Tag: illegal immigration

Senator Cruz’s Border Bill Cannot Pay for the Wall

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently introduced the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act, also known as the “El Chapo Act,” to fund President Trump’s proposed border wall.  The media reports that Cruz’s bill is similar to one introduced by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in February.  Cruz’s bill would apportion some money seized from drug lords like El Chapo to the construction of a border wall. 

There are several problems with this idea.

First, cash seizures cannot pay for the border wall.  The inspector general at the Department of Justice found that the DEA, ATF, and FBI only seized assets and cash worth $5.36 billion from 2007 through 2016.  A raid in Mexico in 2007 yielded $205 million in seized cash.  The agencies spent those funds, gave them to local or state law enforcement, or returned some of them to victims.  As my colleague David Bier and I wrote, building and maintaining a border wall over the next decade will cost about $44 to $99 billion.  If 100 percent of the seized funds from 2007 to 2016 went toward border wall construction, then 126 to 310 miles of it would have been built by now along the roughly 2000 mile long border.  That amounts to an average of 14 to 35 miles a year. 

Even if the federal government seized all $14 billion from El Chapo (it won’t), that would at most cover a third of the decade-long cost of the border wall and likely no more than a seventh.         

Second, just because money seized from Mexican drug dealers is funneled to paying for the wall doesn’t mean that Mexico would be paying for the wall.  That money was going to be seized anyway by the federal government and mainly spent by U.S. law enforcement agencies.  By redirecting the flow toward the construction of a border wall, this bill will make those U.S. law enforcement agencies pay for it in foregone revenue.  A redirection of revenue that was already coming in cannot be a new stream of revenue to pay for a border wall.  At best, it is an accounting trick to make it look like Mexico is paying for the wall.  I am not endorsing the government’s seizure of drug money, the War on Drugs, or even the current budgets of other U.S. law enforcement agencies – I am merely pointing out that other U.S. agencies will be foregoing these funds.  I doubt that Congress or the Trump administration will let their revenues shrink, so taxpayers will likely plug any spending gap caused by the redirection of funds toward a border wall.

Third, much of the disagreement over the cost of the border wall concerns the cost of eminent domain.  Most of the land that the government will need to seize through eminent domain to build the border wall is in Texas where most of the land along the border is privately owned – which is one reason why 61 percent of Texas adults oppose the border wall.   

Fourth, the stock of illegal immigrants is at its lowest point in a decade and annual cross-border apprehensions are at or near a 17-year low.  Even if a border wall was a cheap and effective way to stop illegal immigration, the sustained collapse in cross-border apprehensions makes it a silly expenditure.  It’s like a perfectly healthy person putting their formerly broken-but-now-healed arm in a cast 9 years after the injury healed.

In essence, Cruz’s bill would redirect seized drug money in order to fund further seizures of private property along the border and to pay for an expensive wall that is unnecessary.

One Lesson for General John Kelly to Consider as Head of DHS

President-elect Donald Trump announced that he will appoint John Kelly, retired Marine Corps general and former commander of United States Southern Command, to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Kelly has made many statements in support of increasing border security and appears to believe that insecurity caused by illegal behavior south of the border poses an “existential” threat to the United States. So far, I have not found any statements by Kelly that reveal his opinions on legal immigration.

David North wrote a short blog pointing out that Kelly would be the third general in charge of immigration. The others were three-star Army General Joseph May Swing (1954–1962) and retired four-star Marine General Leonard Fielding Chapman Jr. (1973–1977). General Swing was an interesting head of the U.S. Bureau of Immigrant and Naturalization.  He oversaw and led a vast increase in border enforcement and a systematic liberalization of work visas in the Bracero Program.  The latter was essential to severely curtail illegal immigration in the 1950s.      

Commissioner Swing realized that he would have to enlist the cooperation of the employers of unlawful migrant workers if he was to have any hope of shrinking the number of unauthorized workers.[i] Such enlistment required the continued deregulation and expansion of the Bracero Program to provide an alternative, legal source of Mexican workers. If the cost of employing Bracero workers was too high, farmers would just hire unauthorized immigrants as they threatened to do numerous times.[ii]  Prior to the expansion and partial deregulation of the Bracero Program in 1951, employers in the Rio Grande Valley referred to the Border Patrol as a “Gestapo outfit” that wrenched their willing unlawful workers away from employment.[iii] 

Before launching his enforcement operation, named Operation Wetback, Swing traveled and spoke to numerous audiences and farmers assuring them that their unlawful workers would be replaced with legal workers from Mexico on a Bracero work visa.[iv]  In Swing’s words, the purpose of a ten-day trip to visit farmers along the border prior to the launch of Operation Wetback was to tell them: “If there is any employer who cannot get legal labor all he has to do is let either the Department of Labor or Immigration know and we will see that he gets it … I am quite emphatic about this because I know I am going to run into some opposition in Southern Texas.”[v]  As a result, the illegal immigrant population cratered and was replaced by a legal workforce.

