Criminal Aliens Are Not Surging the Border

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have apprehended 531,711 people so far during the fiscal year (FY) 2019.  CBP apprehended 109,144 people in April alone, marking the second month in a row that more than 100,000 people have been apprehended.  Relative to the end of April in FY 2018, apprehensions this year are up 84 percent and the number is more than double just for the month of April relative to last April.  Although the number of apprehensions is rising, the number of criminal aliens encountered by CBP is continuing to drop.

CBP defines criminal aliens as those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also a crime in the United States. From the beginning of FY 2015 through the end of April 2019, the absolute number and percent of criminal aliens encountered by CBP, which includes Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations, have fallen in every year.  In 2015, about 4.9 percent of all CBP apprehensions were criminal aliens. For FY 2019 through the end of April, only about 1.9 percent of people apprehended by CBP were criminal aliens.

The absolute number of criminal aliens apprehended is also dropping.  If the number of criminal aliens apprehended continues to decline apace for FY 2019, the absolute number will be also about 35 percent below the total number apprehended in 2015.  To put that in perspective, CBP has already apprehended about 87,000 more people so far in FY 2019 than in all of FY 2015.

From FY 2015 to FY 2019, the percentage of those apprehended by CBP who were non-criminals rose from 95.1 percent to 98.1 percent while the percentage who were criminals fell from 4.9 percent to 1.9 percent (Figure 1).  In absolute numbers, criminal aliens have also declined from 26,932 apprehensions in FY 2015 to 10,173 through the first seven months of FY 2019.  If the trend of criminal alien apprehensions continues for the rest of FY2019, there will be about 17,439 by the end of this FY – well below the 20,486 recorded in 2018.

Figure 1: Non-Criminal and Criminal Aliens

The most persistent argument in support of closing the border, harsher border security methods, or restricting asylum is that those being apprehended are criminals who pose a serious threat to Americans.  Based on data supplied by CBP, the absolute number of criminal aliens and their proportion of all apprehensions along the border are lower in FY 2019 than in previous years.  Furthermore, these numbers provide evidence that the current surge of Central American women and children is better from an American security perspective than a large surge of single men.  Although the current immigration issues on the border present challenges, they do not present serious criminal challenges.

Boiling a Frog in the Middle East

Tensions in the Middle East are getting higher, with the announcement that Iran would take steps that could make it harder for them to comply with the terms of the nuclear deal – and more importantly, that they would potentially violate the deal if the other parties to the agreement don’t do more to mitigate the impact of U.S. sanctions.

The announcement came after weeks of Trump administration moves to ratchet up pressure on Iran, from oil sanctions waivers to designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Just this week, John Bolton announced that the U.S. would be sending “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime” by speeding up the deployment of a carrier strike group to the region.

Is the Trump administration pushing for war in the region? It’s hard to say. As I point out in a recent article

While there are superficial similarities with the 2003 Iraq war, the Trump administration has made no real effort to actually make the case for war against Iran. Instead, they’ve spent the last two years alienating US allies in Europe, doing everything possible to undermine international non-proliferation frameworks, and generally giving the impression that America will be to blame in the case of a conflict. To be blunt, if the administration is seeking war, they’re doing it in a very stupid way.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that conflict won’t happen:

Just because the Trump administration isn’t uniformly pushing for war doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. The slow, purposeful build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is one way to start a conflict. But miscalculation and mistakes are another. By repeatedly escalating the situation – particularly in the military realm – the Trump administration risks an unplanned clash with Iranian-backed forces in the Gulf, Iraq, or Syria.

You can find the whole article, along with discussion of the differences between Trump’s advisors on this question, over at Inkstick.  

New Research on Immigration, Terrorism, and Ideology

Yesterday, Cato released my latest policy analysis entitled “Terrorists by Immigration Status and Nationality: A Risk Analysis, 1975-2017.”  Much of it is an update and expansion of my original policy analysis on this topic from 2016.  I added two more years of data, estimates of the number of people injured, and a handful of non-deadly foreign-born terrorists whom I had failed to include in my original paper.  The annual risk of being murdered in an attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist by visa category is very similar to my original study as there were only a handful of victims from attacks perpetrated by foreign-born terrorists in 2016 and 2017. 

