January 29, 2018 4:49PM

ICE To Track License Plates

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has access to billions of license plate images that allow for the agency to engage in near real‐​time tracking of its targets. This surveillance capability should instill a sense of unease in us all, even if we aren’t in ICE’s crosshairs. 

Vigilant Solutions, the private company that reportedly collects the data ICE will query, owns a database with more than 2 billion license plate photos that produces 100 million hits a month. These photos come from toll roads, parking lots, vehicle possession agencies, as well as local law enforcement. According to ICE’s privacy impact assessment for the license plate tracking program, Vigilant Solutions’ data includes images from 24 of the US’ top 30 most populous metropolitan areas. ICE does not contribute license plate images to the database.

ICE policy does provide some privacy protections, but they fall far short of what the agency should impose on itself. ICE may only query the database for license plate numbers in order to find information about vehicles that are part of “investigatory or enforcement activities.” Given that ICE has been increasing the number of noncriminal undocumented immigrants it arrests, it’s safe to assume that ICE’s use of the license plate database will extend beyond investigations into undocumented immigrants who are wanted for violent crimes. 

ICE’s privacy impact assessment states that investigators with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the agency responsible for deportations, will be able to access five years worth of license plate location data.

Those who believe that ICE should be dedicating significant resources to deporting non‐​violent undocumented immigrants may applaud the use of license plate location data. What they should consider is that they could be the targets of identical surveillance in the future. The federal government has conducted surveillance on a wide range of targets, and surveillance tools won’t change just because the target will.

The Constitution provides little protection when it comes to long‐​term warrantless tracking. In 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the warrantless 28‐​day GPS tracking of a car violated the Fourth Amendment. However, the opinion of the Court, written by Justice Scalia and joined by his colleagues Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor, is grounded in the physical intrusion of the GPS locator on the car rather than the GPS tracking violating the driver’s expectation of privacy.

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January 29, 2018 4:31PM

Infrastructure and Regulations

The other day, the Wall Street Journal looked at the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the costs of building infrastructure:

The administration is hoping to roll back regulations in place for decades to reduce the period between project approval and construction, limiting environmental reviews and litigation in favor of getting big things built.

The effort is likely to face resistance from environmental groups and their Democratic allies in Congress. But the president’s advisers believe they can alter the permitting process in ways that change how the government builds roads, bridges, rails and pipelines for years to come. “ … I think one of the most important things this administration can do is take permit delivery times from what is now an average of 4.7 years down to two years,” said Alexander Herrgott, the lead infrastructure aide on the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality…”

… Previous presidents have tried to streamline the federal permitting process as a way to jumpstart rebuilding of the nation’s critical infrastructure. That includes President Barack Obama, who signed the FAST Act in 2015, a bipartisan transportation funding package that created a federal permitting improvement council aimed at speeding up the environmental review process.

Mr. Trump and his aides have cited studies suggesting that environmental review can often take a decade, and calling for that period to be reduced to two years. A Government Accountability Office study of the environmental review process in 2014 cited third‐​party estimates that reviews average 4.6 years.

We will hear more about Trump’s infrastructure approach in his State of the Union message tomorrow night. So far it appears the approach combines:

  1. government spending increases, as I noted,
  2. deregulation, as the WSJ noted,
  3. privatization, as with Trump proposals for air traffic control and federal electricity assets, and
  4. corporate tax cuts to boost private‐​sector infrastructure investment.

Approaches 2, 3, and 4 are very positive. Approach 1 is not.

More on permitting here. More on infrastructure policies here. More on privatization here.

January 29, 2018 1:23PM

Distance Makes Trump’s Heart Grow Fonder for the TPP?

Picking up on Simon Lester’s reaction on Friday to President Trump’s near 180-degree rhetorical pivot on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I agree with the implication that one would be ill advised to set his watch to the man’s words. However, there are plenty of good reasons for Trump to change his mind and seek to rejoin the TPP, so maybe—just maybe—the president is beginning to see the bigger picture.

Before the 2016 election, I wrote a piece in Forbes explaining why any president would want the tools of the TPP at his or her disposal and predicted that the next president (despite both major party candidates disavowing it) would ultimately support it:

The TPP is a blueprint for securing U.S. geoeconomic and geopolitical interests now and into the future by updating the rules and institutions of international trade that facilitated 70 years of global economic expansion, poverty reduction, and relative peace. As an agreement that includes countries on four continents, the TPP is well-suited to fill the void created by the breakdown of the multilateral negotiating “round” approach to global trade liberalization. The TPP is open the new members and the fact that it has achieved critical mass (40% of global GDP represented) means that the cost of remaining outside the deal will rise with every new accession, so most eligible countries will choose to join.

As investment has begun to shift from TPP outsiders to TPP members in anticipation of implementation, non-members have been implementing various domestic reforms to improve their prospects for eventually joining. And with China’s most important trade partners joining TPP, Beijing with have no better alternatives than to embrace the TPP, as well—and accept the new rules that will rein in some of the abusive trade practices of which China is so frequently accused.

