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Ignorance Is Strength

It's hard for me to imagine a better way to describe not only the last couple of weeks but really the entire Trump presidency than this title. We have a president that truly couldn't care less about actual facts or truth [1] and a significant portion of our country that blindly support him and are more than willing to run cover. I'm amazed by the sheer amount of falsehoods that I've encountered with this latest family separation issue. It's Brandolini's law [2] on steroids. It's exhausting, but to paraphrase Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of ignorance is for knowledgeable men to say nothing. I won't say nothing.

In a matter of two months, over 2,500 children were separated from their families [3]. Make no mistake, this was unequivocally the result of a zero-tolerance policy that Trump put in to effect on April 6, 2018 to criminally prosecute every case of illegal entry into our country [4]. This was intentional and planned. It was meant to be a deterrent [5] and a political bargaining chip [6]. Think about how sadistic that is for a moment. The Trump administration thought it was worth breaking families apart in order to attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigration and to pressure Democrats in to making concessions on an immigration bill.

One of the main arguments put forth was that Trump was simply following the law and had no choice but to implement zero-tolerance. First, there is no law that requires him to implement the policy that he did. Criminally prosecuting every single case of illegal entry and separating families or completely ignoring our immigration laws is a false choice. All law enforcement has the option of applying prosecutorial discretion. It can be as simple as giving you a warning when you're pulled over for speeding to deciding not to prosecute a family with children for illegal entry into our country. Even when the Bush administration cracked down on illegal entry with Operation Streamline, it made the choice to exempt parents traveling with minors [7]. The Obama administration made similar exceptions as well. This brings me to my next point.

No, this has not been going on for years. A favorite claim was that Clinton passed a law in 1997 to separate children from their families. Except what's being referred to is really the Flores Agreement that was the result of the 1993 Reno v Flores court decision regarding the detention of minors. The Flores Agreement said that minors could not be detained for more than 20 days. They are then either released to some type of sponsor or foster care. However, this agreement simply provides guidelines on how detained children are supposed to be treated. It does not require that minors be separated from their parents.

Also, Obama did not separate children as a matter of policy. There has been an incessant reference to the 2014 unaccompanied minor crisis to back up this assertion. However, this was not a case of Obama separating children from their parents. This was a matter of tens of thousands of minors coming across the border without their parents. He was harshly criticized for the way his administration handled the situation, and rightly so. That being said, he was not separating these children from their parents.

What's undeniable with this entire issue is that the underlying policies that this administration is relying on have deep racist roots. For the first 150 years or so of our country, we had very few limits on immigration. That significantly changed with the Immigration Act of 1924, an act whose main purpose was to maintain the white ethnic composition of America. Senator David Reed, one of the architects of the bill, critically said past legislation "disregards entirely those of us who are interested in keeping American stock up to the highest standard – that is, the people who were born here". [8] After its passage, Reed expressed in the NYT, "the racial composition of America at the time is thus made permanent." [9] The act continued the practice that started in 1917 to bar all those from the Asiatic Barred Zone. It also set immigration quotas for other nations at 2% of the census from 1890. This census was specifically chosen because there were fewer numbers of what were considered undesirables - namely southern Italians and eastern European Jews. Until 1965 when the quota system was done away with via the Immigration and Nationality Act, immigration dropped to historic lows. It then increased and resulted in the system we have now. A system that Jeff Session laments, unsurprisingly, due to the non-native percentages we currently have [10]:

In seven years we'll have the highest percentage of Americans, non-native born, since the founding of the Republic. Some people think we've always had these numbers, and it's not so, it's very unusual, it's a radical change. When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through the 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. We passed a law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we're on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.

Notice exactly what Sessions is saying is a negative - the number of non-native born Americans. He says the 1924 act, one that was architected with explicit racist motives, was good for America. One thing this administration likes to argue is that they want a merit-based immigration policy, but they just can't help themselves but to address their underlying intents. Sessions wants fewer non-natives. Trump wants fewer people from "shithole" countries. Notice, when they say these things, they aren't addressing any type of merits. They are addressing the ethnic qualities of these people. The merit-based rhetoric is but a smokescreen.

Then we get to the Immigration Act of March 4, 1929 [11]. This is the first policy that made it illegal to enter the US between designated ports of entry. The first offense is a misdemeanor and re-entry is then a felony and it hasn't changed to this day. The architect of this bill was a white supremacist (as Trump would probably say - a fine person [12]) Senator from South Carolina by the name of Coleman Blease. This fine gentlemen was pro-lynching, anti-miscegenation, anti-suffrage and all around a terrible human being. This was largely implemented to stem the flow of Mexicans crossing the border each year not at a port of entry. These were mainly migrant workers and while Congress could not come to an agreement on how to limit this number due to lobbying by businesses that utilized their labor, Blease came up with the solution to make such border crossings illegal.

Now, having said all that, I want to address a particularly interesting assertion I see thrown out quite a bit by conservatives. That liberals are nothing but bleeding hearts and only use emotional appeals. Well, this bleeding heart liberal is going to melt some faces with some facts.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes

One study that shows this is by the Cato Institute [13]. It analyzed data by the Texas DPS and specifically drilled down into the 2015 numbers to conclude:

The homicide conviction rate for illegal immigrants was 25 percent below that of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015. The conviction rates for illegal immigrants were 11.5 percent and 79 percent below that of native-born Americans for the crimes of sexual assault and larceny, respectively. Illegal immigrants were more likely to be convicted of gambling, kidnapping, smuggling, and vagrancy than natives, but those crimes constituted only 0.18 percent of all convictions that year in Texas. For all criminal convictions in Texas in 2015, illegal immigrants had a criminal conviction rate 56 percent below that of native-born Americans. Legal immigrants had a criminal conviction rate 85 percent below that of native-born Americans.