Overall, the chance of being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist was about 1 in 3.8 million per year during the 43-year period in which 3,037 people were murdered.  Foreign-born terrorists who entered on tourist visas were the most deadly, responsible for over 96 percent of those deaths – largely because 18 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers entered on tourist visas.      

The changes to this analysis mentioned above are small, but there are two major additions that you should pay attention to.  The first is that I included all 788 native-born terrorists during this time by applying the same exclusion criteria that I applied to foreign-born terrorists.  It took years and reading tens of thousands of pages of government documents, news stories, dissertations, reports by non-profits, and more biographies of sketchy people than I care to remember.  Just for the record, there are a lot of Nazis who have been killed in shootouts with the police but most of them are not terrorists.  All 788 native-born terrorists are listed in the appendix.  If you think I missed somebody or included somebody I shouldn’t have, please let me know. 

The second major addition to the updated policy analysis is that I categorized all terrorists by the ideology that motivated them.  In order of the size of their body counts, the ideologies are Islamism, Right, White Supremacy, Left, Black Nationalism, Anti-abortion, Unknown/Other, Foreign Nationalism (Armenian terrorists targeting Turks in revenge for the genocide), Separatists (Puerto Rican independence, Texas secessionists, etc.), Anti-specific Religion (anti-Semitic shooters, etc.), Political Assassination, and Religious (non-Islamist).

I decided to separate White Supremacists, Right, and Anti-Abortion terrorists because they are all different ideologies.  True, they would mostly all label themselves as right-wing, but this enhanced level of detail conveys a deeper understanding of American terrorism.  Most Black Nationalists, Left, and Separatist terrorists would also label themselves as left-wing, but I made the same judgment call and separated them into their sub-ideologies for the same reason.  Similarly, separating Islamist terrorists into Sunnis or Shiites wouldn’t add much clarity so I didn’t do that.    

After the Christchurch mosque terrorist attack in New Zealand in March, many people wrote that right-wing or white-supremacist terrorism is on the rise.  While my updated report only covers the United States through 2017 and most of those writers were discussing the issue globally, my research can provide some evidence of whether this is true inside of the United States.

Over the entire 43-year period, the deadliness of Islamist terrorism dwarfs Right, White Supremacy, and Anti-abortion terrorism by factors of 16, 40, and 239, respectively.  The picture changes somewhat more recently as Islamists are responsible for 58 percent of all murders in terrorist attacks since 9/11, White Supremacists are responsible for 17 percent, Right terrorists for 10 percent, Left terrorists for 8 percent, and then the numbers get tiny.  Islamism is still the deadliest terrorist ideology in the post-9/11 world relative to Right, White Supremacy, and Anti-abortion, but by smaller factors of 6, 3, and 27, respectively.  Those numbers may well have diverged in 2018 and 2019, but I doubt they’ve changed enough to alter the general pattern.

Since 9/11, 184 people have been murdered by 378 terrorists in attacks on U.S. soil.  Of those 378 attackers, 62 managed to murder at least one person in an attack.  That means that only 16.4 percent of attackers succeeded in murdering somebody.  On this count, Right and White Supremacist terrorists are the most likely to succeed in murdering at least one person in their attacks at 28 and 22 percent, respectively.  Islamist terrorists have been less successful, with only 9 percent of them succeeding in murdering at least one person.  However, because there were so many Islamist terrorists and each one of them was deadlier on average, that ideology still inspires the deadliest terrorists.  It’s a bit premature to write the epitaph for Islamist terrorism in the United States.     

The main lesson from this report is that there are very few terrorists of any ideology or origin and even fewer who manage to murder Americans.  The 3,518 total murder victims of terrorism killed by foreign-born, native-born, and unknown terrorists from 1975-2017 account for only about 0.4 percent of the roughly 800,000 homicides during that time.  The ideology, frequency, deadliness, and origins of terrorists are fascinating but these numbers are so small that it is difficult to tease out any trend, let alone to be overwhelmed by fear. 

