Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) recently wrote an editorial on immigration reform which perpetuates the troubling notion that our southwest border is out of control and that securing it must occur before any legislative reform of our immigration system can occur.
Linking border security to immigration reform in such a manner has allowed political members on both sides of the aisle to do nothing on other facets of immigration reform.
While border security is an important part of reform by no means is it separate from or a substitute for a long term, wholesale reform of a system that even Senator Cornyn acknowledges is broken and needs to be reformed:
"What was missing during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night? I believe one of his biggest omissions was a credible commitment to border security and immigration reform."
He later notes:
“Immigration reform remains a priority for Texas and the nation. Border violence is unacceptably high. Rivalries among drug cartels have claimed more than 30,000 lives in Mexico during recent years. Many areas across our border are not safe for our citizens nor for our friends in Mexico.”
There is nothing factually incorrect about the above statements; President Obama did not talk in depth about immigration reform, though it is also true that reform is a priority for the nation and the administration. Additionally there is a lot of drug cartel violence in Mexico, yet he fails to note that on the American side violence along the border has never been lower.
It is intellectually dishonest to correlate violence on the Mexican side of the border as a failure on the part of this administration to work on making the border safer.
By raising the specter of violence along the border this editorial is working within a narrative long established by conservative radio hosts and television personalities: mainly that the border is out of control and that Democrats are weak on enforcement and security issues.
By heightening the national collective fear of the border, this editorial is able to achieve its true goal which is to politicize the immigration debate in a way which allows the GOP to attack the President and Democrats as being weak on border security.
It should come as no surprise that Senator Cornyn also happens to be the chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
This editorial is particularly egregious given that in July of 2010, Senator Cornyn voted against a $700 million package of border security funds that was passed out of the Democratically Controlled House. The vote count can be seen here. He did vote for the $600 million package passed later that year, but that is a full $100 million less in funds to secure the border...
Let’s be very clear here, the only thing that has been done by Congress on the issue of immigration reform for the past two years has been the earmarking of money for border security. This has been done in a bipartisan fashion with the full support of the current administration:
According to the United States Customs and Border Protection since 2004, the number of “boots on the ground” along the Southwest border has increased by nearly 85% to 17,600 Border Patrol Agents today. In Arizona, where the current Governor has very publically asked for more funds, the administration is currently putting a record number of “boots on the ground,” with more than 4,900 Border Patrol Agents, 900 Customs and Border Protection Officers, and 130 Air and Marine Agents.
Interior enforcement has also been stepped up steeply, there has been a record 2,746 worksite enforcement investigations, more than doubling the 1,191 cases initiated in FY 2008. ICE also issued a record 2,196 notices of inspection to employers, surpassing the prior year's record of 1,444 and more than quadrupling the 503 inspections in 2008. ICE issued 237 final orders - documents requiring employers to cease violating the law and directing them to pay fines - totaling $6,956,026, compared to the 18 issued for $675,209 in FY 2008. The total of $6,956,026 last year represents the most final orders issued since the creation of ICE in 2003.
Perhaps the next time Senator Cornyn wants to politicize the debate on immigration reform, or call the President weak on security, he should look at the facts first.
This week the House subcommittee on immigration policy and enforcement held their first hearing on "ICE Worksite Enforcement - Up to the Job?" At hand was the question of whether or not Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was adequately enforcing worksite immigration laws. More then anything else what this hearing showed was that their needs to be a more comprehensive reform of how foreign born workers are processed into the American labor force.
ICE under the Obama administration has moved away from raids, and moved to administer audits of businesses who they suspect to be using undocumented workers. The emphasis is now more on employers who hire immigrants and not just arresting undocumented immigrants who are working in the factories.
What this hearing was about more than anything was metrics, and accountability. The GOP think that punitive actions against immigrants employed by workers in the form of raids is most effective in creating a deterrent for immigrants to work for businesses.
While Democrats and ICE are utilizing audits to reach a larger group of business and seek to hold them accountable for hiring undocumented immigrants. While also continuing to arrest and deport immigrants who are in the country illegally.
It is ironic that in such a polarizing debate over immigration, the GOP have often accused Democrats and the Administration of not doing enough on enforcement. Yet there really is not a debate about whether or not to enforce immigration laws. BOTH political parties want to enforce immigration laws, it is how where they differ.
One thing is clear, the current Administrations plan is working:
Kumar C. Kibble, Deputy Director, Immigration Customs and Enforcement's testimony can be found here, and below is part of his testimony:
The success of our worksite enforcement is evident in the statistics.
In fiscal year (FY) 2010, ICE initiated:
A record 2,746 worksite enforcement investigations, more than doubling the 1,191 cases initiated in FY 2008.
ICE criminally arrested 196 employers for worksite related violation, surpassing the previous high of 135 in FY 2008.
