Tag: illegal immigration

Criminal Illegal Immigration Falls 75 Percent

The number of Border Patrol apprehensions is climbing rapidly this year. Border Patrol has apprehended 273,089 people along the Southwest border since the beginning of fiscal year 2019 through to the end of February 2019. If those numbers continue to climb, Border Patrol apprehensions this fiscal year could exceed the annual number in any year since the start of the Great Recession. Even though Border Patrol has apprehended more people in recent years, the number of criminal aliens arrested by Border Patrol has dropped since at least FY 19. 

According to Border Patrol, criminal aliens are those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also criminal in the United States. From the beginning of fiscal year 2015 through the end of February 2019, the absolute number and percent of criminal aliens arrested by Border Patrol have fallen in every year (Figure 1). In 2015, about 5.7 of all Border Patrol apprehensions were criminal aliens. For FY 19 through the end of February, only 0.7 percent of people apprehended by Border Patrol were criminal aliens. If the number of criminal aliens apprehended continues to decline apace for FY 19, the absolute number will be 75 percent below 2015.     

Figure 1

Many politicians and political commentators complain that people showing up on the border and entering illegally or asking for asylum are criminals. The falling number of previously convicted criminals showing up is evidence to the contrary. Relative to earlier surges in apprehensions along the border, the larger number of women, children, and asylum seekers means that today’s surge is preferable to previous surges.   

When people were worried about the migrant caravan last year, I wrote a blog arguing that it probably didn’t contain many criminals and likely looked a lot like the rest of the illegal immigrant population. The Border Patrol figures on criminal alien arrests tend to agree with me. Like previous surges of illegal immigration, this one presents problems, but they are better problems than those faced in the past.  

What If There Were Millions More Illegal Immigrants?

A recent paper published in the journal PLoS ONE claims that the number of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States is at least 50 percent greater than previously thought and likely to be twice as high.  Researchers Mohammad M. Fazel-Zarandi, Jonathan S. Feinstein, and Edward H. Kaplan write that:

Our conservative estimate is 16.7 million for 2016, nearly fifty percent higher than the most prominent current estimate of 11.3 million, which is based on survey data and thus different sources and methods. The mean estimate based on our simulation analysis is 22.1 million, essentially double the current widely accepted estimate.

That PLos ONE paper levels a serious charge as virtually all demographers and researchers in think-tanks on both sides of the immigration issue and the government think that the real number of illegal immigrants lies somewhere between 11 and 12 million. 

Understandably, much of the media has run with this headline finding but have neglected to cite the substantive and convincing criticism published in PLoS One in the same issue.  There are three major criticisms of the paper by Fazel-Zarandi, Feinstein, and Kaplan.  The first is that their model is highly sensitive to assumptions about return migration in the 1990s.  Merely replacing the authors’ assumptions with those based on Mexican return-migrant survey data brings their estimates down to the commonly accepted level.  The second is that it is very difficult for millions of additional people to hide in the United States without leaving a demographic or statistical trail.  Their children should show up in birth and school records, their deaths should show up in death records, and more of them should be counted in the American Community Survey or U.S. Census.  The third is that they should show up in economic surveys of employment, but they do not.

Researchers, pundits, policy-makers, and members of the media should not support the PLoS ONE findings based on the quality of the criticisms.  Although my doubts line up well with those of the critics cited above, there are some interesting implications if (a very big nearly-impossible if) the results of the PLoS ONE paper turn out to accurately estimate a greater number of illegal immigrants.  

The Murder of Mollie Tibbetts and Illegal Immigrant Crime: The Facts

Yesterday, authorities in Iowa charged 24-year old Cristhian Bahena Rivera with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts. Facts in these types of cases come out slowly and some details, substantive or minor, may change in the months ahead that could alter the correct view of this case. But nothing can change the fact that the murder of Tibbetts was a brutal and unforgivable act and that the murderer should be punished to the full extent of the law. Rivera is charged with that murder and there is a lot of evidence to support a conviction.    

This terrible murder is already feeding into a political firestorm. People with a political axe to grind, those who want to distract from the recent conviction of Paul Manafort and plea deal for Michael Cohen, and partisans who want to compare Tibbetts’ murder to the shooting of Kate Steinle in an effort to impact the upcoming November elections are already using the tragic murder of Tibbetts as an argument for increasing the enforcement of immigration laws against people who aren’t charged with murder or any real crime except violating international labor market regulations (immigration laws). They want to convict all illegal immigrants of this murder in the court of public opinion, not just the actual murderer.    

Scarce law enforcement resources should be devoted to solving and deterring the most serious crimes regardless of who commits them.  That is the best policy for saving American lives. That means that increased enforcement of our immigration laws is not a good way to prevent murders.  Illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes in the United States than native-born AmericansTexas is the only state that keeps data on the number of convictions of illegal immigrants for specific crimes (I sent versions of Public Interest Requests to every state). In Texas in 2015, the rate of convictions per 100,000 illegal immigrants was 16 percent lower below that of native-born Americans. That is little consolation to the victims and their families, but the population of illegal immigrants is less likely to be convicted of murder than native-born Americans in Texas. If nationwide incarceration rates by immigration status are any clue, that trend likely holds nationwide. 

I recently received new data from Texas on the number of convictions by crime and immigration status as well as the number of individuals convicted (they are slightly different). This Texas data is the best data that we have on the commission of murder by immigrants by specific legal status.  In 2016, 746 native-born Texans, 32 illegal immigrants, and 28 legal immigrants were convicted of homicide. In that year, the homicide conviction rate for native-born Americans is Texas was 3.2 per 100,000 natives while it was 1.8 per 100,000 illegal immigrants and 0.9 per 100,000 legal immigrants (Figure 1). The illegal immigrant conviction rate for homicide was 44 percent below that of native-born Americans in 2016 in Texas. 

Figure 1: Homicide conviction rates in Texas

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.

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