The Myth of Border Insecurity

Many Americans feel that the United States government is not in control of the border and that the lack of control is a deliberate government policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The government has greatly expanded the scale and scope of immigration enforcement on the southern border in recent decades. 

The government built fencing on the southwest border and increased the mileage from zero in 1990 to 653 today (Figure 1). Some of that fencing is porous and much of it is made to deter vehicles, but it is located in some of the previously most heavily trafficked areas. The effect was that unlawful immigrants were forced to cross in new, more dangerous areas. President-elect Donald Trump said he wants a 1,000-mile wall at the border, which means he’s already most of the way there.

Figure 1

Border Fencing

 

Source: Congressional Research Service.

The Choice: Legal Immigrants or Illegal Immigrants

People react to public policies by changing their behavior.  Foreigners committed to immigrating to the United States are confronted with two options – they can come legally or they can come illegally.  When visas are legally available, cheap, and plentiful they choose to come legally.  When visas are difficult to get, expensive, and few in number then many immigrants decide to come illegally.*  Employers face a similar dilemma when choosing to hire workers.

The inflow of illegal immigrants has slowed dramatically in recent years.  The poor American economy, economic growth south of the border, Mexican demographics, and heightened border security all partially explain that decline.  Another explanation is that the number of guest worker visa has increased, convincing some would-be illegal immigrants to instead enter and work legally.    

The annual number of guest worker visas issued on the E, H, L, O, P, and TN visas increased by 157 percent from 1997 to 2015.  The annual number of green cards for new arrivals also increased by 25 percent during the same time period and, although the majority are for lower-skilled family members, they also work in many of the occupations that would otherwise be filled by illegal immigrants.  The gross number of illegal immigrants making it into the United States each year also shrank during that time.

The number of guest workers, gross illegal immigrant entries, and green cards issued to new arrivals is surprisingly flat from 1997 to 2015, ranging from a high of 1.66 million in 1999 to a low of 1.17 million in 2009 (Figure 1).  The average during the entire period is 1.41 million entries a year.  The number of entries is remarkably constant even when considering the Great Recession and slow recovery, indicating that the number of entries doesn’t change nearly as much as the method of entry.  New green cards and guest worker visas are being used by many immigrants who would otherwise have entered illegally. 

Figure 1

Guest Worker Visas Issued, Green Cards for New Arrivals, and Gross Illegal Immigrant Inflows

 

Sources: State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Pew.

Trump Doubles Down on Anti-Immigration Position

Trump’s speech last night in Phoenix confirmed that his supposed softening on immigration turned out to be wishful thinking.  After last night, nobody can claim that Trump’s position on immigration is too soft.  Trump reiterated his position paper on immigration that called for a large-scale increase in immigration enforcement along the border and in the interior of the United States through the building of a Great Wall, a tripling of ICE agents, the creation of another deportation force, and mandating the unworkable E-Verify program.  He also reiterated his support for slashing illegal immigration.

His listed deportation priorities included visa overstays who account for about 42 percent of all illegal immigrants and an increasing proportion of the total.  When combined with his call to revoke DACA, remove all violent and property criminals (wise policy to address a small problem that is already law), and for full enforcement of all immigration laws that means virtually all illegal immigrants will be deported under his plan.  

To remove any doubt of this, he also said that “no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement.”  Trump interprets enforcement as meaning, “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.  That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise, we don’t have a country.” 

Trump’s proposed restrictions on LEGAL immigration could slash the number of green cards issued by up to 62.9 percent.  If you don’t believe me and Trump’s own position paper doesn’t convince you, just look at how happy Roy Beck of NumbersUSA is by Trump’s call for cutting legal immigration:

 

Trump Is Against Legal Immigration Too

When I criticize Donald Trump’s immigration policy proposals, the most common response is some variant of “Trump is against ILLEGAL immigration, not LEGAL immigration.  Get your facts straight.”  Although Trump makes contradictory statements on many topics, allowing virtually any supporter to find a quote in support of his or her preferred policy position, Trump has been mostly consistent on legal immigration: He wants to cut it.