Another study in the journal Criminology shows that, even when controlling for economic and demographic factors, increases in immigrant populations within states are associated with lower levels of violent crime [14]. Because of this, they suggest that "any set of immigration policies moving forward should be crafted with the empirical understanding that undocumented immigration does not seem to have increased violent crime." Despite Trump's efforts to push the notion that these immigrants aren't the "best" and his focus on some being "animals", it's apparent that their average Jose is better behaved than our average Joe.

Immigrants cost less per capita when it comes to public spending

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine did an extensive study on the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration [15] and found that:

These estimates imply that the total annual fiscal impact of first generation adults and their dependents, averaged across 2011-2013, is a cost of $57.4 billion, while second and third-plus generation adults create a benefit of $30.5 billion and $223.8 billion, respectively. By the second generation, descendants of immigrants are a net positive for the states as a whole, in large part because they have fewer children on average than do first generation adults and contribute more in tax revenues than they cost in terms of program expenditures.

As we can see, we start to see positive fiscal benefits by the second generation and it gets better from there. This is also backed up by a Pew Research Center analysis that shows second generation immigrants have lower poverty rates, higher college graduations rates, and similar median income and homeownership rates as the total US population [16]. Additionally, the Cato Institute released a study in May 2018 that concludes "the per capita costs of providing welfare to immigrants is substantially less than the per capita cost of providing welfare to native-born Americans". [17]

Immigrants result in positive economic effects

The aforementioned National Academies study also concludes that "immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth" and the impact on native-born wages is very small. These negative effects on wages are limited to high school dropouts. A National Foundation for American Policy came out with a study that shows a 1 percent increase in the share of the labor force by immigrants reduces the unemployment rate by US natives by 0.062 percent and raises the labor force participation rate by 0.045 percent. [17] Then there's the whole cognitive dissonance between Trump and his supporters touting that we have the bigliest booming economy ever while at the same type saying we're being "infested" and "invaded" with people who are more or less economic terrorists. If immigrants were such a drain on our economy, how are we at near full employment with more open positions than people looking for work? [18]

Detaining illegal immigrants is more expensive than releasing them to the public

Detaining people long term costs about $170 and the recently proposed tent cities would cost about $775 per person [19]. Instead, Alternatives to Detention (ATDs) are a much more cost-effective and reasonable way of managing asylum seekers and illegal immigrants awaiting immigration hearings as long as they are deemed not a threat to public safety. The typical types of ATDs are electronic monitoring, assigning a caseworker, or monetary incentives like bonds. In 2012, appearance rates to immigration court for electronic monitoring was 99.6%. Over 91% complied with court orders. For those assigned caseworkers, 100% made it to their court hearing and only 2% absconded. With bonds, 83% made it to their court hearings, but those that didn't surrendered their bonds which could be up to $8000. In 2017, ATDs cost ICE about $6 per person [20]. But hey, it totally makes more sense to spend way more money detaining those people while ruining lives by traumatically separating children from their parents.

So, when we objectively look at the facts and we see that immigrants (regardless of legal status) are less likely to commit crimes, put less of a burden on public funds than natives in the long run, are more expensive to detain than to participate in ATDs, and have positive economic effects, we must ask ourselves a serious question. What compelling reason do we have to support policies that have their roots deep in racist foundations? I don't know about you, but if I ever found myself having the same position as White Supremacists, I better have quite a compelling reason to hold that position based on a mountain of empirical evidence. Especially when those policies are explicitly inflicting harm on thousands of people when there are tried alternatives in place. However, when the evidence even remotely stacks up against the position of racists, I just happen to be the type of human (the decent type) that easily decides to go that route.

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d84afdc143ca ↩︎

  2. http://ordrespontane.blogspot.com/2014/07/brandolinis-law.html ↩︎

  3. https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/18/separated-immigrant-children-families-border-mexico/ ↩︎

  4. https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1049751/download ↩︎

  5. https://www.npr.org/2018/05/11/610116389/transcript-white-house-chief-of-staff-john-kellys-interview-with-npr ↩︎

  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-cites-as-a-negotiating-tool-his-policy-of-separating-immigrant-children-from-their-parents/2018/06/15/ade82b80-70b3-11e8-bf86-a2351b5ece99_story.html?utm_term=.8fa11179af0f ↩︎

  7. https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Operation_Streamline_Policy_Brief.pdf ↩︎

  8. Stephenson, George M. (1964). A History of American Immigration. 1820–1924. New York: Russel & Russel. p. 190. ↩︎

  9. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/jeff-sessions-1924-immigration/512591/ ↩︎

  10. http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/10/05/exclusive-jeff-sessions-obamatrade-can-killed/ ↩︎

  11. http://legisworks.org/congress/70/publaw-1017.pdf ↩︎

  12. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/trump-defends-white-nationalist-protesters-some-very-fine-people-on-both-sides/537012/ ↩︎

  13. https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/irpb-4-update.pdf ↩︎

  14. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1745-9125.12175 ↩︎

  15. https://www.nap.edu/read/23550/chapter/14#530 ↩︎

  16. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/07/second-generation-americans/ ↩︎

  17. https://nfap.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/IMMIGRANTS-AND-JOBS.NFAP-Policy-Brief.May-2018-1.pdf ↩︎

  18. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-u-s-now-has-more-open-jobs-than-job-seekers/ ↩︎

  19. https://www.cato.org/blog/alternatives-detention-are-cheaper-indefinite-detention ↩︎

  20. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ICE FY18 Budget.pdf ↩︎

Ignorance Is Strength
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