Tag: obama

Immigration Politics and the Perception of Chaos

A compelling explanation for why the American immigration system is more restrictive than other developed countries is that voters here do not feel that they have control over the border.  Pictures, videos, and the widespread perception that there is chaos on the border caused by illegal immigrants, despite facts to the contrary, have the effect of convincing American voters to be less liberal on the issue than they otherwise would be.  A recent paper by political scientists Allison Harell, Stuart Soroka, and Shanto Iyengar in the journal Political Psychology tests this “locus of control” argument by comparing immigration policies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom with perceptions of control over immigration and its impact on their society. 

Harell et alia examine three perceived loci of control: individual, social, and an outgroup’s control over one’s own economic condition.  Across the three countries, the more that a respondent perceives himself and his society as being in control, the more pro-immigration he is.  When a respondent thinks that immigrants are responsible for his own personal economic or life outcomes then he is more hostile toward them because of his perceived lack of control.   They sum up their findings as:

Those who feel in control (personally or as a society) are less hostile towards immigrants, while those who attribute negative outcomes to immigrants’ predispositions are also more hostile. Results also suggest that measures of control are related to, but distinct from, both partisanship and racial prejudice.

Respondents’ perceptions of control across countries are related to the openness of immigration policies in the three countries studied by Harel et alia.  Canada has the most open immigration policy and Canadians have the greatest sense of control over immigration. Americans and British feel like they have less control, due to the Southern border with Mexico and membership in the Schengen Area, respectively.  Some of these measures of control, such as individual, social, or an outgroup’s degree of power, vary between the countries but the pattern holds: a greater perception of control is correlated with a more open immigration system.

Harell et alia’s theory passes the smell test, is consistent with what I know about psychology, and their empirics help explain different immigration policies across this small sample of countries.  However, the recent separation of families, caging of child migrants and asylum seekers on the border, the inability of the government to reunite them efficiently, and the chaos that this has created add an important caveat.  Voter reactions to border chaos probably depend on whom they blame for the chaos.  If voters blame the pro-immigration political party for the chaos, then voters are more likely to react by adopting more anti-immigration views.  With the exception of the current situation, politicians with a pro-immigration reputation (even when undeserved) have presided over the recent border crises so it makes sense that respondents would blame them.  However, if voters blame the anti-immigration political party for the chaos then they could react by adopting more pro-immigration views. 

There are two cases that help illustrate this point.

There was a large surge of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) on the border in 2014 that caused a crisis for the Obama administration.  Republicans reacted by claiming that Obama created the chaos by being too lax in enforcing immigration laws and that his announcement of DACA created the mass influx – two assertions that do not stand up to a bare minimum of scrutiny.  First, President Obama was nicknamed the Deporter-in-Chief because he deported more people than any other administration and will likely never have that odious honor taken from him.  As for border security, the number of crossers precipitously fell during his administration due to the poor American economy, rising fortunes and falling birthrates south of the border, and more effective border enforcement.  Secondly, the surge in child migrants that led to the crisis for Obama in 2014 began before he announced DACA, continued after everybody knew that the new crossers were ineligible, and was more linked to homicides in Central American countries than any change in American policy (although Mexican policy mattered quite a bit).  Regardless, voters blamed the feckless-looking Obama administration for the border chaos and Republicans took control of the Senate that year and nominated the most anti-immigration candidate in the GOP primary for president who shortly thereafter went on to barely win the election.

President Trump is now dealing with his own border surge just like President Obama did.  The recent surge in asylum seekers along the southwest border who enter unlawfully and surrender to Border Patrol is entirely an unintended creation of the Trump administration’s anti-asylum policies.  First, Trump’s administration has turned away many asylum seekers along the border and told them to “come back later.”  Second, they were changing asylum rules to restrict who could ask in the first place.  Those two factors, individually and together, incentivized asylum seekers to enter the United States illegally and ask for asylum because, for all they knew, they would never be able to at a port of entry.  They did so and got struck by the Trump administration’s third policy: zero tolerance and prosecution of all unlawful border crossers.  Since Trump’s administration ordered that every border crosser had to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, the government separated parents from their minor children so as to charge the former with the misdemeanor of illegal entry.  Children aren’t caged with their parents when their parents are charged with a crime.  That turned into the nightmare of children in cages without their parents and the government’s inability to reunite them with their parents in many cases. 

Obama looked helpless, incompetent, and brutal in the 2014 border chaos as his administration caged entire families in deplorable conditions.  Trump now looks incompetent, brutal, and responsible for everything that’s happened on the border under his watch.  Republicans politically capitalized on the border chaos in 2014 by painting the Democrats as either complicit with the migrants or helpless to stop it.  The Republicans introduced a bill to gut the asylum system in response.  The Democrats, for their part, didn’t have a coherent explanation except “nuh-uh.”

