Archives: 02/2018

The Fatal Flaw in John R. Lott Jr.’s Study on Illegal Immigrant Crime in Arizona

Economist John R. Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center released a working paper in which he purports to find that illegal immigrants in Arizona from 1985 through 2017 have a far higher prison admissions rate than U.S. citizens. Media from Fox News to the Washington Times and the Arizona Republic have reported on Lott’s claims while Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) have echoed them from their positions of authority. However, Lott made a small but fatal error that undermines his finding. 

Lott wrote his paper based on a dataset he obtained from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) that lists all admitted prisoners in the state of Arizona from 1985 to 2017. According to Lott, the data allowed him to identify “whether they [the prisoners] are illegal or legal residents.” This is where Lott made his small error: The dataset does not allow him or anybody else to identify illegal immigrants.[i] 

The variable that Lott focused on is “CITIZEN.” That variable is broken down into seven categories. Lott erroneously assumed that the third category, called “non-US citizen and deportable,” only counted illegal immigrants. That is not true, non-US citizen and deportable immigrants are not all illegal immigrants. A significant proportion of non-U.S. citizens who are deported every year are legal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas in one way or the other, frequently by committing crimes. According to the American Immigration Council, about 10 percent of people deported annually are Lawful Permanent Residents or green card holders—and that doesn’t include the non-immigrants on other visas who were lawfully present in the United States and then deported. I will write more about this below. 

Lott mistakenly chose a variable that combines an unknown number of legal immigrants with an unknown number of illegal immigrants. Lott correctly observed that “[l]umping together documented and undocumented immigrants (and often naturalized citizens) may mean combining very different groups of people.” Unfortunately, the variable he chose also lumped together legal immigrants and illegal immigrants.

Trump to Propose Energy Cuts

As we near the release of President Trump’s new budget, some of his proposals are leaking to the press. The Washington Post reports that the president will propose cutting renewable energy and energy efficiency subsidies by 72 percent. That would be a good start, although 100 percent would be better.

Spending for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is set at $2.04 billion for the current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. Last year, the administration asked for $636.1 million, a decline of more than two-thirds, although Congress did not implement the request. For 2019, the administration’s draft proposal would lower that request even further, to $575.5 million.

We will see whether Congress goes along, but the story does show that, so far, Trump is siding with his conservative budget director, Mick Mulvaney:

The Energy Department had asked the White House for more modest spending reductions to the renewable and efficiency programs, but people familiar with the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share unfinished budget information, said the Office of Management and Budget had insisted on the deeper cuts. …“It shows that we’ve made no inroads in terms of convincing the administration of our value, and if anything, our value based on these numbers has dropped,” said one EERE employee…”

Apparently, the White House budget office has concluded, as I have, that energy subsidies are a waste of money.

Ending Qualified Immunity for Cops Is a Matter of Life and Death

Last week, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, police released video from a nighttime SWAT raid on the home of a man suspected of selling marijuana—yes, marijuana—during which officers fatally shot his mother, 72-year-old Geraldine Townsend, after she fired a BB gun at the officers. As he is being cuffed and dragged from the house, Mike Townsend can be heard pleading with the officers to let him see his dying mother, but they refuse.

In December, Wichita, Kansas, police received what turned out to be a prank call regarding a non-existent hostage situation at the home of Andrew Finch. When the 28-year-old father of two went outside to investigate the flashing emergency lights, SWAT officers yelled at him to “Show your hands” and “Walk this way.” Seconds later, one of the officers shot and killed him. Andrew Finch was unarmed.

That same month, a six-year-old San Antonio boy was killed by deputies who were shooting at a suspected car thief, also unarmed, on the front porch of the boy’s mobile home. Two weeks before that, former Mesa County, Arizona, officer Philip Brailsford was acquitted of murder for shooting an unarmed man, Daniel Shaver, as he begged for his life in the hallway of a motel. And back in July, Justine Damond was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her house. Damond too was unarmed.

Lack of systematic record-keeping makes it difficult to quantify the scope of the problem with precision, but according to The Washington Post, of the roughly 1000 people shot and killed by police last year, at least seven percent were unarmed. A study by Vice News of all shootings by police, including non-fatal ones, suggests the numbers are even worse: 20 percent of people shot by police were unarmed.

No one denies that police have a difficult, dangerous, and sometimes scary job, nor should we forget the heroism of officers like those who threw themselves between citizens and mass shooter Micah Johnson during a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas in July 2016. But the time has come for a national conversation about the risks we expect officers to take in order to avoid shooting innocent people like Andrew Finch, Daniel Shaver, and Justine Damond—and also to ensure that they avoid creating unnecessarily dangerous situations by staging gratuitous nighttime SWAT raids to serve low-level drug warrants.

