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).


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.


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.”



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



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.)



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.

July 12, 2011

Slavery in America: “I slept with 103 men,” she says. “That is the worst day in my life.”

Filed under: Immigration,Legal Issues — by Christopher Bellavita on July 12, 2011

Slavery still defiles the United States.

By some estimates (including figures from the CIA) as many as 50,000 people “are trafficked into or transited through the U.S.A. annually as sex slaves, domestics, garment, and agricultural slaves.”

The State Department has a lower figure. A few years ago, they reported “that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually.”

Other people think the problem may be less significant than the 50,000 figure makes it appear.

“The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases [authorities] been able to make is so huge that it’s got to raise major questions,” said one criminologist. “It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion.”

Or maybe something else:

“The biggest problem that we have combating these [sex trafficking] cases,” [a DHS official said], “is that once they hear the words ‘Immigration and Customs Enforcement,’ they immediately run. They do not trust us. They immediately think we are going to deport them.”


I read a story Monday about something called T Visas.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act… allows undocumented human trafficking victims to receive nonimmigrant status under some conditions, including agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement.

According to people familiar with the program, very few people are familiar with the program — victims or officials.

“Since T Visas became available in 2002, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services has been authorized to issue up to 5,000 a year — or enough for 10 percent of the 50,000 men, women and children trafficked into the U.S. for prostitution and forced labor each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.”

In the last decade, about 2300 T Visas were issued; in 2010, 447 victims received visas.

(You can find out more about this Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service program at this link.)


Azriel James Relph, an NBC News reporter, described how one person found out about the DHS, USCIS program.  Here is an extended excerpt:

On a recent sweltering afternoon, two women sat at a restaurant table in a small American town, sharing conversation and a cookie and keeping cool. The normally busy eatery was quiet, but even if it had been packed they would have been the oddest couple in the room – a woman who came to this country illegally and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.


“How’s your back? Is it treating you OK?” asked the agent.

“Very, very good,” replied the woman across the table in a heavy South American accent.

We can’t tell you their actual names. Special Agent Jones, her gold badge clipped to her belt and and ICE logo on her black government-issue polo shirt, often works undercover. Naming her could blow that. And her companion, whom we’ll call Laura, is a crime victim. Using her real name or showing her face could give her tormentors all they need to retaliate.

They are both women in their 30s, but the gray streaks running through Laura’s dark hair are suggestions of the pain she has endured.

Laura is a victim of human trafficking who risked her safety by testifying against the man who brought her to this country and forced her to work as a sex slave for at least seven years. Special Agent Jones was a part of the team that saved her.


Laura can’t remember some details of her ordeal, including how long ago she was smuggled into the U.S. — somewhere between 10 and 12 years ago, she reckons. But others — like how she got here — are seared into her memory.

She met a man in her home country when she was in her 20s. He swept her off of her feet, and told her he loved her. She took him to meet her family. When he asked her to go to the U.S. for six months, they cautioned against it, but she was in love and couldn’t say no. They boarded a flight north and only then, on the airplane, did he lay out what he really had in mind for her.

“You’re going to the United States,” she remembers him telling her, “to work like a prostitute.” Laura said she wanted to scream for help, but he told her to remember that he knew where her family was. “I have a lot of friends and I know where everybody lives,” he threatened.

It was a cold winter night when she landed in Washington, D.C. The man passed her off to a couple who took her directly to an old house. She laid awake all night in shock, listening to rats scrape around. All she could think about was how she wanted to phone her family — if only someone in this unfamiliar and unfriendly place could help her make a call.

But Laura had no allies in this frightening new land. She was now an unwilling sex worker in brothels catering to immigrant Latinos in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Atlanta and New York. She remained the “property” of her trafficker, who arranged her movements, as well as those of other women and girls he lured to the U.S. with similar false promises.

She remembers one especially horrific night in Maryland. “I slept with 103 men,” she says. “That is the worst day in my life.”

And she was not alone. “I remember, he say, ‘You no make money, because the other women [had sex with] 130.’ A lot of people don’t believe it, and say ‘No, it’s impossible.'”