ICE also issued a record 2,196 notices of inspection to employers, surpassing the prior year's record of 1,444 and more than quadrupling the 503 inspections in 2008.
ICE issued 237 final orders - documents requiring employers to cease violation the law and directing them to pay fines - totaling $6,956,026, compared to the 18 issued for $675,209 in FY 2008.
The total of $6,956,026 last year represents the most final orders issued since the creation of ICE in 2003.
In addition worksite investigations resulted in a record $36,611,320 in judicial fines, forfeitures, and restitutions.
Finally ice brought a new level of integrity to the contractinc process by debarring a record 97 businesses and 49 individuals preventing unscrupulous companies from engaging in future business with the government.
While all of these enforcement statistics are impressive, what this hearing has shown more then anything is that whether it is worksite raids or company audits with deportations of undocumented aliens, the current construct of how foreign born workers are processed into the country does not work. Never mind the huge population of undocumented workers that are here, which increased enforcement no matter how good will ever truly be able to adequately remove in any sort of economically feasible manner.
All of this points to a need to continue to work on a more comprehensive overhaul of how workers are brought into the country. Let's stay tuned to see if that conversation ever occurs in the House committee of immigration policy and enforcement, but lets not hold our breath....
In the speech Secretary Napolitano made the assertion that the Southwest Border Initiative has yeilded very real results, and she provided statistics and DHS metrics which showed that the border has become safer.
NDN has also taken a deep dive into the question of whether or not the border has become safer over the last two years. Our findings show that since the Southwest Border Initiative has been in place, since there has been greater cooperation between the United States and Mexico there has been a drop in violence, apprehensions, and crossings along our southern border.
Asserting these facts is necessary because there has been so much talk on television, on the radio and by certain politicians that the south west region is out of control. With enough statistical evidence, with enough dialogue between legislators who actually live on the border, and those in Washington D.C. perhaps we can put the notion that the border is out of control to rest.
It should be clear that we at NDN do not think that the border is "secure." The concept of "securing the border" is fairly nebulous and in many ways creates an unreachable metric for which to gauge success in the southwest region. WE could not assert that the border is secure because there have been isolated incidents of violence along the border. But those incidents are much less then they were five years ago, and violence along the border is at an all time low.
This is not an unrealistic assessment of the progress made on the border; casually perusing the data collected below shows an increase in the number of government personnel along the border which has resulted in lower number in apprehensions, and crossings.
The Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) has made a commitment to serious and effective enforcement of the law along the southern border. Despite all of this there is currently a perception that violence along the border has increased and that the federal government has done nothing to stop it.
This is nothing short of nonsense and here is why:
DHS has worked hard to facilitate huge increases in the presence of federal agents on the border, overall increases in the number of deportations of criminal aliens and an increased, enhanced and continued cooperation with Mexico is dramatically changing the dynamic on the border.
To date there has been a decline in crime in Border States, the slowing of illegal migration into the United States, a lack of spillover of violence from Mexico onto American Soil.
The statistical evidence to make this case is overwhelming:
More Money, More Border Patrol, Customs Agents and National Guard
Deportation of Criminal Undocumented Immigrants Has Increased
Much has been written here about the first U.S. Mexico Mayors Conference, however I am in no way as articulate or have the years of experience in dealing with border issues as the Mayors who attended the conference. Below are a series of videos of the Mayors talking about the most important parts of the Conference.
The First Video is just a roundtable discussion with some of the Mayors who came to the conference:
The second video is the Mayor of El Paso, Texas John F. Cook discussing the positive economic impact made by immigrants both legal and illegal who come into El Paso:
The third video is the Mayor of Yuma, Arizona Alan L. Krieger talking about how the negative perception of the Border is hurting business in his city:
Finally, the Vice Mayor of Tucson, Arizona Richard Fimbres speaks about the positive economic impact of immigration on the retail economy of Tucson.
President Obama, spoke on immigration for longer then anyone would have thought last night, below is the text of his statement on moving forward on the DREAM Act and Immigration Reform:
One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.
While a legislative path forward on any of this is hazy at best, it was good that the President acknowledged the importance of the DREAM Act in terms of competitiveness for the country. The White House framed the message in another way sending out a fact sheet on the speech which contained the following:
Reforming immigration laws to stop expelling talent: The President asked Congress to work with him to reform our immigration system in a comprehensive manner so that we stop expelling talented and responsible young people, whether they were brought here by their parents as children, or come from other countries to pursue college and advanced degrees. As we work to rebuild the economy, our ability to thrive depends, in part, on restoring responsibility and accountability to our immigration system.
It is of note that the Obama administration has begun to discuss both immigration and the Dream Act in terms of competitiveness and being a net positive overall for the economy. Let's hope framing the issue in this way becomes a part of the Democratic messaging around immigration in the future.