New Rights For Crime Victims? The Trouble With “Marsy’s Law”

Advocates have successfully pushed in several states for the passage of state constitutional amendments promoted as a bill of rights for crime victims, under the banner of “Marsy’s Law.” I’ve got a new piece at Real Clear Policy pointing out some of the problems with that:

For example: In the name of protecting their privacy, and especially shielding them from fear of possible intimidation, the measures restrict dissemination of personal information about crime victims. While the impulse involved is understandable, and there have long been legitimate ways of accommodating it, it is also essential that accused persons have access to evidence they need to prepare the case in their defense….

Meanwhile, the laws can deprive the public of information about crime that is legitimately important to them, as when, for example, a murder occurs in their neighborhood. …

Underlying several of these problems is a point made by [one commentator]: “In many cases whether the accuser is a ‘victim’ is only decided after a trial.” To be accorded rights before that point may presume the outcome, and can also give a complainant or accuser valuable leverage.

Consider, for example, the phenomenon by which cops have employed the laws to conceal their identities from the public after shooting civilians who were then charged with having assaulted the officer [as discussed by] my Cato colleague Jonathan Blanks in a recent Cato Daily Podcast. … Blanks “notes that police officers wear their names on their uniform and act in the name of the public in public. ‘That information, by nature, must be public’.”

Whole thing here, including a mention of Cato scholar Roger Pilon’s testimony against a similar constitutional proposal more than two decades ago. And much more at Overlawyered on how, to quote Radley Balko, “Laws named after crime victims and dead people are usually a bad idea.”

One Problem with Big Government: Often Run by Crooks and Liars

Presidential candidates are proposing ideas to expand government, including a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. One flaw with such schemes is that they would give government officials large new powers to be exercised not by angels but often by very shady characters.

James Madison wrote that politicians sought office “from 3 motives. 1. ambition 2. personal interest. 3. public good. Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent.”

There are news stories every day that buttress Madison’s point. Here are two that caught my eye.

Catherine Pugh: “Personal Interest”–as covered by Brakkton Booker of NPR,

After weeks of growing pleas for her to step down, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has resigned, her attorney said Thursday.

… Pugh, a Democrat, is under investigation for alleged “self-dealing” in connection to the sale of thousands of copies of a self-published children’s book series. Many of those sales went to entities that she had influence over or that sought to do business with the city.

… The Baltimore Sun reported she has received roughly $800,000 over the years from the sale of the books. Some of the biggest benefactors include the University of Maryland Medical System.

UMMS is a private nonprofit for which Pugh served as a board member until mid-March, when she resigned from the position. It paid Pugh roughly $500,000 for copies of the books spread out in five payments from 2012-2018, according to the Sun.

A separate payment by health giant Kaiser Permanente of more than $100,000 for some 20,000 copies of the book between 2015 and 2018 was also reported by the Sun.

The payouts for the books came at a time when the company was seeking to provide coverage to city employees. The city’s spending panel, which Pugh sat on, eventually awarded the company a $48 million contract with the city in 2017.

Richard Holbrooke: “Ambition”–written by Adam Kushner of the Washington Post, 

The late diplomat possessed heroic talents, achieved feats of strength and rose high. But his own flaws undid him. 

… Behind all of it was a desperate, gnawing ambition that drove him to behave monstrously toward both his colleagues and the people he ostensibly loved.

… Holbrooke “was an absent husband and an indifferent father.” He cheated frequently over his three marriages and propositioned his best friend’s wife. After his son Anthony was born, he kept a lunch appointment with George Kennan before going to visit his wife and meet the baby in the hospital. Holbrooke pushed away his mother, brother and children because his third wife didn’t like them.

It was even worse inside government, where he fought constantly for status and recognition, leaked (and lied about it) to hurt rivals, kowtowed to bosses, terrorized subordinates, and elbowed his way into meetings where he wasn’t needed or wanted. “He is the most viperous character I know around this town,” Henry Kissinger, the greatest operator of them all, once said of Holbrooke.