Not only is it possible, it happens all the time, all across America, according to Bradley Myles, executive director of Polaris Project, a nonprofit that operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

“Basically there’s this whole sex trafficking network that exists in the United States, and it predominantly targets and victimizes women and children from Latin American countries,” Myles said.

Fear of incarceration due to her undocumented status and concern for the safety of her family kept Laura from attempting escape or contacting authorities. But one day, that fear turned into hope, when Special Agent Jones came through the brothel door.

Three years ago, after approximately eight months of surveillance and undercover investigation — including late-night stakeouts, digging through trash, getting evidence any way they could — Jones and fellow ICE agents approached a house on a quiet street in an average American suburb and knocked on the door. They knew that the front door was not shielding a family sitting around a dining room table discussing their day, but a brothel where women and girls as young as 14 were being forced to have sex with “Johns” who paid $25 for 15-minute sessions. The women and girls worked all day and night, and almost never saw a penny.

On the day of the raid, Laura sat on a couch in the living room, where men awaited their 15-minute sessions, watching television. After seven years in the brothels she was no longer in high demand. New women and girls were constantly being brought in. The younger and fresher the faces, the more popular they were with Johns. The man she had fallen for all those years before in her home country still found a use for her though; she worked as the maid for this brothel.

She heard a knock on the door, peered out the window and saw the police. She didn’t say anything — she just started to cry as she opened the door for them.

Laura said she hadn’t cried about her situation in years. “You know, at one point you can’t cry,” she said. “You cry no more.” But as she realized what was about to happen, the tears came rushing back. “Crying because I am too happy — not afraid — because I knew that this is over.”

What happened next is a blur, but she remembers that the first person she saw come through the door was Jones. The officers told her they had arrested her trafficker. She asked if she was going to jail. They told her no.

The years of slavery had taken a physical and emotional toll on Laura.

“When we rescued her she appeared substantially older than her age,” said Jones. “She had a lot of baggage. A lot of mental and emotional distraughtness.”

Jones hoped to secure her cooperation as the prosecution built its case against her trafficker and the network he was part of. But her captors had told Laura over and over not to trust law enforcement, and she had no idea if she could really believe anything that an ICE agent was telling her.

“When I first met Laura, she didn’t trust us,” said Jones. “She actually made the case harder by saying that the other women that we rescued were all doing it voluntarily, that her trafficker was innocent. But that is usually the way these victims have been brainwashed to believe. It’s classic Stockholm Syndrome.”

Jones was patient. As one of the oldest victims, Laura’s testimony was crucial to the case. She decided to show her what her trafficker had deprived her of, and give her a taste of freedom.

“So we put her in a position where she could continue to thrive and see where she’s going to go,” she said. She arranged for Laura to get temporary status to stay in the country legally. She put her in touch with a relief agency that helped her find work, housing and mental health care. As Laura started to heal, Jones stayed in touch and kept asking for her cooperation, promising that her newfound freedom could be permanent. But Laura continued to resist.

After three years, Laura finally walked into the courtroom where her trafficker sat — the man she once thought she loved — and testified about her ordeal.

“I remember the day, but I no remember what I say,” she said, “because I so nervous.”

Her trafficker was found guilty of human trafficking. He is in federal prison now, and after five years, he will be deported to his home country. He is also required to pay restitution to Laura and the other nine women and girls he was convicted of enslaving

Working human trafficking cases, Jones has found an even stronger connection to her work. “These girls can be anybody’s daughter, anybody’s sister,” she said. “When I look at these girls — that could have been me.”


My first thought after I read this story was sometimes DHS gets it right.

I talked about this case with a friend who works for the federal government and who knows a lot about trafficking.  I asked him what he thought about the story.  Here’s what he said.


Trafficking is one area the United States is getting more right than most places and one where we have demonstrated world-wide leadership.

DHS getting it right? Being that they have the lead, I suppose, but do we need a DHS to get this one right? Not so sure.

As a nation, the US really has driven the modern anti-trafficking movement. Fall of the Wall, Globalization, Explosion of Internet really brought it to light. It has been a bipartisan effort beginning with President Clinton, continued by President Bush under whom the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was signed into law, and since continued by President Obama.