Now that the dynamic has flipped, and anti-immigration politicians are being blamed for the chaos, we can test the locus of control theory.  If enough voters also blame their recent perceptions of border chaos and lack of control on anti-immigration politicians then they could react by supporting more liberal immigration policy rather than reflexively opposing liberalization.  Polling already shows that Americans are more supportive of increasing immigration during the Trump administration, and perhaps this could be in response to the chaos created by his policies or the fact that they are too brutal for voters, but those numbers have also been trending up for decades.

It is difficult for President Trump and the Republican Party to capitalize on the border chaos that he created when everybody believes that they created it.  The recent surge in asylum seekers and migrants on the border could provide an excellent testing ground for this caveat to the locus of control theory and whether perceptions of chaos always lead to less support for liberalization.  

The State of Immigration Enforcement

President Trump’s administration is ramping up immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States and along the border.  However, the near-half-century low in illegal border crossers, the longer-settled illegal immigrant population inside of the country, and resistance by state and local governments are hampering his administration’s efforts to boost deportation.  Try as he might, his administration will not be able to ramp up removals to the level seen in the first term of the Obama administration. 

Definitions

A removal is defined as when a person is transported outside of the United States because he or she violated the immigration laws.  Removals are not technically a punishment under U.S. law as it is a civil penalty and not a criminal one.  Some immigration laws are criminal, such as illegal reentry, and those convicted of that crime serve their time in prison and are then removed from the United States.  Although not technically a punishment, the effects of removal can often be worse than imprisonment. 

Removals encompass unlawfully present foreigners who were apprehended inside of the United States, which is what we commonly think of as “deportations,” and those apprehended while trying to enter the country but who are excluded.  Those removed are placed into legal proceedings to be formally expelled from the United States.  Returns refers to Mexicans and Canadians who are apprehended at the border and is a less severe and more rapid process.  Since the second Bush administration, a much larger percentage of illegal immigrants caught on the border have been removed rather than returned.

All of the years in these charts refer to the fiscal years.  For instance, fiscal year (FY) 2017 runs from October 1st, 2016 through September 30, 2017.  This presents some limitations for comparing immigration enforcement under the Trump administration with the Obama administration for FY 2017 as Obama was president for the first four months of that year.  As a result, the increase in enforcement during the first year of Trump’s administration is undercounted in most of the figures below. 

Criminal and Noncriminal Removals and Enforcement

Criminal removals are for those who are convicted of crimes, mostly nonviolent and nonproperty offenses such as violations of immigration law.  Much of the fear today is that the Trump administration will increase the removals of noncriminal illegal immigrants.  While they certainly are targeted, the number and percentage of noncriminal removals are barely changed in 2017 compared to 2016 (Figure 1).  The number of criminal removals climbed by about 11,000 and noncriminal removals by about 3,000 in 2017 relative to 2016. 

 

Figure 1

Criminal and Noncriminal Removals

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 

The removal numbers in Figure 1 include many of those apprehended along the border and removed, a number influenced more by the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States than the intensity of enforcement.  Removals from the interior of the United States are the real worry as they could uproot long-settled illegal immigrants and disrupt their families, many of whom include U.S.-born American citizen children.  Focusing on removals from the interior of the United States shows that President Trump has more than doubled the proportion who are noncriminals (Figure 2).  The number of removals from the interior of the United States was up 25 percent in 2017 over 2016, from 65,332 to 81,603.  That is a substantial increase but still far below the annual figures for the first six years of the Obama administration. 

 

Figure 2

Interior Removals by Criminality

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 

Criminal removals as a percent of all removals increased at the beginning of the Trump administration from 50 percent in December 2016 to 59 percent in March 2017, but those are only a few months and more complete data is necessary to fully understand when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started to focus more on noncriminals (Figure 3).

 

Figure 3

Criminal Removals at Beginning of Trump Administration

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 

The Trump administration is flexing its immigration enforcement muscles by ramping up arrests.  ICE arrested about 33,000 more people in 2017 than in 2016, representing a 30 percent increase (Figure 4).  Furthermore, a far greater percentage of those arrests were noncriminals—26 percent versus 14 percent.  To put this in perspective, the percentage of criminal arrests in Trump’s first year is similar to 2014 during the Obama administration although Obama’s ICE arrested more people overall.  Furthermore, ICE ERO administrative arrests during Trump’s first year were about half of the number of those during Obama’s first year and the entire difference was that Obama arrested more noncriminals.  Comparing ERO administrative arrests for January 20, 2017 through September 30, 2017 to January 20, 2016 through September 30, 2016 shows an even sharper increase of 42 percent from 77,806 to 110,568. 

