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David Bier

David Bier

Articles by David Bier

Public Charge Rule Bans Almost Entirely Self-Sufficient Legal Immigrants

6 days ago

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized a regulation today that would ban legal status to immigrants who its officers determine are likely to become “public charges”—that is, wards of the state. DHS claims that the rule will promote self-sufficiency among immigrants, but the goal is a farce. The rule is designed to exclude immigrants regardless of the degree to which they are supporting themselves and contributing positively to the economy. DHS actually made the final rule worse than the proposed rule.
DHS responded to my comments on the proposed rule in its final rule without naming me specifically. My primary complaint was that DHS’s proposed definition of a public charge was anyone who received more than 15 percent of the poverty line in benefits, which entirely ignored

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An Explanation of the Public Charge Rule: Frequently Asked Questions

6 days ago

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized a regulation this week that bans “public charges” from receiving legal status in the United States. The public charge rule redefines the historic meaning of this term, which will result in far more immigrants not receiving status in the United States based on a bureaucrat’s suspicions that they could use welfare. The rule is fundamentally flawed and will harm taxpayers, while separating Americans from family members abroad.
What does the public charge statute say?
Section 212(a)(4)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182) states, “Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular [or immigration] officer…. is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.” Someone who is inadmissible cannot receive a visa

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Trump Is Promising Visas for Guatemalans—Here’s How He Can Deliver

16 days ago

President Trump is promising Guatemala that if its legislature signs off on a “Safe Third Country” agreement to accept asylum seekers who come to the United States, he will increase the number of H-2A temporary agricultural work visas for Guatemalans. His Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan was down in Guatemala promising Guatemalan legislators that the United States will “double or triple” the 4,000 H-2A visas that Guatemalans received in 2018.
This is a very important conceptual shift from this administration. Increasing legal immigration options to prevent illegal immigration should be the government’s single-minded focus right now. But the administration appears to be making promises that it cannot deliver. H-2A visas already have no numerical limit, so there are

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No Evidence Migrant Families Are Aiding Drug Smuggling

July 19, 2019

Families and children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border turn themselves in to Border Patrol and receive background checks, which they virtually always pass, prior to their release into the country. Yet security officials insist that these migrants are nonetheless a serious security concern. These officials have relentlessly promoted one narrative in particular for years: that asylum-seeking families unwittingly help drug smugglers. Here are a few examples:
Border Patrol Union Spokesman Chris Cabrera, October 2015: Families “are human screens that tie up Border Patrol Agents while the cartels smuggle narcotics and higher value aliens behind them.”
Border Patrol Union President Brandon Judd, February 2016: They “completely tied up our manpower and allowed the cartels to smuggle whatever

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90% of Border Crossers Aren’t Referred for Asylum Interviews

July 17, 2019

The government is implementing a new proposal that would ban asylum for immigrants coming to the United States through Mexico. It pins the uptick in border crossers on the asylum process, but the government’s statistics reveal that 90 percent of crossers in 2019 were not referred for an asylum interview at the border, and the highest share ever referred was just 19 percent in 2018.
In fact, the rate of referral was just 7 percent in March 2019. This strongly indicates that the asylum ban will not have its intended effects. Figure 1 compares the rate at which undocumented immigrants at the southwest border were referred for asylum interviews at the border—called credible fear interviews—for each year from 2010 and 2019 as well as March 2019—the most recent month available. In no year

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Sen. Paul’s BELIEVE Act Raises Skilled Immigration Without Tradeoffs

July 11, 2019

Today, Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement (BELIEVE) Act (S. 2091). The BELIEVE Act would solve most of the major issues with skilled immigration in one piece of legislation. Altogether, the bill would increase green cards (which grant permanent residence) for employment-based immigrants by nearly fourfold, and it does so without making any changes that would injure other categories of legal immigration.
The long-term economic and fiscal benefits of this bill are difficult to overstate. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) estimated in 2016 that the lifetime net present value of the average immigrant with a college degree to all levels of government was between $210,000 and $345,000 (Table 8-14). For those with more