Though it has been a bipartisan effort, the political left seems to focus more on forced labor and the political right on sex-trafficking.  The disparity can be so severe that our State Department under different party affiliations disagrees as to which is the greater cause of trafficking, by a wide amount.

But the US is not alone on the dispute as to what is trafficking. Much like discussions about what are inalienable human rights, there are still disagreements and a variety of different definitions for human trafficking world-wide.

On this point the US adopted the force, fraud, coercion, under 18 rubric for the TVPA.  There is no movement (across borders, state or national) required for human trafficking.

At first the TVPA required the State Department to rank all countries on their anti-trafficking efforts, and then tie US aid and funding to those efforts.

As you can imagine, this can become extremely political, very quickly; particularly in strategic parts of the world.

Initially, the US did not rate itself, but now it does. This is a good thing and has led to positive steps in the US.

There are Americans who believe we need strong international laws and that the US needs to buy into the laws. From that perspective, the US prescriptively set the bar and put people on notice regarding anti-trafficking efforts.

However, when we did that, very few states had human-trafficking laws on the books. In ten years, more than forty states put anti-trafficking laws on the books.  These laws complement the federal laws regarding trafficking. Penalties supporting these laws are much more severe.  This increases the cost criminals face doing business and is a legitimate part of doing business.

But it might lead one to say (much like the immigration laws) how can the feds and the states both have human trafficking laws? There are a lot of legal issues around that question, but it does create a gap.

It is true there is an apparent discrepancy between estimated trafficking numbers and actual criminal prosecutions brought.

I believe this is a result of the force, fraud, coercion requirement. Those are really hard things to prove save for the really egregious cases.

Look at the parties involved in the sex cases. Are the Johns going to appear as a fact witness? Of course not, we don’t even arrest them.

The women … I can’t even begin to put my mind around the psychological components to this: PTSD rates that are as high as combat veterans. They just want it to end.  They don’t care if someone is prosecuted or not. Think battered spouse.  Think rape victims.

My colleague just had a successful prosecution of a violent rape where the women failed to report it for over two years. She had been tasered and then raped, and she thought somehow she was to blame for being so foolish to get into that situation.

Many people make the argument that the women choose to get into the pay for sex game and then end up in a bad situation they choose not to get out of.  So they make two bad choices: getting into the game in the first place and then not walking away when they could. Thus, no force, fraud, or coercion, and no human trafficking, just bad choices.

I don’t know. On the labor side, one might similarly argue that a migrant worker knows they are coming to the US to work (the job may not be what they were promised or believed, but they know that is a reality).  They know it is illegal to do so.  They know they are going to be paid less than a US citizen.  They probably know it will be less than what they have been promised.  And they know their living conditions might be substandard.  No matter what they have been promised, they realize this.  Nevertheless, they still choose to come here and work because it beats the alternative.

Choices all around, right? Or force, fraud, and coercion?

DHS getting it right?

They are the current instrument.  The United States is getting it right.




May 8, 2011

Mexico City March

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2011

On Sunday an estimated 20,000 marched in Mexico City calling for an end to violence by both the drug cartels and government. According to the New York Times at least 150,000 participated in some portion of the march which began on Wednesday. The mass rally was inspired by poet Javier Sicilia. His 24-year-old son and six friends were found dead near the resort town of Cuernavaca, a massacre that mirrored scores of others in Mexico’s brutal drug wars.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Sicilia hopes to turn Sunday’s demonstration into a mass movement to fight not only the drug cartels but also the government’s heavy-handed tactics in pursuing them. The leftist academic is a vocal critic of Mr. Calderón’s conservative government, which he says is too corrupt to resolve the problem. Mr. Sicilia hasn’t offered alternatives.

Mexicans have tried before to create a popular movement against criminal violence. In 2004, just before Mr. Calderón began his crackdown against drug gangs, several hundred thousand people gathered in the capital for a “March Against Insecurity.” But momentum stalled.

Nearly 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since then, with authorities saying Monday that another 13 were killed in a shootout between military and drug gangs at a lake on the border with Texas. Mr. Sicilia and his followers hope the mounting toll is enough to create a popular groundswell.

Following is my own rough translation of Mr. Sicilia’s poem Zazen, with apologies and appreciation.