 

Figure 4

Enforcement and Removal Operations Administrative Arrests

 

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE relies heavily on detainers that it places on immigrants apprehended by other law enforcement agencies.  These detainers request that the agency holding the immigrant delays their release for a period of time so that ICE can take custody for removal.  The number of detainers is also based on federal immigration enforcement priorities which have been widened to all illegal immigrants under the Trump administration.  Consequently, the number of detainers that ICE issued increased by 56 percent from December 2016 to November 2017 (Figure 5). 

 

Figure 5

ICE Detainers by Month

 

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

 

Border Apprehensions

The Trump administration is expanding interior immigration enforcement but its removals will remain below those of President Obama because so many fewer illegal immigrants are entering the United States. Border Patrol apprehensions along the Southwest Border are low by historical standards and likely to keep falling depending on conditions south of the border (Figure 6).  The low number of illegal immigrants entering the country significantly reduces the scope for including border removals to pad the total removal numbers.  The Trump administration will have to rely on interior removals which will keep their numbers low relative to President Obama. 

 

Figure 6

Border Patrol Apprehensions on the Southwest Border

 

Source: Customs and Border Protection.

 

Courts

ERO administrative arrests (Figure 4) are up more than removals (Figure 1) and interior criminal removals (Figure 2).  Trump’s administration is trying to increase the number of deportations but an arrest is merely the first part of a long legal process with serious delays.  The first is the roughly 692,000 cases delayed in immigration court (Figure 7).  In 2018, the average immigration case is pending 718 days before a decision—a month and a half longer than in 2016 (Figure 8).  The Trump administration’s insistence on prosecuting all illegal border crossers is making the situation worse despite other efforts to streamline removals.  Immigrants have more due process rights than ever before and many of them are not Mexican so it takes longer to remove people from the United States, a delay that is reflected in the immigration court backlogs.

 

Figure 7

Immigration Court Case Backlog

 

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

 

Figure 8

Immigration Court Backlog in Days

 

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

 

 

Conclusion

The Trump administration is desperately trying to increase the number of removals but it is unlikely that they will reach the numbers achieved during Obama’s first term for at least three reasons.  First, states and localities are not cooperating with the Trump administration nearly as much as they did during the Obama administration, which will make it harder to identify illegal immigrants.  Second, many fewer illegal immigrants are trying to enter the United States so Trump will be unable to pad the numbers with border removals.  Third, immigration courts are desperately backlogged so the pace of removals will be slow.   

 

 

 

 

The Trump Administration Is Temporarily Deporting Fewer People. Expect an Increase Soon

The Obama administration ramped-up and sustained interior immigration enforcement operations through the end of FY2013, which was the longest such period of sustained enforcement in U.S. history. President Obama inherited an expanding immigration enforcement apparatus and built on it further by making “Secure Communities” mandatory in near every county of the United States, appointing immigration enforcer and former-Arizona governor Janet Napolitano as the head of DHS, and treating Central American asylum-seekers in a heartless fashion.     

Immigration restrictionist groups and some of President Obama’s supporters hid or excused the fact that President Obama’s interior enforcement operations were so extensive. The restrictionists argued that President Obama’s deportation numbers were puffed up to include those captured at the border. Their argument contained just enough truth to pass a 10-second investigation but ignored the fact that ICE removals from the interior of the United States were higher for a longer period under Obama than for any other President (Figure 1). 

Figure 1

ICE Removals from the Interior of the United States

 

Source: ICE FOIA Library.

Was the Rise of ISIS Inevitable?

In the latest issue of Survival, Hal Brands and Peter Feaver address an important debate in American foreign policy circles. Was the rise of ISIS inevitable, or was it the result of misguided U.S. policies? Most agree it is the latter, but the dispute gets fraught on the question of whether it was U.S. military interventionism or inaction that deserves the blame. Some say it was the invasion of Iraq that led to the rise of ISIS. Others insist it was Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq in 2011.

Brands and Feaver use counterfactual analysis to assess whether different U.S. policy decisions at four “inflection points” could have nipped the rise of ISIS in the bud. The first of these points was the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The other three occurred during the Obama administration and include the decision not to press Iraq to allow the United States to leave behind a significant number of U.S. troops, the decision not to intervene aggressively early on in the Syrian civil war, and the decision not to intervene more forcefully to help the government of Iraq defeat ISIS before it took the city of Mosul.

The authors take a middle road, arguing that, “the rise of ISIS was indeed an avertable tragedy,” but that both restraint and activism share the blame. Had U.S. policymakers not invaded Iraq in 2003, or been more aggressive in Iraq and Syria from 2011-2014, they argue, “ISIS might not have emerged at all.”