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Decline in June Border Patrol Apprehensions Tracks Prior Years’ Patterns

July 9, 2019

Border Patrol apprehended 94,487 immigrants in June, according to a leak to the Washington Examiner. This constitutes a 29 percent decline compared to the 132,887 immigrants received in May. Nonetheless, apprehensions in June were higher than every month from FY 2009 to 2019 except the last two, April and May 2019 (Figure 1), and nearly three times the level in June 2018. They were also higher than March 2019, when the agency described nearly 93,000 apprehensions as a “system-wide emergency.”
Figure 1

Figure 1Infogram

The June decline is similar to declines almost every summer since the year 2000. The only exception was the short-lived “Trump effect” in 2017. Migrants moved up their crossing dates to before his 2017 inauguration and others stayed away until they realized little had

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77% of Drug Traffickers Are U.S. Citizens, Not Illegal Immigrants

July 3, 2019

When people think of drug smugglers, they often imagine illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States across the southwest border. But the reality is that the vast majority of drug smuggling occurs at ports of entry (including airports), and the vast majority of traffickers are U.S. citizens. According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, U.S. citizens had 77 percent of federal drug trafficking convictions in 2018. This percentage has grown from 69 percent in 2012. As Figure 1 shows, the share of drug traffickers who were illegal immigrants fell from 21 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2018.
Bar Chart

Bar ChartInfogram

The reason that drug traffickers are largely U.S. citizens is because most drug trafficking occurs at ports of entry because most drugs—other than

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Are CBP’s Filthy and Inhumane Immigrant Detention Camps Necessary?

July 3, 2019

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a report about detention facilities operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) yesterday describing “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley.” This report came just over a month after DHS OIG’s May 30 report on “dangerous overcrowding” in El Paso.
What are the conditions in CBP’s detention camps?
Across the entire border, CBP was detaining from May to June between 4 and 5 times as many people as its facilities were designed to hold. It is impossible to list here everything that the OIG reports exposed, but here are some of what they found:
A cell with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155 detainees
A cell with a maximum capacity of 8

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Democratic Debate Ignores Illegal Immigration’s Cause: No Visas

June 27, 2019

Democratic candidates for president gathered last night to debate, and moderators asked, what would you do to address the number of people crossing illegally? The discussion devolved into the question of whether crossing should remain a crime (punishable by prison time) or just a civil infraction (punishable by deportation). No one stated the obvious: that Congress should make it legal, not to trek through Mexico and swim the Rio Grande, but to board private U.S.-bound airplanes and come to the United States to work.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the average Central American is paying north of $8,000 to make it to the U.S.-Mexico border where they are brutalized in Mexico and in the United States. Round-trip airfare from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is

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Higher Asylum Grant Rates Predict Higher Family Appearance Rates in Top Immigration Courts

June 20, 2019

TRAC Immigration, a project of Syracuse University, published a report this week, showing that 81 percent of recently released families apprehended at the border showed up for all of their hearings. Some immigration court locations did much better than others in obtaining compliance from immigrant families. San Francisco’s court had almost zero no-shows, while two and five skipped out in Atlanta.
TRAC’s report hypothesized that it was possible that “the lowered appearance rates in some courts arose from particular deficiencies in the recording, scheduling or notification systems there.” While this could be, there is no way to test for such variation. Another strong hypothesis, suggested by Aaron Reichlin-Melnik of American Immigration Council, is that immigrants are much more likely

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Mexico Deported More Central Americans Than the U.S. in 2018

June 12, 2019

President Trump has decided to blame Mexico for the border crisis, rescinding and then reiterating his threat to impose tariffs on America’s neighbor to the south if it doesn’t stop migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle from coming. Yet Mexico’s enforcement of immigration laws against Central Americans has been more vigorous than the United States for some time.
In 2018, Mexico deported more immigrants back to the Northern Triangle than the United States did, and it deported nearly all the immigrants who it apprehended in that year. The United States did not. It’s just not true that Mexico is less vigorous in its anti-immigration efforts than the Trump administration.
Indeed, from 2004 to 2018, Mexico deported 1.7 million Central Americans back to the Northern Triangle

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What Will the E-Verify Program Be Used to Surveil Next?