Feeling, Love, is to look at the wall
the white wall, clean before I pray,
light reflected, a plaster desert
clearly closed, pure boundary.

Sitting at the light of day is hard,
hard time without end, an empty wholeness
when body shifts, heaviness departs
and absence is assuring.

I open my Love in this gap
where I’m alone in a white desert
clean spacious and stark,

dusty light, absence without pride.
Nothing left of me I’m open
clearly this is where you spy.

Stung by your light and without hope
my body is in ecstasy for the day
dust cleared in the light of noon,
stubble burnt by Your dedication;

in the soft evening light of this January
light my bread and cold, wet room,
my wife, the city and joy
of my soul burns in your hearth.

What can I expect, if the fire
fully consumes me each day
and leaves only its quiet depths?

Everything in life is light so dear,
only my body is straw, wood and blade
light consumed on earth, is nothing.


(Editorial Note: On Tuesday morning I inserted this as a Sunday evening post. I began the post on Sunday but did not complete the amateur translation until Tuesday. Please find the Spanish original at A Media Voz.

July 22, 2010

Immigration: a religious dimension

Filed under: Immigration,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 22, 2010

This is the first of a two-part post.  Tomorrow please return to read, Terrorism: a religious dimension, which will demonstrate how the self-revelations offered below expose me as a proto-terrorist. 


There is some portion of basic bigotry in how the immigration issue can be engaged.  The us vs them, insider vs outsider sensibility that well-served our species for millenia persists.  This perspective can be inflamed by a variety of factors.

But it is another kind of us-vs-them — or I/IT — dismissal to only see bigots where there are, instead, self-critical moral agents seeking to find and abide by a set of principles, even a shared vision of justice, goodness, and truth.

James Carafano and Edwin Meese have written, “The key to an intelligent immigration policy is to remember one central truth: Immigrants who unlawfully enter and remain in the country are violating the law. An amnesty program that ignores this criminal behavior will only contribute to a general disrespect for the law. This is the wrong message to send. We want immigrants to follow the laws of the United States and take them seriously. The United States must continue to be a beacon to the world. The challenge is to create practical policies that can be fairly implemented and that make our national security a priority.” ( Please see: Rule of Law at Stake in Immigration Debate)

I am a self-defined conservative.  I am sympathetic to the logic of the argument set out by Meese and Carafano.  In this I almost certainly demonstrate an embrace of the “Strict Father” prototype proposed by George Lakoff.   There is a Moral Order. There is right and wrong.  It is crucial to clarify, as best we can, the difference between right and wrong, rewarding right and punishing wrong.  The rule of law must be preserved.  All of this describes my fundamental political predisposition.

Yet I have rejected the logic of my predisposition.

Over the last five years or so my lifelong and continuing identity with the Republican Party has been shaken as more and more of my party’s candidates take what I perceive to be an us-vs-them, I/IT, position relative to illegal immigrants.  In over thirty years of voting I had only cast two non-Republican ballots.  But in recent years I have several times voted for the Democrat mostly because I was repulsed by an otherwise qualified Republican candidate seeming to demagogue the immigration issue.

I am increasingly self-aware that this has become a classic single-issue test for me.  I will listen carefully for nuanced positions on most other political issues and will accept all sorts of policy compromises, except when I perceive (rightly or wrongly) that a candidate is going after illegal immigrants.  (I am, by the way, entirely in favor of strong employer sanctions, but this wrinkle doesn’t have much to do with being a proto-terrorist, so I will not explain further.)

How did this happen?

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow and who loves strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

The gospel of Luke tells us of Jesus and a lawyer discussing another verse from Deuteronomy. They agree that the essential religious rule is, “To love the Lord your God with all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then the lawyer, being a lawyer, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answers the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  You can access the whole response in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25-37

As I read it, whoever is in need is our neighbor. The scripture concludes with Jesus asking, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?  The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

As a matter of general principle, I do not perceive that religious arguments are sufficient for reaching political judgments in a secular pluralistic democratic republic.  But on this particular issue, my personal experience of faith compels me to an  attitude of love for strangers and mercy towards neighbor that — with surprising passion — trumps every other argument. On this topic, for me, the non-religious argument is hypocritical and entirely misses the point.  Immigration  is fundamentally an issue of love and mercy.