Government Mismanagement: Incentives or Culture?

As a general matter, governments are poorly managed compared to businesses in competitive markets. They tend to spend money on low-value activities, put up with sloth and waste, and follow failed policies for years without a course correction. I have examined the structural causes of federal waste and mismanagement in studies on Congress and the executive branch.

Many of the federal government’s structural problems also bedevil state governments. Yesterday, a Washington Post editor, Gene Park, described some of the dysfunction in Hawaii’s government that led to the false missile alert last month.

I could not figure out whether Park was mainly blaming institutional problems—such as union job protections—for government failures, or whether he was blaming the general culture of Hawaii and its government.

Certainly, the two factors are related. Flawed institutions such as labor unions create bad incentives and spawn a culture of waste. I would guess that people are similar everywhere, but different institutions across societies have shaped differing cultures or general behaviors. Of course, within societies people have many different personality traits, and governments likely attract workers seeking an environment of high job security and low performance expectations.

Is Hawaii’s government more mismanaged than other state governments? If so, is it because high unionization and other features of its government have created bad incentives, or is it because people in the state hold attitudes that undermine government efficiency?

The FISA Follies: The Nunes Memo Edition

After much publicly acrimony and week-long speculation about its contents, the “Nunes Memo” (named for GOP House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) chairman Devin Nunes of California) was finally made public today. In reality, the document was authored by thus-far unidentified GOP HPSCI staffers and does not represent a genuine, bipartisan committee product. It is thus, by definition, a purely partisan document.

But what of its substance, if any? Is there anything truly new or genuinely important in the document that is worthy of follow up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Unlikely. Should the memo serve as an opportunity for Congress to revisit its anemic surveillance oversight and reform record? Absolutely. First, let’s deal with the memo.

The memo itself is concerned with FBI Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance requests targeting then-former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2016. The core Nunes Memo allegation is that material that would’ve cast doubt on the credibility of the so-called “Steele Dossier“–a piece of campaign opposition research on the Trump campaign compiled by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, portions of which were allegedly used in the October 2016 FISA application on Page submitted to the FISA Court (FISC) by the FBI. In essence, the Nunes Memo alleges that a piece of political campaign material was used in an effort to target Trump and his campaign staff, and that the FBI failed to disclose Steele’s political connection to the DNC and Clinton campaigns to the FISC. 

What the Nunes Memo fails to note is that Page was clearly a “person of interest” to the FBI as early as 2013 in connection with a counterintelligence investigation involving Russian spies–agents who were apparently attempting to recruit Page as a source. As a former intelligence officer myself, its very easy for me to see why the Bureau would be interested in Page and his ongoing contacts with Russians. That Nunes and his staff apparently don’t see the problem presented by Page’s Russian contacts should be of concern to anyone who cares about preventing hostile intelligence services from gaining access to Americans with potential political influence and access to sensitive government information via their friends in government.

Recapping Immigration Week on the Cato Daily Podcast

All this week, the Cato Daily Podcast (subscribe!) has tackled the myths, errors, and underappreciated elements of immigration policy. President Donald Trump has made a massive reduction in legal immigration a centerpiece of his second year in office, and the sales pitch he’s made on behalf of that plan hinges on a number of false or misleading claims about the costs and benefits of immigration. In case you missed them, here are my discussions with Alex Nowrasteh, David Bier, and Matthew Feeney:

And, not to be left out, Jim Harper discussed his recent paper on new national ID systems including E-Verify, the deeply flawed employment verification system aimed at keeping undocumented immigrants from working in the United States.

Here’s more of Cato’s work on immigration.

Court: Pennsylvania Must Rehire Trooper Legally Barred From Carrying Gun

An appeals court in Pennsylvania has ruled that the state police force must rehire a trooper whom it let go after a female officer obtained a protective order against him which barred him from having a gun. A dissenting judge argued in vain that the dismissal was justified since under the circumstances the man “cannot perform the basic and essential duties for which he was hired as a trooper.” Union grievance arbitration awards, however, get deferential treatment in court afterward, and so it was in this case, in which the arbitrator found it significant that the state had listed other reasons (unbecoming conduct, conformance to laws) for its action. 

Now, there’s nothing to physically prevent the state from complying with this set of marching orders: it is free to go on shelling out a trooper’s salary and benefits at taxpayer expense even while it cannot ask him to perform the duties of his job. Still, it’s close enough to a “sued if you do, sued if you don’t” situation that I filed the story in that department at Overlawyered, a department that also compiles many other curious stories: 

Sometimes courts succeed (expensively, and after the fact) in untangling these conflicts. But wouldn’t it be nice if the law didn’t create so many of them in the first place by trying to reach into so many areas of life?