June 4, 2019

E-Verify is the federal government’s attempt to create an electronic national identification system. It is capable of checking government databases to verify information—often including a photo—on every U.S. resident. Right now, the system monitors only employment and is only mandatory in some states, ostensibly to deter illegal immigration, but nothing would prevent lawmakers from expanding E-Verify to monitor identity or legal status in any other domain and restrict access based on other criteria they want.
Numerous federal, state, and local laws already require people to identify themselves or prove their immigration status, and lawmakers continue to propose many additional laws. The more areas that E-Verify is used to monitor, the more it will create a digital record of Americans’

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Tariffs Won’t Stop Illegal Immigration and Could Backfire

May 31, 2019

President Trump  announced that starting on June 10, the administration will impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports “until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.” This tariff would escalate by 5 percent per month to an astonishing 25 percent “permanently” by October 1. This idea is a terrible policy. It will punish U.S. consumers with higher prices, and it could easily result in more illegal immigration.
Tariffs will undermine the Mexican economy and lead to more illegal immigration from Mexico.
Mexico’s exports—$195 billion to the United States—account for 38 percent of its GDP. Imposing a 25 percent tariff would make trade with Mexico unprofitable. For context, the U.S. currently has a 25 percent tariff on pickup trucks which

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E-Verify Errors Harmed 760,000 Legal Workers Since 2006

May 30, 2019

Last week, President Trump announced that his immigration plan would not mandate that employers use E-Verify, the employment verification system that checks new employees against government databases. While the president felt it was too “tough” on illegal workers, he is wrong. Nearly all illegal workers passed the system last year. In reality, E-Verify is tough on legal workers who have had nearly 760,000 jobs held up by the system since 2006.
How many legal workers E-Verify has harmed
Employers who use E-Verify enter the names, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers (or alien ID numbers) that employees provide on their Form I-9 into the system. E-Verify then checks this information against government databases at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security

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E-Verify Let 12 million Illegal Hires Happen Since 2006—80% of Attempts

May 29, 2019

President Trump made waves last week by saying that he didn’t want to mandate E-Verify because the system—which intends to stop illegal workers by checking their information against government databases—is too “tough.” He claimed that when he built the Trump Hotel in D.C., the system rejected nearly 30 people for each person it accepted. But Trump is wrong: E-Verify catches fewer than one in six illegal workers. It’s been more than a decade since E-Verify reliably stopped illegal hires.
E-Verify relies on government records to try to identify U.S. citizens and legal workers applying for jobs. If the system worked, it should deny applicants roughly in proportion to the illegal share of the labor force. From Census surveys, demographers at the Pew Research Center have

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What Factors Should an Immigration Points System Include?

May 23, 2019

Last week, President Trump backed a plan that would create a new legal immigration category based on “points.” The idea is borrowed from immigration systems in several countries, including Canada, which award points to applicants based on various personal characteristics (language skills, educational attainment, family ties, etc.). The Canadian government, for example, establishes the cap on visas for the year, and applicants with the highest point total receive one of the cap slots for that year.
Advantages of a points system
Congress should not cap skilled legal immigration, which provides massive economic and fiscal benefits to the United States. Assuming it will anyway, however, a points system could be a fair and economically beneficial way to allocate some green cards, but

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Trump’s Latest Plan Shows That the Pro-Immigrant Side Is Winning

May 17, 2019

President Trump’s first legal immigration reform plan from August 2017 called for a 50 percent cut to the system. His second plan in January 2018 revised this to 38 percent. His third in June 2018 dropped the cuts to 10 percent. Now, his latest immigration plan drops all cuts. By this time next year, Trump could finally propose what the academic consensus says would create the most economic growth: a significant increase in legal immigration. The president’s flawed proposal is still a signal that the pro-immigrant side is winning.  
The White House’s one-pager about the plan is, to put it charitably, light on the details, but from what we know now, we can say that it is a decidedly mixed bag. Its only positive feature is that it increases skilled immigration, though less than the