"It is nearly impossible to enter or leave the Yuma sector without running into a border patrol agent in one way or another" - Alan L. Kreiger, Mayor of Yuma.
If toning down the rhetoric on Border Violence is the top line message of this inaugural U.S. Mexico Border Mayor Conference, then the underlying fact is that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services (CPB) strategy for making the border region safer is working.
Starting in 1992 to the present day: apprehensions are down in every border sector. What this means is that the tactics that the CPB are utilizing are producing results; less apprehensions means there is less violence. Rather as Border Patrol presence has increased from 1992 to now crime has decreased.
Looking over the long haul:
The graph above shows in every border city sector a precipitous drop in apprehensions. In 2000, the record high water mark apprehensions total was 1,643,679, flash forward to 2010 and the total number of apprehensions is down to 447,731. That is a 73% reduction in apprehensions.
That is not all, according to CPB: Since 2004, the number of “boots on the ground” along the Southwest border has increased by nearly 85% to 17,600 Border Patrol Agents today. Arizona currently has a record number of “boots on the ground,” with more than 4,900 Border Patrol Agents, 900 Customs and Border Protection Officers, and 130 Air and Marine Agents.
This has yielded results: In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, CBP seized more than $104 million in southbound illegal currency – an increase of more than $28 million compared to 2007- 2008. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, southbound seizures in Arizona were approximately $10.7 million.
In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, CBP and ICE seized more than $282 million in illegal currency, more than 7 million pounds of drugs, and more than 6,800 weapons along the southwest border – increases of more than $73 million, more than 1 million pounds of drugs and more than 1,500 weapons compared to 2007-2008.
What all of this means is that while the Border is not secure, it is safe. Which is a much more realistic goal for the Department of Homeland Security to strive for. It is certainly what the Mayors living in Border towns are asking for. The facilitation in the growth of commerce and an increase in efficiency on the movement of goods and people across the border is far more valuable to those living along the border than a militarization which closes the ports of entry down.
Innovation and leadership from both the United States and Mexico is a positive step. And while CPB and DHS continue to do their part in this, more than anything else what needs to change is the temperament of politicians and the media in how they cover the border region. This is a dynamic space that can be both a place of commerce and a safe region that will be mutually beneficial to Mexico and the United States. Wouldn't that be something if people talked about that for a change?
One of the more interesting aspects of being at the U.S. Mexico Border conference was being able to listen to conversations about aspects of the current immigration debate which are not often discussed in Congress or the national media. Chief among those issues was the pressing need for more infrastructure growth along the border.
While the national conversation on immigration seems to be stuck on securing the border and limiting the flow of people across our southern border; mayors who actually govern in states along the border say that securing the border does not preclude the opening of more ports of entry, and that more must be done to find ways to make the current ports more efficient.
Border cities have received enormous amounts of support from the Department of Homeland Security. Mayors overwhelmingly pointed to drops in violence along the border, but what they need more than anything else is to find ways to increase commerce, trade and the movement of people and goods across their border.
In speech after speech, mayors from California, Texas, and Arizona all noted that the ports of entry that their cities housed were meant to process roughly half of the current flow that they take on a daily basis.
The current ports of entry they utilize are old and slow the process of moving families from Mexico into their cities. Families from Mexico spend a lot of money on goods on the American side of the border. Mayors are concerned because wait times on the border can be 2-3 hours long, which ultimately lowers the total number of people who can move into their cities.
The other problem with old ports of entry is that the movement of goods is also slowed. The Mayors at the conference often mentioned that what would also make things better along the border are more ways to efficiently move trucking firms that move goods into and out of the country.
According to the Mayor's more infrastructure along the borders must be built. This is a time consuming process as it requires Mayors from both the United States and Mexico to work in conjunction to find land that they both agree upon, then there is the actual building which can take some time.
Yet while all of this is pressing for the cities along the border, the national debate continues to be around security. Border Mayor after mayor say, that while they have received more than enough help on that front, it is time to move to the next phase of the plan, infrastructure.
Tucson- The inaugural U.S. - Mexico Border Mayors Conference has come to an end, and a lot was covered, too much for one post. The immigration blog will do two more posts on some of the Border Security statistics shared as well as one on infrastructure and capacity issues surrounding the Border. This post will focus on what was far and away the most talked about issue at the conference: the need for both politicians and the national media to tone down the rhetoric on border violence.
Mayors from Nogales and Yuma Arizona, El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville Texas, and Calexico, California repeatedly stressed that their cities are safe, and that the impression that their cities are raging out of control hurts the overall economic livelihood of their cities.
In speech after speech the Mayors of these cities repeated the refrain that while they support securing the border, they insisted that the depiction of their cities as out of control war zones is simply not true. Further security along the border while welcome is not what they need the most. What they wanted more then anything was the ability to continue to facilitate the movement of people, trade and business from Mexico in and out of their cities in an efficient manner.
