Tag: immigration

7 Reasons Why Hitting 2016’s Refugee Goal Would Be a Major Achievement

Responding to the worldwide refugee crisis—which the United Nations has called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era”—President Obama vowed last September that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees and 85,000 refugees total over the following 12 months. With much fanfare, the State Department hit its Syrian refugee quota this week. But with just one month left, it is still 15,000 short of its overall target, and if it continues at its current pace, it will come up 3,000 short.

But here are seven reasons why hitting the target would be a major accomplishment.

1) A slow start: The biggest reason that the State Department is cutting it close is that it suffered one of its slowest starts in recent years.  In the prior three fiscal years (FYs), the refugee target was 70,000, and yet even with a higher goal this year, the United States had accepted fewer refugees at the midpoint of this year than at the same time in any of those years (the purple bolded line in the chart below). While the United States has usually ramped up slightly during the second half of prior years, it has taken an historic effort to catch up this year.

Figure: Monthly Refugee Admissions to the United States (FY 2013-FY 2016)

 

Source: State Department

2) Most refugees in a month ever: If the United States is to reach its goal this year, it will need to accept nearly 15,000 refugees in September. This is more than any month that the State Department has made available since 2001 and possibly the most ever. Although month-by-month statistics are unavailable for the record year of FY 1992 when the United States admitted 132,000 refugees, the average monthly intake was only 11,000, making it possible that this September will be the most ambitious month in history.

3) Late planning: A major reason for the slow start is that the agencies had planned throughout FY 2015 to accept only 75,000 in FY 2016. It was not until two weeks before the start of the year that Secretary of State John Kerry changed course and decided to increase the number by 10,000. The agencies scrambled to adjust, but it took time to ramp up. “As an operational person and for planning purposes, I had anticipated an increase from 70,000 to 75,000,” Barbara Strack, Refugee Affairs Division Chief of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), told Congress on October 1st last year. In order to meet the goal, the agency needed to “surge” hundreds of refugee officers into Jordan from February to April to conduct enough interviews to meet the goal.

Trump Never Convinced Republicans on Deportation

Donald Trump is currently in the midst of trying to, as he said last night, “soften” his image on immigration, stating that he will renege on his promises to deport each and every person in the country illegally. To the extent that he is moderating—and it’s unclear how much of a change this really is—it will be because no group of voters outside of his core supporters agreed with him. More importantly, despite over a year of campaigning on the issue, he simply has not convinced anyone—even among Republicansto flip to his side.

Pew Research Center has polled Republicans and Republican-leaning voters on their position on immigration four times in the last two years—twice before Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015 and twice after. As you can see, Trump’s no legalization view has remained flat, losing considerable ground between March and September before rebounding slightly again this year. But at no point was it the majority view in the party.

Figure 1: Pew Polls of Republicans: “Immigrants living in the country who meet certain requirements should be–or not be–allowed to stay in the U.S. legally.”

 

Sources: Pew Research Center - December 2014, March 2015, September 2015, March 2016

Muslim Assimilation: Demographics, Education, Income, and Opinions of Violence

Many Americans, including Donald Trump, are concerned over whether Muslim immigrants and their descendants are assimilating into American society.  This topic is tricky for a few reasons.  First, almost all Muslims who are immigrants or descended from them entered the United States after 1968 so there haven’t been many generations yet.  As a result, the evidence and research on Muslim assimilation are not as complete as they should be.  A second problem is that many studies or surveys do not compare the opinions of Muslims with society at large or other minorities.  Where possible, such comparisons will be made below.  A third problem is that, until recently, sociologists weren’t interested in Muslim assimilation in the United States.  Whereas there is a vast literature on Hispanic assimilation going back generations, Muslims were overlooked entirely prior to the 1990s. 

To mix my personal experience with this post, my brother and I are two of a handful of third-generation descendants of Muslim immigrants.  Our paternal grandparents came from Iran in the late-1940s while our maternal grandparents were the descendants of Europeans.  Nobody on that side of the family identifies as a Muslim anymore let alone practices, as far as I know, and none of those who were born Muslim raised their children as such.

My wife and her family have a similar experience although her father was born a Muslim and immigrated here in the 1970s.  The extended portions of my family and my wife’s family mostly immigrated after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  Thus, I am deeply interested in this topic for personal as well as professional reasons.