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Immigration Form Denials Rise Every Quarter Except One Under Trump, Up 80% Overall

May 15, 2019

New data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that adjudicates applications for immigrants, reveals that the agency is denying applications by immigrants at a higher rate. The denial rate for all applications—everything from travel and work authorizations to petitions for foreign workers—has risen every quarter except one under the Trump administration.
Overall, in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, USCIS had a denial rate 80 percent above that for the first quarter of FY 17—the last full quarter of Obama’s term (October to December 2016). The denial rate increased from 7.4 percent in quarter 1 of FY 17 to 13.2 percent in quarter 1 of FY 19. Figure 1 shows the trend by quarter from FY 16 to FY 19.
Figure 1: Denial rate for all immigration benefits by quarter

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Amid Crisis, Ports Process 34% Fewer Central Americans

May 7, 2019

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

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To Become an American, Prove You Haven’t Smoked Pot

April 19, 2019

One requirement for immigrants to naturalize and receive U.S. citizenship is that they affirmatively demonstrate “good moral character.” America’s nanny staters have decided that consuming marijuana in any form is, well, immoral. The Trump administration decided this week to clarify further that it is still immoral to use, share, sell, or manufacture marijuana that is legal at the state level. The updated guidance states:
An applicant cannot establish good moral character (GMC) if he or she has violated any controlled substance-related federal or state law or regulation of the United States or law or regulation of any foreign country during the statutory period… . Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving

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New Bill Would Restrict Executive Power to Ban Legal Immigrants

April 10, 2019

In January 2017, President Trump banned nationals of seven majority Muslim countries from receiving visas or entering the United States. He followed up that ban with two subsequent bans, and as of April 10, 2019, the U.S. government is still blocking most legal admissions from five majority Muslim countries and North Korea (which received almost none anyway).
Last year, the Supreme Court upheld these actions as legal based on legislative grants of authority to the executive branch. In my comments reacting to the Supreme Court decision, I wrote:
As a matter of policy, no president should be given such broad power to determine immigration law. While the travel ban currently affects only a small share of immigrants and foreign travelers, all legal immigrants should be concerned that the

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Threefold Increases in Border Arrests for Nicaraguans and Indians in 2018

April 9, 2019

Since 2012, Border Patrol has apprehended a growing number of nationals from countries other than Mexico—almost all of them from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Last year, however, the agency saw threefold increases in apprehensions of Nicaraguans and Indians. These spikes may represent a widening awareness that America will accept people from around the world who come to the border to request asylum.
Figure 1 shows that from fiscal year 2017 to 2018, the number of Nicaraguans arrested by Border Patrol increased from 1,098 to 3,337—a 204 percent increase—and the number of Indians grew from 3,135 to 9,234—a 195 percent increase. That said, the two nationalities still represent a relatively small share of the total number of non-Mexican arrivals. The two nationalities grew from

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Mexican Immigration Enforcement Has Declined in Effectiveness

April 3, 2019

President Trump has repeatedly criticized the Mexican government for failing to do more to stop the Central American migrants heading north to the United States through Mexico. He tweeted yesterday, “They have ALL been taking U.S. money for years, and doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for us, just like the Democrats in Congress!” The truth is more complex. The Mexican government is doing a lot in absolute terms, but its efforts have become relatively less effective over time.
Figure 1 shows the number of apprehensions and deportations of Central Americans from the Northern Triangle by U.S. fiscal year from 2001 to 2019. As it shows, enforcement activity in Mexico peaked during the period in the mid-2000s. It declined from 2006 to 2011, briefly surged in 2015 and 2016, before declining again.

