Cato’s immigration policy team was very busy in 2018. My colleagues David Bier and Andrew Forrester, in addition to some contributions by myself and numerous outside authors like the stupendous Michelangelo Landgrave, worked non-stop to produce almost 180 pieces this year in the form of blog posts, op-eds, Cato research papers, and peer-reviewed academic articles. David Bier summarized many of these pieces in a twitter thread for those on Twitter.
Of those, I’m most proud of the pieces that discovered original facts and figures to illuminate the immigration issue. With rare exceptions, the most valuable immigration policy research is that which produces original facts and figures, as too much of the debate over this topic is emotional and ungrounded. We are trying to make the debate about the facts and contributing those that we have discovered on our own in the process. Below is a rundown of the original facts and figures that Cato scholars have calculated in 2018 by subtopic with links to our research.
The recent surge in immigrants along the border are low-skilled, poorly educated, and from Central America – but that doesn’t stop them and their descendants from learning English, converging to American wages, and joining the military at rates comparable to or higher than native-born Americans.
Border Security, the Wall, and Interior Immigration Enforcement
Much of the national immigration debate proceeds under the implicit and incorrect assumption that immigration enforcement only harms illegal immigrants. My colleague Matthew Feeney waded into the immigration debate with an excellent primer on how increased immigration enforcement, both at the border and in the interior of the United States, will infringe upon the civil liberties of American citizens and lawful permanent residents as well as an examination of legal protections that can help mitigate the lost rights. Complementing Feeney’s paper is our finding, based on data from Travis County in Texas, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeted at least 228 American citizens as illegal immigrants in that county over 12 years – or about 0.9 percent of all those detained.
Related to interior immigration reform is the E-Verify program, which is an electronic eligibility for employment verification system run by the federal government. Congress created it in an attempt to turn off the magnet that attracts illegal immigrants to the United States in the first place: higher wages and low unemployment. In theory, E-Verify would allow employers to check the identity information of new hires against government databases to see if they are legally eligible to work and to deny illegal immigrants. For years, members of Congress have introduced bills to make E-Verify a national mandate to be used whenever a business hires somebody – including American citizens.
Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires, but only 56 percent of new hires in those states were run through E-Verify in the second quarter of 2017. To be effective, a much higher percentage of new hires must be checked through E-Verify. The four states that mandated E-Verify are Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Over time, the rate of new hires has barely budged in those states – even in South Carolina where the state conducts random audits of employers to supposedly guarantee compliance. If those conservative states can’t effectively enforce an E-Verify mandate, there is no hope for doing so nationally.
Our next piece of original research confirmed that California’s TRUST Act, which limited state law enforcement cooperation with ICE, dramatically reduced deportations from that state. Although deportations from California were falling prior to the TRUST Act going into effect in 2014, deportations from California that year dropped 39 percent relative to 2013. In the rest of the country, the number of deportations only dropped 9 percent over the same period.
Much of the rest of our original research focused on border enforcement. Republicans introduced a bill in 2018 to spend more on Border Patrol in the next five years than has been spent over the last 5 decades – in real terms. A portion of that extra money would be spent on drones to patrol the border, an enforcement tool that has already been used on the border and is responsible for 0.5 percent of all border apprehensions at an astonishing cost of $32,000 per arrest. Apprehended border crossers, whether discovered by drones or more traditional methods, spent an average of 39 hours in detention in late 2014 and 2015 or 12.8 million hours total. Of course, all of this extra enforcement is unnecessary as the lesson of marijuana legalization on the state level shows that smuggling can more effectively be cut with better laws that allow cross-border flows rather than crackdowns.
Part of the justification for more spending and technology on the border is that Border Patrol agents face severe threats on the job. While they certainly do, it’s not nearly as dangerous as many assume. Thirty-three Border Patrol agents died on the job from 2003 through 2017 or about one death for every 7,968 agents per year. Six of those agents were murdered on the job while the other 27 died in accidents or in unknown circumstances. Their on-the-job murder rate is about 1 in 43,824 per year from 2003 onwards, much lower than the 1 in 19,431 annual murder rate for Americans during the same time period. Every one of those murders or deaths is a tragedy, but those rates do not indicate an exceedingly dangerous job.