Muslim Demographics

The United States government does not ask Americans or immigrants about their religious beliefs, with the exception of refugees.  Thus, we have to rely on private surveys and other methods of estimating the Muslim population in the United States.  Many of these surveys do not distinguish between different sects of Islam but merely on self-identification.  Thus, a Sunni Muslim immigrant from Saudi Arabia is just as Muslim as an African-American convert to the Nation of Islam.

A 2015 Pew Research Center report estimated that there are roughly 3.3 million Muslims in the United States equal to just over 1 percent of the population – up from Pew’s estimates of about 2.4 million in 2007 and 2.6 million in 2010.  The U.S. Religion Census (not be confused with the U.S. Census Bureau) in 2010 found that there were 2.6 million Muslims, equal to about 0.84 percent of the U.S. population. 

Seven of the most methodologically sound estimates of the size of the Muslim population around the turn of the Millennium found there to be between 1.5 million and 3.4 million Muslims in the United States.  Five of those seven estimates found that there were between 2.3 and 2.9 million Muslims.  Compared to the more recent estimates by Pew and the U.S. Religion Census above, the Muslim population has grown slowly.     

Births and immigration are the main sources of growth for the Muslim population.  Pew in 2011 estimated the total fertility rate (TFR) of Muslim women in the United States to be 2.5 children per woman and just 2.2 for Muslim women born here – both above the U.S. TFR of 1.9 in 2011.  Roughly 5 percent of the stock of immigrants in the United States is Muslim.  One Pew paper estimates that 80,000 to 90,000 immigrants a year are Muslim while another found 115,000 a year in 2009.  Pew estimates that there will be 6.2 million American Muslims by 2030 that comprise 1.7 percent of the population. 

Criticism of Not Counting Dependents of Legal Immigrants Is Unfounded

In a post last week, I described how every administration since 1990 has misinterpreted immigration law, admitting far fewer legal immigrants than Congress authorized. Legal immigrants qualify for a visa either by having U.S. sponsors—employers or family members—or by winning a visa in the diversity visa lottery. Except for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, the law limits the number of immigrants with quotas, but it has no such cap for their spouses and children that come with them. Nevertheless the government still counts them against the limits.

Naturally, the folks at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)—the leading opponents of legal immigration—disagree. In a post responding to former congressman Bruce Morrison’s support of this view, CIS’s John Miano asserts that the coauthor of the relevant law (the Immigration Act of 1990) doesn’t understand the law that he helped write.

But it is Mr. Miano who is confused. He argues that because spouses and children (dependents) of immigrants are not included in the categories of immigrants who are admitted without being subject to annual quotas, “the plain reading of the section unambiguously states that some quota applies to dependent immigrants.” First of all, the statute doesn’t discuss dependents at all, so it doesn’t unambiguously say anything about them. But as I noted in my original post, the most obvious reading is that the quotas only apply to those who the law actually says they apply to. Here, for instance, is the quota for the first family-based category:

Aliens subject to the worldwide level specified in section 1151(c) of this title for family-sponsored immigrants shall be allotted visas as follows:
(1) Unmarried sons and daughters of citizens.—Qualified immigrants who are the unmarried sons or daughters of citizens of the United States shall be allocated visas in a number not to exceed 23,400.

The “plain reading” here is that the limitation applies only to “unmarried sons and daughters of citizens.” Mr. Miano has to read dependents into these provisions.

The Surge in Naturalizations Is Exaggerated

Writers across the political spectrum claim that immigrants are naturalizing at a higher rate to vote against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.  No doubt some lawful permanent residents (LPR) are naturalizing in order to vote against Trump, who has made his anti-immigration position a major component of his campaign, but the annualized number of petitions filed in the first two quarters of FY 2016 don’t show a big increase over 2015 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Naturalization Petitions Filed Annually

 

Source:  DHS & USCIS.

The Migration Policy Institute notes that the number of FY2016 naturalization petitions filed through March is up 21 percent over the same time in FY2015.  If that holds until the end of the year, then there will be about 164,000 additional naturalizations compared to 2015.  The annual standard deviation for naturalization petitions filed from 2008-2015 was about 121,000. So, although FY2016 petitions are likely to exceed those of FY2015 by more than a standard deviation, it pales in comparison to increases in previous years.    

