Beth Bailey has a provocatively titled and incomplete piece at The Federalist about illegal immigration and crime. Bailey laments the lack of data on illegal immigration and crime while linking to some of our research that estimates illegal immigrant incarceration rates and ignoring excellent criminal conviction and arrest data from Texas that show remarkably low rates of criminality. Bailey does make an excellent point: There aren’t enough criminal data on illegal immigrants.
There are many reasons to collect more and better data on immigration in general and illegal immigration specifically. First and foremost, the truth is valuable. Second, many of the claims made by different sides in the immigration debate are empirical. Wise policy decisions require several inputs and one of them is accurate data and information. Not too much data, but enough to answer questions and make informed policy decisions.
Third, there are many conspiracy theories about immigration partly driven by a paucity of information. Some pro-immigration advocates are worried that more data transparency will worsen public perceptions of immigrants and they have been critical of reports that reveal uncomfortable truths, but they have it exactly backwards. More information can help dispel persistent myths because the reality is almost always less bad than conspiracy theorists imagine. These justifications apply to legal immigration as much as they apply to illegal immigration.
Before listing suggestions for data that should be made available or created, many of which come from the mind of Austin Kocher from TRAC (we had a few productive email exchanges about this topic), it’s important to emphasize that data should be transparent no matter which side of the immigration debate it helps. The Trump administration claimed that it was interested in immigration data transparency but only if it served its policy objectives, so the administration released poorly explained reports about immigrant incarceration focused entirely on the federal prison system that added more confusion than clarity. The Biden administration should just release all the data that it has, preferably in microdata form, along with codebooks to explain the variables while letting policy analysts and others crunch the numbers.
Below are suggestions for which data the Biden administration should release or begin to collect to increase data transparency to better inform the public and policy makers. Much of the information requested below can be released in ways that protect personal privacy. Just to repeat, many of these come from Austin Kocher and I don’t want to take credit for all of them.
- Illegal immigrant incarceration, criminal conviction, and arrest numbers by state, county, crime, and year. Texas already makes this data available and it would merely require states keeping the results from identity checks made during arrests and convictions.
- The number of E-Verify queries and outcomes per month by location of the new hire. There is evidence that businesses in states with E-Verify mandates do not follow the law, but that could partly be explained by the way the system counts locations. Currently, many staffing firms manage E-Verify for employers and run the checks offsite. As a result, an Arizona employer who hires employees through a staffing firm based on California might have all of their new hires run through E-Verify but the queries would be reported in the physical location of the staffing firm rather than the employer. In macro data, it may look like many employers are not running new hires through Arizona’s E-Verify but they are being E-Verified. It’s time to resolve this puzzle.
- The number of corruption charges, arrests, and convictions for every federal law enforcement agency. This is especially important as related data indicate that Border Patrol agents are likely the most corrupt federal law enforcement officers.
- The number of complaints, investigations, and their outcomes for all Department of Homeland Security employees.
- Detailed immigration histories of foreign-born people convicted of terrorism offenses (not terrorism-related offenses). The immigration histories of terrorists are haphazardly released anyway, it might as well be done systematically. It certainly would have saved me a ton of time.
- The number of American citizens detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or erroneously removed from the United States. If the citizen is foreign-born then their immigration history should also be available. Much of this information is already in the public but it should be released systematically.
- Annual counts of the number of H-1B visa holders in the United States, not just estimates.
- Annual estimates of the illegal immigrant population updated as soon as American Community Survey data are available. The last such update was for 2015. Pew, the Center for Migration Studies, and others publish estimates, but government data are more broadly believable.
- Espionage and espionage-related convictions by immigration status, country of origin, and other important demographic and biographical details. This information is vitally important as fears of Chinese espionage are driving much of the immigration debate. Releasing this data would also have saved me a lot of time.
- The number of applications and the outcomes of applications for discretionary forms of relief to ICE.
- All information recorded on I-213 forms, which record information on deportable and inadmissible aliens.
- Data from the consular processing of visas, including the number of applications at each consulate for each visa as well as the outcomes, rejections, and reasons for rejections.
- Data on the number of investigations started and the outcomes of those investigations for every type of visa fraud for all visas.
- The numbers of deaths and injuries of migrant workers on each work visa as well as information about the employers where they work.
- Executive Office for Immigration Review should start to publish its annual reports again with new quality control measures to make sure the data are reasonably accurate.
- Proper digitization of all alien A-Files.
Making the above data available would reduce the number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, reduce the scale and scope of conspiracies surrounding immigration, and allow attorneys, advocates, researchers, and others to discover facts about immigration without filing FOIA requests. President Biden has committed his administration to identifying and fixing the root causes of migration, but those won’t be fixed with big government programs or foreign aid. They will only be resolved when American voters are satisfied. Reducing the scope and scale of conspiracy theories as much data as possible will do more than foreign aid to strike at the root causes of immigration and our terrible policy response to it. Data transparency is the first step in reducing immigration-related conspiracy theories.