With suitable analytic humility, however, the authors warn against overconfidence that any of the alternatives would have made a decisive difference to the eventual outcome:

We find, for instance, that limited intervention in Syria in 2011-13 might have had benefits, but it probably would not have shifted the course of the conflict so fundamentally as to head of ISIS’s rise. Likewise, not invading Iraq in 2003 would have left the United States saddled with the costs of continuing to contain that country, whereas striking ISIS militarily in late 2013 or early 2014 might have weakened that organization militarily while exacerbating the political conditions that were fueling its rise. Intervening more heavily in Iraqi politics in 2010 in order to bring about a less sectarian government than that which ultimately emerged, and leaving a stay-behind force in Iraq after 2011, represent a fairly compelling counterfactual in the sense that such policies could have had numerous constructive effects. But even here, choosing a different path from the one actually taken would have meant courting non-trivial costs, liabilities, uncertainties and limitations (p. 10).

We applaud Brands and Feaver, who served in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, respectively, for their attempt to “move away from polemical and polarized assessments focused on assigning blame, and toward more granular, balanced analysis based on a fairer-minded view of what went wrong (p. 10).” At the same time, there is plenty of room for disagreement over their interpretation of the “what ifs” of such a complex historical question.

President Obama’s Farewell Speech

Yesterday in this space Gene Healy previewed last night’s farewell speech by President Barack Obama before an arena of supporters in Chicago’s McCormick Place. I wrote up my own reaction to the address for the National Interest and the results are here. The speech had little policy and less law in it, but the President did take up some themes of national unity and not demonizing opponents that – timed as they are amid confirmation season – may turn out to have a short shelf life.   

As I note, “Obama’s words have always held broader appeal than his policies.” And this President shows at best limited self-awareness of why his initiatives have met with so much opposition, as on topics of economic intervention: “his administration’s implacably pro-union policies, along with its many new mandates on employers and heavy regulatory hand in general, played a key role in driving business-oriented voters home to the Republican Party in recent elections.”

In his post-Presidency Obama plans to take up the worthy cause of redistricting reform, where I am cautiously optimistic he may do some good. And I also liked the passage in which he lauded the Founders’ “essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving,” a spirit

born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral, the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.

That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power.

With perhaps a word or two changed here or there, that’s a passage I would have been happy to write myself. I hope it augurs well for his public service as a former President. Read the whole thing here.

No Mr. President, Mexico Is Not “Absorbing a Great Number of Refugees”

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered a short address to the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the United Nations.  He went out of his way to praise the Mexican government by stating:“Mexico … is absorbing a great number of refugees from Central America.” 

In reality, the Mexican government has done very little to absorb refugees.  From 2013 to 2015, Mexico only recognized 720 refugees from Honduras, 721 from El Salvador, and 62 from Guatemala.  During the time period, Mexico granted asylum to 129 Hondurans, 82 Salvadorans, and 17 Guatemalans.  That’s a total of 1,731 refugees and asylum seekers from those countries.  Only 83 of them were children. 

In 2015 alone, Mexico deported 175,136 people to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador - more than 100 times as many as were accepted by the humanitarian visa programs from 2013 to 2015.    

Instead, President Obama should have thanked the Mexican government for enforcing American immigration laws in a way that shields his administration from criticism.  Mexico has improved its immigration laws in recent years but refugee and asylum laws are one area still in desperate need of reform.  Let’s not let flowery speeches obscure the reality.

Thanks to Bryan Johnson for bringing this to my attention and Guillermina Sutter Schneider for her translation of Mexican government documents. 

Modern Slavery, More Important than Who Built the White House

When Michelle Obama delivered her address at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, she created a stir when she cried out that America’s story was “the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

That last line, “…I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” was the focus of much attention, with some conservative critics calling the claim false or misleading. The record was set straight in a New York Times article of July 26th, “Yes, Slaves Did Help Build the White House”.

While it important to address sins of the past, it is always wise to focus on today’s indiscretions too. Yes, a forward-looking perspective is always prudent. The slavery problem that is pressing today is modern slavery, and it’s a shockingly huge problem.

In 2013, the Walk Free Foundation, founded by Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, created the Global Slavery Index (GSI) to track and report modern slavery worldwide. The GSI defines modern slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal.” With data on 167 countries, the Global Slavery Index estimates that over 45.8 million people find themselves in some form of modern slavery today.

According to the Global Slavery Index, over 58 percent of slaves today live in just five countries. India’s embrace of slavery is astounding, with over 18 million Indians enslaved today – over 4.5 times more than the U.S. had during its peak decade of the 1860s.1  China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan round out the top five offenders. Seventeen countries have at least one percent of their populations living in modern slavery, with North Korea leading the pack, as the accompanying table shows.

 

While it might be politically correct to exclusively spend time gazing into the rearview mirror and speaking only about the history of slavery in the U.S., it would be wise to speak of the 45.8 million who are enslaved today. It’s time to shine a light on today’s slave trade and the countries where slaves reside.

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