The most pernicious problem faced by the Mayors at the conference was not out of control violence on the American side of the border (though they did note that the violence in Mexico is bad, but it rarely spills over, more on this in a later post) but rather it is the rhetoric surrounding border violence that scares both industries and tourists from doing business in their states. In an economic downturn the loss of this type of business is devastating to their cities.
When all was said and done the theme in these meetings was not security, though it was discussed quite a bit, but rather that the Administration's border plan was starting to show some dividends. While security should continue to be stressed these mayors seemed eager to find ways to continue to harness and improve upon the flow of goods to and from the border.
Commerce, Tourism and the flow of people as forms of human capitol are now the most pressing issues facing these mayors. What they wanted more than anything was a better way to continue to harness the economic dividends from their neighbors to the south. Tourist spending, from Mexicans legally crossing the border to spend money, then leave is big business for many of these border cities and bad publicity hurts their bottom line.
This is not a Pollyannaish vision of the border, nor is this the opinion of NDN, it is what was conveyed by the mayors at the conference. Ultimately in these times of economic uncertainty, mayors repeated that what they needed more then anything is revenue. They did not convey a need for open borders, nor did they talk about military lockdown on the border, what was stressed over and over was how best to work in conjunction with their sister cities across the border for the economic benefit of both American and Mexican interests.
Lastly and perhaps most fittingly they wished that the national media and Governors who demonize the border, would just stop, or at the very least visit their cities.
The Wall Street Journal has a story up today on the White House's announcement that they will begin to aggressively audit businesses I-9 forms to see if they are hiring undocumented immigrants. If they are found to be in violation of these laws, they will be fined and the immigrants found will be deported.
Miriam Jordan has the full story here, John Morton Chief of the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement announced that the Department of Homeland Security will be creating a center which will administer these audits.:
In an interview, John Morton, chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, said the Employment Compliance Inspection Center would "address a need to conduct audits even of the largest employers with a very large number of employees." The office would be announced Thursday, he said.
This is significant in a couple of ways, first this type of audit is the exact opposite of the type of splashy raids conducted by the Bush Administration. In a way it is far more effective. The Bush Administration would conduct raids which would inevitably end up on television and would give the impression that they were tough on enforcement issues. The reality is those types of raids were not very efficient, the sheer man power of raiding work site, by work site is huge, and time consuming. Not to mention they were not humane in any sense of the word... By contrast, a centralized office, designed to do nothing else but audit people could cover far more businesses. Audits under the Obama administration have sky rocketed:
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010, ICE conducted audits of more than 2,740 companies, nearly twice as many as the previous year. The agency levied a record $7 million in civil fines on businesses that employed illegal workers.
Contrast this with the Bush Administration and the difference is apparent:
Enforcement activity during the Bush administration focused on high-profile raids in which thousands of illegal immigrants were arrested and placed in deportation proceedings. Relatively few companies and their executives were prosecuted. In contrast, the Obama administration has made employers the center of its immigration policy with "silent raids." Critics say the policy has penalized small employers while failing to target larger employers
In the new Congress, often you will hear Republican members of the House Judiciary Sub Committee on Immigration complain that the Obama administrtation is not tough enough on enforcement. The data clearly shows that not only are they tough on enforcement but that they are effecient. Which is not something that can be said about the last President in office. Nor can it be said about the enforcement policies of the GOP controlled Congress for the six years when they controlled both chambers. This is not partisan sniping it is more to point out that for all the politicized complaining about security, over the last three years of the current admnistration there has been a healthy emphasis on security and enforcement laws. At this point if the GOP was serious about solving the problems associated with immigration they would stop pointing fingers and start legislating on a more comprehensive solution.
The Immigration blog is currently out in Tucson, AZ for the U.S.-Mexican Mayors Association Conference and will be sitting in on some of the working group meetings and presentations.
The U.S.-Mexican Mayors Association was formed in conjunction with the United States and Mexico government to help formulate policies that affect the border communities of our mutual countries.
Given what has been made available to conference attendees there will be a heavy emphasis on border security, but also in refreshing twist discussions on trade, sustainable incomes and both a healthy and secure environment on the border.
According to documents released earlier today The U.S. Mexico Border Mayors Association Works To:
Provide a better and secure quality of life of the residents of Mexico and the United States border region by providing economic development opportunities and sustainable incomes in a healthy and secure environment
To assist and help develop sound policies to secure the Mexican and The United States Border
Make the flow of goods between the Mexico and the United States as efficient as possible by advocating for the necessary funding from the state and federal government
Be an advocate for federal and states investments and incentives in areas considered vital to the fulfillment of the mission of Border Mayors Association
The Immigration blog will bring you more as it develops.