What does government service look like when it’s so self-serving? When Holbrooke became assistant secretary of state, he told the deputies he’d inherited that their offices needed repainting — and then replaced them while they were out. … He crashed so many of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s meetings and motorcades that Vance’s secretary sent a memo: “You may not insert yourself as a passenger in the Secretary’s car unless this office has specifically approved your request to accompany him.”

When national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wanted him fired for chatting “warmly” with the Vietnamese ambassador in Laos before Washington restored relations with Hanoi, he lied and said the report of the meeting was just an act of Soviet disinformation.

When a mentor, Averell Harriman, died, Holbrooke harangued his widow into letting him give a eulogy; then he shuffled the name cards at a meal after the service so he could “chat up the right dinner guest.”

… Holbrooke begged Pakistan’s foreign minister to tell Secretary of State Hillary Clinton what a good job he was doing. “You will have heard that he was a monstrous egotist. It’s true. It’s even worse than you’ve heard,” [Biographer] Packer summarizes.

… Packer truly shows Holbrooke’s ugliness. It is everywhere, and it’s revolting. … Holbrooke spent his career accruing enemies, and his comeuppance arrived in spurts. (“I’m going to be the next Henry Kissinger,” he said in his early 30s to a lover who actually knew Kissinger “and found him to be a pompous asshole.” She dumped him).




O Zones and HUBZones: Aimed at the Poor, Aid the Rich

The Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created 8,700 “opportunity zones” across the country which receive special capital gains tax breaks. O Zones have balkanized American cities into winner and loser zones, while encouraging corruption and making the tax code more complex.

O Zones are supposed to alleviate poverty, but the main beneficiaries are the landlords who own development sites within the politically chosen zones.

From the Wall Street Journal the other day:

A new federal incentive program designed to help low-income neighborhoods is adding fuel to Miami’s real-estate boom.

When President Trump signed the Opportunity Zone program into law as part of the 2017 tax overhaul, the administration said the goal was to incentivize investment in economically distressed areas.

But in the case of Miami and other U.S. cities, many of the opportunity zones are in gentrifying neighborhoods that were already attracting plenty of investment from hotel and luxury apartment developers.

Sales of development sites within opportunity zones in the Miami metropolitan area increased by 45% to $238.3 million in the first quarter of 2019, while sales were down outside the area’s opportunity zones, according to research company Real Capital Analytics.

… Some critics say there is evidence that Opportunity Zone money is pouring into Miami neighborhoods that already had developers’ money and attention.

The problems with O Zones are discussed further here, here, here, here, here, and here.

HUBZones is another federal program that is based on geographical discrimination.

The Washington Post reported that HUBZones were “created as Congress sought to stimulate development in economically distressed areas nationwide by steering billions of dollars worth of federal contracts. There are more than 6,500 businesses in the program across the country.”

The Post looked at who benefits from HUBZones:

A federal program created to boost small companies in disadvantaged areas has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into some of Washington’s most affluent areas, where a handful of businesses have grown while reaping most of the program’s benefits.

The Historically Underutilized Business Zones program began in 1997 with a promise of stimulating distressed communities by using federal contracting incentives to reverse unemployment, reduce poverty and create jobs. Some businesses that have secured contracts have seen annual revenue triple or quadruple.

HUBZone was designed to offer firms a path to securing federal contracts based on geography — not veteran, gender or race-based qualifications used by some other programs. But the program appears to have inadvertently fostered a new divide. A Washington Post analysis of 20 years of HUBZone data shows that about $800 million earmarked for firms enrolled in the program was awarded to just 11 D.C. businesses.

Those 11 firms accounted for 70 percent of HUBZone dollars allocated in the District since the program’s debut. The money usually went to firms in wealthier areas of the city, such as Dupont Circle, Navy Yard and downtown Washington.

… Businesses in wealthier parts of the city have grown larger through securing HUBZone contracts, while those in the city’s poorest areas — locations the program was designed to help — have largely been left behind.

… The Post’s analysis found that, in 2018, more than $49 million was awarded to 40 D.C. businesses, with seven businesses receiving more than 70 percent of the money. Those seven companies have their main offices downtown or in wealthier neighborhoods where unemployment rates are lower and household incomes higher than much of the city.