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“Closing the Border” Is a Terrible Idea

April 1, 2019

President Trump reiterated his threat Saturday to “close the border” or “large sections of it” next week. To put it mildly, “closing the border” is a terrible idea. The president cannot close the border to illegal immigration. What he can do—and is already doing—is slow the flow of legal crossings.
Mexico is America’s 2nd largest export market and 3rd largest total trading partner.
U.S. border crossings with Mexico handle a half a trillion dollars in trade each year. Nearly half enters through Texas where two thirds of illegal border crossings have occurred this year.
Each year, U.S.-Mexico border crossings permit the entry of more than 190 million people and 6.3 million commercial trucks.
Nearly 5 million American jobs depend on U.S.-Mexico trade.
Mexico exports to the United States

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Cuban Credible Fear Asylum Claims Surge After Ending Wet Foot, Dry Foot

March 20, 2019

In January 2017, President Obama eliminated the decades-long policy of “wet foot, dry foot” that allowed Cubans who made it to the United States to enter legally in order to apply for a green card under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Prior to the change, the numbers of Cubans had steadily increased to the highest levels since the early 1990s. At the time, I wrote:
Because the normal asylum system is so backlogged, [ending wet foot, dry foot] could result in Cubans filing asylum claims under the normal system, as Central Americans do … The current asylum system, which is already massively backlogged, will only grow more so as a result. At a time when a record number of asylum seekers from Central America are coming to the border, the United States is going to throw the Cuban

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Encouraging Findings of the Trump Administration’s Report on Refugees and Asylees

February 12, 2019

In July 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) produced the first rigorous accounting of the fiscal effects of refugees and asylees to the United States. The study gives the best insight so far into the economic assimilation of U.S. refugees into their adopted country. While the White House prohibited the official release of the report for political reasons, the New York Times in September 2017 obtained a copy of the draft. This post summarizes the report’s main findings:
While refugee and asylee high school graduation rates are lower than all U.S. adults, refugee and asylee college graduation rates are slightly higher.
Adult refugee and asylee full-time employment grows over time to be slightly higher than all U.S. adults.
Refugee and asylee poverty declines over

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Obama Tripled Migrant Processing at Legal Ports—Trump Halved It

February 8, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been turning away asylum seekers, families, and other migrants without paperwork as they attempt to apply for entry at legal ports along the U.S-Mexico border. Migrants are then forced to wait days, weeks, or months homeless in Mexico. The policy clearly violates U.S. asylum law, which has no limit on asylum applications, and according to the DHS Office of the Inspector General, the practice results in many choosing to enter illegally.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress in December 2018 that the turnback policy—which she refers to as “metering” or “queuing”—was due to a lack of “capacity” at ports. She also denied that the agency had instituted any policies that would intentionally reduce processing migrants at ports. However,

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The Facts About E-Verify: Use Rates, Errors, and Effects on Illegal Employment

February 1, 2019

E-Verify is the federal government’s employment eligibility verification system. In 1986, Congress forced all employers and employees to complete the Form I-9, attesting to the employee’s authorization to work. In the decade that followed, it became clear that this requirement had no effect on illegal employment, so in 1996, Congress created E-Verify as a pilot program to provide employers an electronic way to verify the authenticity of the information provided by their hires.
How E-Verify Operates
E-Verify compares an employee’s I-9 information to information in Social Security Administration (SSA) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases. Employers are not required to use E-Verify, but those who voluntarily participate must follow these steps:
Fill out the Form I-9 within

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Travel Ban Separates Thousands of U.S. Citizens from Their Spouses & Minor Children

January 29, 2019

President Trump announced the first version of his “travel ban” 2 years ago this weekend. The policy has already separated thousands of U.S. citizens from their spouses and minor children. In its current form, the travel ban blocks visas to nationals of five majority Muslim countries. By the end of this fiscal year, the government is on pace to separate an estimated 15,000 spouses and adopted minor children of U.S. citizens.
While the State Department has not publicly revealed the exact figures, prior trends in visa issuances indicate that as of January 1, 2019, the travel ban had already prevented 9,284 spouses and adopted minor children from uniting with their U.S. citizen spouse or parent. By the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, the separations will hit 15,165.
Spouses of U.S.

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