I am a white, male, privileged, graduate-educated, third generation proud American of English-Scot-French Protestant extraction.  Yet  in regard to our relationship with immigrants — especially the poorest, strangest, non-English speaking — I have become a religiously inspired zealot.

For further consideration:

Evangelicals join Obama on Immigration (New York Times)

Churches eye immigration’s upside (Politico)

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Letter on Immigration (Most Reverend David Zubick, Bishop of Pittsburgh)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

April 28, 2010

But Wait, There’s More!

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security,Immigration,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on April 28, 2010

Like many other policy wonks, I like few things better than a powerful metaphor that describes the state of thinking on an important issue or question. One of the comments provided in response to Jessica Herrera-Flanagan’s post last week presented just such an opportunity. Defining the mission of the Department of Homeland Security — and possibly by extension all of homeland security — in terms of gatekeeping and coordination gave me just such food for thought.

The power of a metaphor is sometimes not what it describes, but what it does not. That was the case for me in this instance.

Having spent most of my career working in or near local government, I have acquired a different, more instrumental view of the role of government as a provider and protector. As such, I usually see the range of options as representing a broad continuum of overlapping alternatives rather than a simple choice between competing conceptions of the good or right. These alternatives almost invariably involve subtle distinctions about the level or nature of the engagement between government and other stakeholders required to achieve a particular set of outcomes.

This framing helps me attend to both the means and the ends, because both matter to constituents and citizens. This is important, because it is often difficult to discern which will matter more in any given circumstance until a particular situation arises.

So what does this continuum look like for homeland security? I equate gatekeeping with command/control interventions where the output (keep undocumented an undesirable immigrants from entering the country) substitutes for the intended outcome (protect individual citizens, the society, its culture, and the economy from the adverse effects of illegal immigration). Coordination equates with little more than avoiding or minimizing conflicts rather than sharing the process of making meaning through the definition and resolution of those conflicts that inevitably arise in any complex, interdependent relationship.

Gatekeeping, as a command/control strategy, does a good job of avoiding the trap of focusing on inputs or input-output relationship while leaving unexplored the larger question of whether or not the output and outcome (secure borders and unfettered liberty) are related much less the same. Coordination all too often falls into the same trap, by assuming too much about the nature of the ends/means dichotomy and the relationships of these parts and the stakeholders to them. Perhaps this explains why our current approach to homeland security, especially as it relates to immigration control, is such a dismal failure?


What then are the alternatives? Before considering alternatives we need to distinguish between means and ends. When we focus on the means, especially when we assume the goals or outcomes are already well-understood and shared by all participants, we may find it both expedient and efficient to focus our energy through command strategies that require little inspiration (especially on the parts of others) and only one-way communication (from us to them).

When the ends are shared, but multiple paths lead to the same destination and there is some risk that participants left to choose their own way will select intersecting paths that create conflicts at key junctions, we may engage strategies that seek to avoid or minimize the potential for such conflicts. Again, these strategies require little inspiration on the part of others. On the other hand, decision-makers and leaders do need sufficient imagination to foresee potential conflicts, especially if you hope to communicate your understanding of the end-game in terms clear enough and compelling enough to gain the parties’ consent to take actions that get everyone to their destination without getting in the each other’s way.

When means are scarce or ends require you to mobilize the efforts of others (sound familiar), a cooperation strategy often makes sense. Such a strategy involves commitments, which require a more inspired view of what’s at stake or what’s to be gained by one or all participants. As the number of participants, the complexity of the processes involved, or the scope and scale of the products expected to result from the processes expand, so too does the need for communication among those involved.

Complex problems, especially those that defy straightforward solutions, usually require a more inspired approach, which often if not always, requires participants to share commitments to both the means and the ends. A true collaboration does not require anyone to sacrifice their identity, but it does require them to work together in ways that create shared objectives and meaning, both of which often take the form of sacrifices for the sake of success.

Each of these strategies builds on the other. Even in a large and complex collaboration, some elements of a shared program may depend upon simpler strategies that involve cooperation, coordination or even outright command approaches. What gives these tactics meaning is the shared commitment among participants to defining when, where, how and by whom these approaches are employed.