… The disparity within the HUBZone program extends nationally. The Post analyzed data from several cities, with many having results similar to those in the District.

… GAO investigations spanning several years have found problems with the program, including inadequate vetting of firms that submitted falsified documents, misrepresenting the number of employees who lived in HUBZones. That led to numerous fraudulent contracts being awarded.


Amid Crisis, Ports Process 34% Fewer Central Americans

For the first time ever, two countries—Guatemala and Honduras—have surpassed Mexico as the top nations of origin for immigrants apprehended crossing illegally into the United States. Along with El Salvador, immigrants from three Northern Triangle countries of Central America have made up three quarters of Border Patrol apprehensions this year.

Nearly all Central Americans cross the border and seek out a Border Patrol agent to turn themselves in to. The primary reason that they do this, rather than come to a port to apply, is that Customs and Border Protection has capped the number of undocumented immigrants it will process at ports. This means that officers will physically block their entry to the port and force them back into Mexico.

The current cap—which has no basis in the asylum laws—is about 10,000 per month, roughly half the level in October 2016. It has remained at about this level for over a year. But that’s just the overall number. For Central Americans from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, the numbers of undocumented arrivals processed at ports plummeted in Fiscal Year 2019—they’ve fallen 34% from a monthly average of 2,920 to 1,938 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Monthly average number of undocumented Central Americans

At this pace, CBP will process 23,250 Central Americans at ports this year compared to 35,041 last year. Salvadorans are down 38 percent, Guatemalans 46 percent, and Hondurans 12 percent. This is happening at the same time that the number crossing illegally between ports has doubled for each nationality. Honduran illegal crossings have nearly tripled. The share of undocumented Central Americans processed at ports fell from 14 to 4 percent.

Unfortunately, CBP has not published full data back to FY 2016, but it has quarterly figures for unaccompanied children and families from FY 2017 to FY 2019. These two groups accounted for 86 percent of undocumented Central Americans at ports during the last two and a half years. These statistics show that CBP has reduced processing of Central American unaccompanied children and families at ports by 63 percent from the first quarter of FY 2017 to the second quarter of FY 2019. Salvadorans are down 86 percent, Guatemalan 68 percent, and Honduran 20 percent.

Figure 2: Undocumented Central American unaccompanied children and families

The initial decline in the second quarter of 2017 was caused by fewer migrants coming overall, due to the belief that the new administration would end asylum. The more recent decline is mainly because more Nicaraguans, Indians, and Cubans are arriving at U.S. borders this year, so immigrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—have lost cap space at ports. The Northern Triangle share of undocumented immigrants from countries other than Mexico processed at ports of entry has fallen from 65 percent to 41 percent. One cause of this dynamic is that the ending of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has forced Cubans into the regular asylum process, adding the lines of asylum seekers at ports of entry in Mexico.

Figure 3: Monthly average number of undocumented Central Americans

The inevitable response to this exclusion at ports has been for Central Americans to walk around the ports and cross illegally. Central American asylum seekers are not safe in Mexico. Tijuana and Juarez are particularly inhospitable places for homeless foreigners, and the police in Mexico not only won’t protect them but often engage in shakedowns of immigrants themselves.

The most outrageous part of the capping of asylum seekers at ports is that it encourages illegal entries. The purported reason for the cap is that CBP lacks the resources to process them, but it lacks the resources precisely because the agency hasn’t deployed the resources or adopted the policies necessary to process them. That’s because it really doesn’t want to process them.

This is even more ridiculous when you consider that the government also lacks the resources to process asylum seekers between ports of entry—at least in the exact way that it wants. Yet the agency has adopted emergency measures to make it happen: creating temporary holding areas outside, not referring families for asylum interviews, releasing immigrants at the border without transferring them to the interior, and—believe it or not—moving officers at ports (!) to between ports. All of these measures only further encourage illegal crossings.

The government has seemingly created the perfect storm of perverse incentives at the border to perpetuate a crisis rather than defuse one. It could process people at ports and end most illegal crossings tomorrow. But its chosen policies are only making the problem worse.