of mutual attraction and action-at-a-distance.  The collision that now seems likely on February 27 strikes me as mostly distracting from creative opportunities that could advance much more humane and effective security.

January 29, 2015

DHS FY2015 Funding

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on January 29, 2015

I have been trying to discern the status and prospects of DHS appropriations.

Three facts:

  1. DHS was not included in the December Omnibus Appropriation.  The Department is currently operating on a continuing resolution set to expire on February 27.
  2. On January 14 the  fiscal year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill (H.R. 240) was passed by the House of Representatives.
  3. On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader indicated the Senate will take up the House appropriations bill next week. How Senate action will be structured is not yet clear.

Otherwise it is all rather opaque.  At least to me.  If you have seen a credible, holistic — mostly non-partisan — analysis, please point me to it and I will highlight it here.

Excluding DHS from the December Omnibus allowed the remainder of the federal government to be funded in a way that did not further undermine public (global) confidence; yet also ensured — or at least implied — that the President’s executive actions on immigration were reserved for future attack and potential defunding.  If you will recall, the Omnibus just barely passed, so don’t be too quick to critique this technique.

The House bill includes several measures designed to constrain executive discretion related to immigration.  These measures are highlighted in the Explanatory Statement that Hal Rogers, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, submitted with the bill.  Here’s a take against what the House has done.  Here’s a take mostly in favor.

On Tuesday essentially all Senate Democrats signed a letter calling for a “clean” DHS appropriations bill.  In the current context this means a bill without any (or most) of the constraints on immigration included in the House bill.  To adopt the House bill would, under current Senate rules, require twelve Senate Democrats joining all Republicans. Not going to happen.

Can something be done in the Senate and/or in conference that could give DHS its funding and later pass the House?  This is the question for which many are seeking an answer.  An obvious — and politically palatable — way forward is certainly not apparent to me.

What seems more likely is lack of closure on the FY2015 appropriations: Best case recurring continuing resolutions.  Worst case: Well, sometimes you just don’t want to go there. Worst cases tend to keep unwinding.  But in any case, plenty of distraction, demoralization, dysfunction, and potential for even worse.

January 28, 2015

DHS Secretary State of Homeland Security hashtag (#StateofDHS ) already busy

Filed under: Immigration — by Christopher Bellavita on January 28, 2015

The DHS announcement about Thursday’s State of Homeland Security speech was short and to the point:

We will be using #StateofDHS for comments on social media.

If you search how people on Twitter are using the hashtag now (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23DHSin2015&src=typd), you’ll see it’s already active with people lobbying for changes in the rules governing Employment Authorization Cards:

“Fix legal families first as we pay taxes n live by rules no matter what. Pass #H4EAD #DHSin2015 @USCIS @DHSgov. H1B spouses lives on hold.”

#DHSin2015 Any updates on #H4EAD on 29th Jan?We are waiting.plz pass the rule and give smile to h4 spouces.@BarackObama Kindly pass d rule.”

#DHSin2015 @BarackObama How much more testing h4′s patience,After so muc request, signing petition, tweeting , emailing no results.passH4EAD”

@pradoreddy: @USCIS @DHSgov #DHSin2015 Please do not force legal H4s to choose bw career and family. They deserve both. Publish #H4EAD Rule”

“Instead of signing petitions,tweeting & waiting ,H4holders could be working & helping US economy right.Pass #H4EAD @USCIS @DHSgov #dhsin2015

The person who told me about this wrote:

“Most tweets using the hashtag are to demand work authorization for spouses of h1B via holders.  I am curious what organization saw the hastag this early and decided to use it.  Kudos to them!”

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 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.

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 24, 2014

Suffer little children, and forbid them not

Filed under: Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 24, 2014

The arrival at our southern border in recent months of over 60,000 children challenges our national identity.

How we resolve this challenge will have a profound influence on the sort of society we leave to future generations.

The controversy, incivility, anger and political opportunism that have erupted around this issue confirms that the values in play are as fundamental as forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, or promoting the general welfare.  In how we respond to this Children’s Crusade we are deciding the contours of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for our time.

Tomorrow President Obama will host the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador at the White House.  Something close to an ideal solution would involve family reunification with reasonable guarantees of freedom from desperate want and fear. This seems unlikely in the near-term.

We can change our laws to deter children from being pointed toward our borders. But when families pay thousands of dollars to give their children into the tender mercies of smugglers, it is also reasonable to examine how our effort to deter compares with the perceived risks that prompt the 1400-mile plus journey.

When there is a perception of little-to-lose and much-to-gain, even the prospect of prompt-return may be but one more lifeless mount on a Kafkaesque carousel.

What are the real-world human implications of turning-away children in desperate need?  How does this conform with American values? Deporting children without even a hearing?  It strikes me as entirely too analogous to the MS St. Louis… multiplied by about 60.

The policy issues relate to sovereignty, border security, and the integrity of the legal system. These are significant matters.  The ethical issues involve the life and death of children and shared responsibility for the poorest of the poor. These are complicated matters.

Homeland Security Watch has not given much sustained attention to immigration policy.  I expect this is changing.  These significant and complicated matters will not be solved at tomorrow’s White House summit.

