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DHS Uses Hyperbole, Half-Truths, & Inaccuracies to Influence Senate Vote on Rounds-Collins Dreamer Amendment

Summary:
The Senate is currently debating many competing proposals that would legalize some Dreamers, enhance border security, and reform legal immigration.  This morning, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release criticizing the bipartisan Rounds-Collins proposal that has more support in the Senate than any other amendment.  This DHS press release was accompanied by a veto threat from President Trump.  Most of DHS’ talking points against Rounds-Collins are either hyperbolic, half-truths, or just inaccurate.  Below, I will respond to the three most egregious sections of the DHS press release. By halting immigration enforcement for all aliens who will arrive before June 2018, it ignores the lessons of 9/11 and significantly increases the risk of crime and terrorism.

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The Senate is currently debating many competing proposals that would legalize some Dreamers, enhance border security, and reform legal immigration.  This morning, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release criticizing the bipartisan Rounds-Collins proposal that has more support in the Senate than any other amendment.  This DHS press release was accompanied by a veto threat from President Trump.  Most of DHS’ talking points against Rounds-Collins are either hyperbolic, half-truths, or just inaccurate.  Below, I will respond to the three most egregious sections of the DHS press release.

By halting immigration enforcement for all aliens who will arrive before June 2018, it ignores the lessons of 9/11 and significantly increases the risk of crime and terrorism.

There have been nine terrorists who entered the United States illegally since 1975 who went on to plan or commit an attack on U.S. soil.  One of them, Glen Cusford Francis, managed to kill one person in an assassination on U.S. soil.  That’s one successful murder in a terrorist attack over 43 years, committed by one of the roughly 49 million illegal immigrants who entered during that period (most left the United States).  The annual chance of being murdered by an immigrant who entered illegally was about 1 in 11.6 billion per year during that time.

The Rounds-Collins amendment does not increase the threat from immigrant criminals.  Immigrants are already less likely to be criminals relative to native-born Americans.  Furthermore, Rounds-Collins does not limit the ability of law enforcement to track down immigrant criminals or to deport those convicted of a crime.  In fact, it focuses interior immigration enforcement resources on actual criminal and national security threats rather than dissipating them on raids.  Thus, the new enforcement priorities of Rounds-Collins are more likely to reduce the already low threat posed by illegal immigrant criminals and national security threats.         

It eviscerates the authority of DHS to arrest, detain, and remove the vast majority of aliens illegally in the country by attempting to limit DHS enforcement by codifying a “priorities” scheme that ensures that DHS can only remove criminal aliens, national security threats and those who arrive AFTER June 30, 2018 creating a massive surge at the border for the next four months.

This is simply untrue.  The enforcement priority section of Rounds-Collins just forces DHS to prioritize the removal of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, as well as national security threats, over immigrants whose only offense was violating immigration law – unless they entered after June 30, 2018.  Furthermore, the relevant section of the bill does not prevent DHS from enforcing immigration laws against non-priorities, but it does remove the open-ended discretion.

New priorities for interior enforcement won’t much affect illegal entries across the border.  Southwest border apprehensions are at very low historical levels and a prioritization of interior immigration enforcement toward what the Obama Administration had in place in his second term certainly doesn’t open the border to illegal entries.  Amnesties have not historically increased the flow of illegal immigrants but appear to actually reduce them, for a time at least.  However, more border enforcement tends to lock illegal immigrants inside of the United States who would otherwise have left, boosting the stock but not the flow. 

Note: After publishing this, I learned that the Senate pulled this back to January 2018.  That change weakens DHS’ argument further.

By keeping chain migration intact, the amendment would expand the total legalized population to potentially ten million new legal aliens – simultaneously leading to undercutting the wages of American workers, threatening public safety and undermining national security.

DHS provides no estimate of how this legalization would expand “the total legalized population to potentially ten million.”  Legalized Dreamers wouldn’t be able to legalize their parents under this bill, which is essentially a restatement of current law.  Given the current long backlogs in the family-sponsored immigrant system and that most of the Dreamers legalized come from countries afflicted by those, there’s really no way that 10 million additional legal immigrants would be able to enter through this.  The best recent evidence is that each new immigrant eventually sponsored about 3.5 new immigrants through family reunification.  Because Dreamers’ ability to sponsor family members is limited and the wait times for many of the green card categories are so long, the number will certainly be lower for the legalized Dreamers.  It’s also unclear why that would be an argument against the Rounds-Collins amendment from the perspective of the agency tasked with enforcing it. 

The effect of immigrants on the wages of American workers is small and, if it is negative, is entirely concentrated on high school dropouts.  There are far better ways to help them than reducing economic and wage gains for the 90 percent of the workforce in educational categories positively impacted.  Furthermore, the effect of immigration on the wages of blue-collar workers is slightly positive.  There is not a good economic argument for reducing legal immigration.  It’s unclear why DHS would even be making this argument, since they aren’t supposed to be economic central planners but enforcers of immigration law. 

Legal immigrants entering on green cards from 1975 through 2017 have murdered 16 people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.  Assuming all of those green cards were issued in the family reunification categories or through the diveristy visa lottery, the chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a chain immigrant or a diversity visa recipient was about 1 in 723 million per year.  Even if that annual rate of deaths in terror attacks were to increase 10-fold, it would still not be a serious threat to national security. 

DHS’ open lobbying against Rounds-Collins via press release is extraordinary.  Past secretaries of DHS have certainly testified in favor of other immigration bills, but press releases by administrative agencies taking a clear side in a current debate in the Senate is a new expression of the power of administrative agencies.  DHS is openly lobbying for more resources that would enhance its power and respect.  That’s not a surprise according to what we know about how bureaucracies behave, but it is rare to see it expressed to nakedly in press releases during a Senate debate.

DHS should either not comment on these issues through press releases while the debate is occurring or only do so to make points about the feasibility of enforcement.  At a very minimum, the bureaucracy should not use policy-based talking points that are hyperbolic, half-truths, or inaccurate.   

Alex Nowrasteh
He is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the Fletcher Security Review, and Public Choice.

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