A better measurement is the annual number of petitions filed as a percent of all eligible LPRs. Department of Homeland Security reports provided most of the numbers while I had to make some estimates for the years 2014-2016 based on trends. According to this rough measurement, the annualized number of FY2016 petitions is only slightly above those of 2015 and below that of 2012 (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Naturalization Petitions Filed as a Percent of All Eligible LPRs

 

Sources: DHS & Author’s Estimates for 2014-2016.

The 2007 spike was caused by people filing their petitions before an 80 percent increase in naturalization fees went into effect. 

Surges in naturalization petitions have occurred in the past, particularly as a result of the enforcement propositions in California in the mid-1990s and after the Reagan amnesty. Although 2016 naturalization petitions are up, reports of a massive surge are exaggerated.         

Immigrant Olympians

Many noticed the refugee team competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics but few noticed the immigrants on the American team.  As far as I can tell, 47 out of the 554 American athletes were born in another country although some of them are probably the children of American citizens born abroad.  Thus, 8.5 percent of American Olympians were born in another country.  However, immigrants are underrepresented among Olympians because 13.3 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.  Despite being underrepresented as a whole, immigrants are more likely to be in some sports rather than others.

Immigrants are overrepresented in sports to the left of the red line while they are less likely to be Olympians in sports to the right, compared to their percent of the U.S. population (Figure 1).  There are no immigrants representing the United States in archery to weightlifting on the right-hand side of Figure 1.  It’s also important to note that many of the sports where immigrants are overrepresented have the fewest number of athletes.  For instance, there are only two American synchronized swimmers and six American table tennis players.  

Figure 1

Foreign Born as a Percentage of Each U.S. Team

Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

These foreign-born athletes also come from countries on every continent (Figure 2).  Kenya, China, and the United Kingdom are the top three countries of origin. Charles Jock, who will run the 800-meter race for the United States, actually lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for a time as a child before settling in the United States with his family.

Figure 2

Foreign Born Athletes by Country of Origin

Country of Origin

Number of Athletes

Kenya

5

China

4

United Kingdom

4

Australia

3

Bulgaria

2

Cuba

2

Japan

2

Poland

2

Russia

2

Albania

1

Brazil

1

Canada

1

Denmark

1

Eritrea

1

Ethiopia

1

France

1

Germany

1

Hong Kong

1

Italy

1

Mexico

1

Montenegro

1

Netherlands

1

Nigeria

1

Philippines

1

Somalia

1

South Africa

1

Switzerland

1

Trinidad and Tobago

1

Turkey

1

Ukraine

1

Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

Foreign-born Americans competing in the Olympics come from all over the world but are concentrated in a handful of sports.  Unfortunately, there is not enough public information about the athletes who are the children of immigrants - like Steven Lopez who is competing in Tae Kwon Do.  Regardless, many immigrants are competing for the U.S. Olympic team in Rio.

Immigration Courts’ Lower Productivity Explains Backlog of Cases

Last week, the massive backlog in cases in the federal immigration courts crossed the half a million threshold. Immigrants currently being processed will have waited an average of almost two years for a judge to adjudicate their cases. The backlog has grown at a time when illegal immigration has fallen dramatically and the unauthorized population has shrunk. 

Summary of Findings

  • The immigration courts’ lower productivity accounts for all of the increase in pending cases since 2009.
  • Immigration courts are finishing far fewer cases in recent years, completing just 58 percent as many cases in 2015 as they did in 2005.   
  • Nearly 100 percent of the decline in productivity from 2005 to 2016 occurred before the surge in unaccompanied children in 2014.
  • The number of immigration judges, which has increased 18.5 percent from 2005 to the first quarter of 2016, does not explain the backlog.
  • Each immigration judge completed just 60 percent as many cases in 2015 as they did in 2005.
  • The complexity of the cases fails to explain the decreased efficiency. Immigration judges are on pace to complete just 44 percent as many cases in which they rule on the merits in 2016 as they did in 2006.
  • In October 2012, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General called procedural continuances a “primary factor” in the court’s inefficiency.

More Immigration Judges Are Completing Fewer Cases

The most common explanation for the growing number of cases pending before the immigration courts is that the number of immigration judges has not kept up with the number of new cases. But as Figure 1 shows, the number of immigration judges has increased sharply since the early 2000s, yet the backlog continues to grow.

Figure 1: Immigration Court Judges and New Cases (FY 2001 to First Quarter of FY 2016)

 

Sources: Judges: Office of Personnel Management via TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University (1998-2009), Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (2010-2016); Cases: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University