My Personal Bias

On the first day of my first college class the professor insisted that an ethical speaker has an obligation to state his or her biases. His argument for this principle involved 1) the benefits of self-awareness and organized thinking that emerge from identifying our own biases,  2) the invitation for others to critique and potentially correct personal bias, and 3) the social value of all speakers accepting that we tend to be creatures of un-examined bias, but with careful listening and mutual respect bias can be balanced with reason. (I know, I know. This is what happens when you live long enough. The past really is another country.)

So… as we begin what may be a recurring dialogue related to immigration policy, forthwith are the key elements of my personal bias.

From the Hebrew Bible:

17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  (Deuteronomy 24)

From the New Testament:

23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  (Gospel of Matthew 23)

I do not pretend these sources are authoritative for the purposes of our dialogue.  This is where my thinking begins.  For purposes of immigration policy my thinking must go beyond this beginning.  But to the extent you seek to shift my stance, the implications of these sources are worth attention.

John Rawls, widely claimed as the most influential political philosopher of our time, wrote, “Reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious or non-religious, may be introduced in public political discussion at any time, provided that in due course proper political reasons – and not reasons given solely by comprehensive doctrines – are presented that are sufficient to support whatever the comprehensive doctrines are said to support.”

In due course…

(Oh, by the way, the title is also biblical: Matthew 19:13-14.)

–+–

UPDATE: FRIDAY, JULY 25

The Pew Research Center has found that children age 12 and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border.

House proposal to address current border controversy: Story in Roll Call. Statement by Kay Granger, Chair of the “House Working Group to address the national security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border.”

Senate proposal to address current border controversy: Story in The Hill.  Statement by Barbara Mikulski, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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 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.

May 28, 2013

Immigration Reform and the Gilovich Conjecture

Filed under: Immigration — by Christopher Bellavita on May 28, 2013

Immigration reform may make its way through the Senate soon. Its chances in the House are less optimistic.

What role will reason play in the latest immigration reform effort?

My answer is guided by Tim Gilovich’s observation (reported in The Righteous Mind, page 84):

When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then … we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of psuedo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.

When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”

And — as I have noted before about the Gilovich Conjecture — much of this questioning happens below the level of consciousness.

Test the conjecture for yourself next time you are confronted with a controversial argument you want to believe, or one you don’t want to believe. For example, maybe something like the following:

Continuing to believe that evidence and logic influence public policy more than emotion and an adaptive unconscious, the Heritage Foundation issued a report a few weeks ago about immigration. The report asserts that “current immigration practices … operate like a system of transnational welfare outreach, bringing millions of fiscally dependent individuals into the U.S.”

If amnesty is a part of immigration reform:

“Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion. …. This should be considered a minimum estimate. It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates significantly the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.”

Does that estimate hold up? asks Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews, as if has better access to evidence and argument.

“Not really. They [the authors of the Heritage Report] make a lot of curious methodological choices that cumulatively throw the study into question. It’s likely that immigrants would pay a lot more in taxes, and need a lot less in benefits, than Heritage assumes, and that other benefits would outweigh what costs remain.”

And then he writes a lot more about the subject, but — to be fair — not as much as the Heritage document.

Two days later, Wonkblog “put that piece in context” by noting one of the authors of the Heritage report wrote a PhD dissertation at Harvard about IQs and immigration that concluded (according to the dissertation abstract)

“The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations…. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.”

A number of people on the political left and middle and right and the gaps in-between objected to the argument and its conclusions, no doubt after also reading the dissertation abstract.

Heritage quickly announced the dissertation was “not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation.”

The Foundation then went into damage control, and apparently considered hiring professional damage controllers.

Two days later, the co-author (Jason Richwine) resigned from Heritage.

He was “guilty of crimethink,” tweeted Charles Murray, Richwine’s mentor. “The bashing from the right has been as mindless as from the left.”

Richwine was interviewed by Byron York of the Washington Examiner a few days after the resignation. York’s article offers a compassionate but realistic portrait of a young intellectual caught by surprise in a political and media shredder.

So, how did it happen? Richwine, the Harvard intellectual, thought he could discuss perhaps the most radioactive subject in America — a mixture of race, ethnicity, and group intelligence — in the context of another highly controversial topic — immigration — and act as if it were all a matter of scholarly inquiry. In addition, he made what was at best a careless mistake … and further damaged himself by making tone-deaf remarks during a public discussion in Washington. Given the intensity of the immigration fight now raging in Washington, that was more than enough to do him in.

Steve Colbert had a slightly different analysis of the Heritage report incident and its aftermath.

But all that is prelude to what I really wanted to present in today’s post.

Here is a 21st century policy argument about immigration in the United Kingdom titled “Mathematics.”

Hollie McNish is the author. Her 2 minute and sixteen second argument seeks to bypass the reason gene completely and go directly to the part of one’s brain that decides things.

Listen to her argument.

If you want to believe what she says, have your unconscious ask yourself “Can I believe it?”

But if you don’t want to believe the argument, direct your unconscious to ask “Must I believe it?”

I think there may still be a bit of time left to wait for Reason to get its policy act together.

Or maybe not.

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