What does all of this have to do with homeland security? Well in the case of border control for just one issue, the nation remains deeply divided about the nature of the problem. With the possible exception of the people of First Nations, we share an immigrant past. Our economy today depends in no small way on the contributions of immigrants, many of whom arrived here legally and others who did not. Even those here without appropriate documentation or legal status often contribute not only their labor, but their wealth to support the state and its citizen even when they themselves can neither access nor enjoy many of these services such as health care, social security, workers’ compensation insurance, and unemployment benefits.

The threats posed by illegal immigrants often arise not from their status or their habits, but the criminalization of their status by the host society. When we make it impossible for immigrants to participate freely much less fully in our society, we leave them little choice but to fend for themselves or find another way. All too often, they find the only way open to them is to associate with elements who have no regard for either their welfare or ours.

Applying a different lens to a homeland security issue like immigration and border control allows us to see the folly of our current approach. Gatekeepers can never fully secure our borders. Even if they could, some legal immigrants would find compelling reasons to remain in the country beyond the limits imposed by their visas. Criminalizing their status makes it more difficult to resolve the issues their continued presence presents to both us and them.

When people are forced to choose between liberty and security, as we have seen time and again since 9/11, they will almost always choose security. What then would happen if we choose to coordinate, cooperate, or even collaborate to resolve the issues related to immigration and border control?

Working with immigrant communities, immigrants’ home countries, local employers, labor unions, and government officials at every level to provide legal paths to economic participation and citizenship serves everyone’s interests. Such an approach does not involve an open door policy, but neither does it mean closing the gate after the horse bolts.

A collaboration would require careful consideration of the needs that inspire immigration and provide a safe haven for undocumented immigrants once they arrive. Such an understanding requires two-way, if not multi-way, communication that creates a clear understanding of the labor markets and conditions among all participants so they can craft safe, secure pathways for participation that not only meet everyone’s needs. Doing so would help temper prospective immigrants’ expectations while affording those who play by the rules appropriate opportunities to climb the ladder toward acquiring citizenship or permanent residence.

Such a process would not eliminate the need to set immigration standards, control borders, or deport those who violate the laws. We would still need to apply command/control and coordination strategies, but their place in striking a balance between security and liberty would be better defined and tied to an understanding of the economic incentives that inspire immigration. Moving toward creating such as system would require us to abandon an approach that does little more than make de facto criminals of those who come here to make a contribution that arguably provides mutual benefits to both them and us.

If we want more security when it comes to immigration and border control, we need to acknowledge and accept the inspirational power of liberty, in both an economic and cultural sense.  If we take concrete steps to expand access to it among those willing to work with us to build the nation, we will not only expand prosperity but extend the legacy of diversity that immigration has granted us as well. Together these benefits will almost certainly promote more stable, just, and secure borders and border control arrangements in the process.

April 26, 2010

Immigration: Front and Center

Filed under: Immigration — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on April 26, 2010

Immigration reform promises to be the hot topic in the coming weeks as it has moved up the list of policy priorities, thanks in part to a new Arizona law.

On Saturday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB1070, which requires Arizona police to question anyone “reasonably suspected” of being undocumented.  Under existing law, they could only require information on someone’s status if the person is suspected of a crime. Legal immigrants are required to have their immigration paperwork handy. The law is the most restrictive state immigration law in the nation and has generated a great deal of attention, especially for its potential to encourage racial profiling.

On Friday, President Obama criticized the bill and has ordered the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to monitor developments to assure that civil rights are not being violated.

On the Hill, the leading players on immigration reform have been Senators Schumer and Graham, who have been working on a bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses the three prongs of immigration:  1) Enforcement, 2) Future Flow, and 3) Pathway to Citizenship.  In late March, the Senators announced a framework for their bill, which was endorsed by President Obama.  They have been working on gaining additional support, especially from Republicans, when the Arizona law came along.