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January 29, 2018 10:52AM

White House Plan Bans 22 Million Legal Immigrants over 5 Decades

The White House released another immigration framework Thursday. Like its past efforts, this plan calls on Congress to enact draconian restrictions on legal immigrants. Members of Congress will have to flesh out the details, but in the most likely scenario, the new plan would cut the number of legal immigrants by up to 44 percent or half a million immigrants annually—the largest policy-driven legal immigration cut since the 1920s. Compared to current law, it would exclude nearly 22 million people from the opportunity to immigrate legally to the United States over the next five decades.

The White House Plan: Full Changes

The language in the framework is vague enough that members of Congress have some flexibility in its implementation. The most vocal supporters of the new plan in Congress are Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), David Perdue (R-GA), James Lankford (R-OK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). This group has previously introduced the SECURE Act (S. 2192), legislation that would make many similar changes to legal immigration as those called for by the White House. This analysis will take the SECURE Act as the initial blueprint for a bill implementing the White House ideas.

The president’s new plan adds two major elements that distinguish it from the senators’ current bill. First, it would immediately end the diversity visa lottery and, before eliminating its 55,000 visas completely, reallocate them toward reducing the current family- and employer-sponsored backlogs. Second, it would end—like the SECURE Act—most family-sponsored visa categories, but the White House would apply the changes only “prospectively, not retroactively, by processing the backlog.” This means that the number of legal immigrants would drop more gradually than under the senators’ current bill.

Table 1 provides the fully implemented changes. The White House plan—enacted as an amended and narrowed version of the SECURE Act—would reduce the number of legal immigrants by more than 490,000 people annually, or 44 percent. The final column shows the estimated timing for the entire category to have fully phased out. (See below for a full explanation of these estimates.)

Table 1: Legal Immigrants Under Current Law & White House Framework

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Sources: Authors’ calculations based on White House; S. 2192; Department of Homeland Security (FY 2018 based on FY 2016 figures, accounting for the FY 2018 cut to refugees); *Category would continue but under the SECURE Act, no visas would likely be issued (see text); **Plan provides for a temporary increase

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January 29, 2018 9:21AM

Immigration Week on the Cato Daily Podcast

Starting today and throughout this week, the Cato Daily Podcast (Subscribe!) will drill down into issues related to immigration. First up, Alex Nowrasteh and I discuss the persistent myths surrounding immigrants and crime. Put simply, if you’re going to worry about crime rates among groups, worry relatively more about your fellow Americans and relatively less about immigrants, both legal and illegal.

January 29, 2018 7:55AM

Arizona Governor, Legislature, Rush Through Flawed “Emergency” Opioid Legislation

Late on the night of January 25, the Arizona legislature unanimously approved “The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act,” introduced at the urging of Governor Doug Ducey (R) just 3 days earlier. The Governor and legislature were in such a hurry that they took no time to request testimony from representatives of the medical profession or from any other experts that might have differing views about the best ways to approach the overdose crisis. The overdose crisis is such an “emergency” that there was no time for that. Yet, most of the Act’s provisions are not scheduled to take effect until 2019.

Among the harmful features of the Act are strict restrictions on the amount and dose of opioids doctors can prescribe to new and postoperative patients. Prescriptions may be for only 5 days, and the dosages are capped. Doctors wishing to exceed these limits must first consult a board-certified pain management specialist which, of course, might take several days. This policy is not evidence-based. It will cause injured patients and those recovering from surgery to suffer needless and agonizing pain. In December, the Arizona Medical Association and the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association wrote the state Department of Health Services warning of harmful “unintended consequences” that may ensue from one-size-fits-all 5-day limits on prescriptions and dosages for patients in acute pain.

This policy is not just inhumane, it’s dangerous. Desperate patients might seek to get better relief for their undertreated pain by supplementing their prescriptions with alcohol and/or other drugs, or by obtaining drugs through the illegal market, increasing the risk of overdose or death.

Another provision requires all providers to use a state-approved E-prescription system to prescribe opioids, placing a burden on health care providers in remote and rural areas of the state, where broadband internet access is inadequate and where some practitioners lack technological sophistication in their practices.

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January 26, 2018 3:40PM

Happy Ending for Bombardier

In its final ruling issued just minutes ago, the U.S. International Trade Commission determined that the U.S. industry (Boeing) was NOT threatened with material injury by reason of dumped or subsidized imports of 100- to 150‐​Seat Large Civil Aircraft from Canada (Bombardier). This is big news in the trade world for a variety of reasons.

Typically, domestic industries seeking relief under these statutes (the U.S. Antidumping and Countervailing Duty laws) are successful because the evidentiary thresholds are so low. The antidumping law was changed in 2015 to lower the thresholds even further, which helps explain the near record number of trade remedy case filings in 2017. Boeing seemed to be testing how low that threshold was. As I wrote a few months ago, “The language in the statute would seem to preclude an affirmative threat of material injury finding if there haven’t been any import sales.” 

I’m glad the ITC seems to have agreed. It’s important that a case as meritless as Boeing’s, which was predicated on the notion that the domestic industry was “threatened” with material injury by reason of sales by Bombardier to Delta that haven’t even happened, of airplanes that haven’t even been built, which are of a class of aircraft that Boeing doesn’t even produce, was found wanting by the ITC. Seems like common sense, but the AD/CVD statutes accord very little room for common sense to prevail. It’s good to see some a crucial check on the system working.

But there’s still a lot of work to do to rein in the routine abuses and to make these laws more compatible with economic reality.