Here are Trump’s anti-legal immigration positions, in bold, pulled from his position paper:

1.      Immigration moderation.  Trump calls for a “pause” on the issuance of any new green cards to workers abroad so that “employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.”  Trump’s position paper is unclear on this point because immigrants on employment-based green cards are not the only green card holders who work in the United States – a majority of green card holders who enter through family categories work too.  In 2014, 61 percent of family-based immigrants came from abroad.  If Trump wanted to be sure that none of them would work in the United States then he would support cutting those 61 percent of family-based green cards, which are equal to 38.7 percent of all green cards issued in 2014. 

Trump’s policy statement could also mean that he only wants to restrict the issuance of employment-based green cards, a smaller numerical restriction but one that would cause more economic damage.  Of the 151,596 employment-based green cards issued in 2014, 86 percent went to folks already in the U.S. legally on other visas.  Those 14 percent of green cards that Trump would deny to workers abroad would likely just be reallocated to migrant workers already in the United States.  However, Trump’s proposed changes to the H-1B visa program (explained below) would greatly damage or destroy the feeder system that sends migrants to the employment-based green card. 

Thus, if Trump’s policy is adopted then the employment-based green cards may not decrease in number for a few years as those already on H-1Bs adjust their status.  After those years pass and as the number of H-1Bs fall and aren’t replaced by new ones because of the onerous restrictions, the number of new employment-based green cards will steadily drop and could hit zero.  If that happens then the total number of all green cards issued annually will drop by 14.9 percent. 

If employment-based green cards from abroad are cut off and those slots remain unfilled then this reform might only cut the number of all green cards by 2.2 percent.  If Trump’s plans produce the worst case scenario and exclude most family-based green cards and result in the end of the employment-based green card program, then it could end up cutting the number of all green cards issued annually by 53.7 percent – depending on how long he continues this policy.  Verdict: Anti-legal immigration.           

2.      Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs.  This policy proposal will reduce the number of legal skilled temporary migrant workers.  Just over 124,000 H-1Bs were approved in 2014 for initial employment in the United States, 85,000 of them for employment in firms and the rest in non-profit research institutions, with an average salary of $75,000.  If the minimum salary for H-1B visas was bumped up to $100,000 then the number of H-1Bs hired by private firms would decrease while they’d also shrink for research institutions – if this new wage regulation would apply to them. 

For initial H-1B employment, the 75th percentile for compensation is $81,000.  Even including all of the petitions for high wage workers that are rejected each year, this reform would significantly shrink the number of H-1B visas issued at an enormous economic cost.  Combined with additional rules and regulations, this reform would reduce the H-1B program to a shadow of itself.  Verdict: Anti-legal immigration. 

3.      Requirement to hire American workers first.  This policy would increase the regulatory cost for American firms hiring skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations.  Congress considered just such a policy for the H-1B visa in 1990 and rejected it because the regulatory costs would be so high.  Higher regulatory costs mean fewer migrants.  Verdict: Anti-legal immigration.

4.      Refugee program for American children.  This policy would raise the standards for refugees and asylum seekers in order, according to Trump’s position paper, to cut down on abuse and fraud.  However, higher standards won’t reduce actual oppression by foreign governments so this proposal will likely just result in more fraud and many people who meet the criteria being sent back to oppressive regimes. 

Deaths Along the Border

About 5000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe in 2014 and 2015.  Although drownings are moderating, the danger remains.  Illegally crossing the Mediterranean to Europe claims the lives of about 2 percent of all migrants who attempt the voyage.  The United States’ southwest border is also dangerous but less so.

Migrant Deaths along Southwest Border

    

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection      

Based on data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 6336 people died crossing the border from 1998 to 2014 (2015 data is unavailable).  The peak year of recorded deaths) was 2005 with 492 deaths.  In 2014, there were 307 deaths.  From 1998 to 2014, deaths averaged 0.04 percent of all apprehensions – a proxy measurement for the size of the unlawful immigrant flow.  2012 was the most dangerous year to cross when the number of deaths was equal to 0.13 percent of all apprehensions.  The most dangerous border sector during the whole period was Del Rio with deaths as a percentage of apprehensions at 0.046 percent that resulted in 458 deaths.  The Tucson sector’s death rate was 0.045 percent but there were 2507 deaths during the entire time period.     

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