As the Arizona legislation was considering SB1070, Senators McCain and Kyl released a Ten Point Border Security Action Plan that included the deployment of 3,000 National Guard troops along the border, along with 3,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and lots and lots of miles of fence.   Both are advocating a border security first approach to addressing immigration issues.  Ironically, both Senators were supportive of past efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform but are now asserting that the federal government is not doing enough to secure the border.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that immigration might be next on the agenda for the Senate, ahead of climate change which many thought was next in the queue. His remarks follow similar comments he made in Arizona that he was committed to immigration reform.   Senator Schumer is expected to reach out to a number of Republican Senators, including those President Obama called last week – Senators Brown, Murkowski, LeMieux, Lugar, and Gregg – in order to get a deal that can move forward.

Complicating things is that Senator Graham is also the leading Republican on the bipartisan climate change legislation.  The unveiling of that bill, which was supposed to be released by Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham today, has temporarily been canceled.  While Senator Graham has not walked away from discussions with Senator Schumer, he did send out a letter to many involved in the climate bill process, stating that his participation in climate discussions was being adversely affected by Senator Reid’s decision to move immigration next.

In the House, Speaker Pelosi has indicated that the House will move immigration legislation — if the Senate passes something first.

A lot of activity with lots more expected.  There is little question that immigration reform is much needed — the question for policymakers is how to do it successfully so as not to replicate the failures of  the 2007 attempt to address the issue.

March 26, 2010

Immigration- In the Background

Filed under: Immigration — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on March 26, 2010

While health care may have been grabbing most of the headlines, the last two weeks have been busy on the immigration front. Just over a week ago, Senators Schumer and Graham released an framework for immigration legislation that they would like to move forward with in the near future. Last Sunday, somewhere between “tens of thousands to more than 200,000” people descended on the National Mall for the “March for America: Change Takes Courage” to promote immigration reform.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held an oversight hearing on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), touching upon a number of programs including E-Verify and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, as well as the agency’s Transformation Program, designed to “transition the agency from a paper-based business model to a centralized and consolidated electronic environment.”

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up two bills – S. 2960 and S. 2974 – that would allow immigrants living in the U.S. legally to work overseas without harming their immigration status. The first bill would exempt immigrants who are refugees or asylum grantees who are working for the federal government oversees to have their immigration status adjusted to permanent resident without being required to be physically in the U.S. for a year. The second would allow permanent residents to go home to assist in recovery efforts in their native country in the time of a disaster without an adverse effect on their opportunity for naturalization here in the U.S.

Also held yesterday was a hearing in the House Homeland Security Committee entitled “Visa Overstays: Can They be Eliminated?” Much of that hearing focused on the development and implementation of a biometric air exit system. Congress first requested an automated entry/exit system in 1996 as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).. The 9/11 Commission, in its final report, called for the creation of such a system. In 2007, congress mandated the use a system to biometrically track the exit of all foreign visitors from US. Airports by June 30, 2009. That deadline was not met.

During the hearing, Committee Members posed a number of questions to the witnesses, specifically DHS National Protection & Programs Directorate Undersecretary Rand Beers about the future of a biometric air exit system. Members specifically asked why the Department did not request any funding for the air exit program in its Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request. In response, Beers stated that since no decisions have been made on moving forward with a biometric exist system, it was impossible for the Department to predict costs. He did say that DHS would likely request funds in 2012 and that the estimates for the cost of any exit program could top $1 billion over 10 years. The decision on whether to continue with the program rests with Secretary Napolitano, who is evaluating its future.

Interestingly, even if a program was implemented, the Department – through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – would still have to track those who have overstayed their visas and not left the country. This effort is tremendous, according to testimony given by the DHS IG Richard Skinner and ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. ICE, for its part, has focused on the biggest risks – fugitives, potential terrorists and criminals – in its efforts to track down those who have overstayed.

It is very likely, whatever happens on the comprehensive immigration reform front, that immigration and border security will remain a significant issue for the next several months. Among the things to look out for:

Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

    • Will Senators Schumer and Graham’s bill, in the current toxic environment in D.C., be able to garner support this year and be considered?
    • If something goes through the Senate, how will the House respond?
    • What role will the White House play in shepherding the issue through Congress?

    Border Security:

    • SBINet- what is its future?
    • Air Exit – what is its future?
    • How will the increasing violence along the U.S.-Mexico border affect our nation’s border security efforts?
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