Friday, August 18, 2017

Blueprint For America: Immigration

In this installment I want to talk about immigration. This has been a hot-button issue for many years1 with many on both sides of the debate becoming more and more shrill and unreasonable with each election cycle. The newest development in this is the latest edict from donald trump in which he announced that he wants to cut legal immigration by 50%.

Before we begin, though, we have to get an idea of what is actually happening, immigration-wise. To do this, we consulted the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security2. A discussion of these data is included here (this was done because, let's face it, reading statistics can be roughly as exciting as watching Harry Reid saying -- well, anything).

As it turns out, President Obama was not quite the anti-immigration demon the Republicans say he was, nor was he the "Deporter-In-Chief" calimed by many immigrants rights groups. Based on the number of people granted Legal Permanent Resident status, his numbers were roughly the same as the previous administration. The number of refugees/asylum-seeking arrivals increased slightly, while the total number of deportations actually decreased fairly steadily over both the Obama and Bush 43 administrations, as did the number of apprehensions of illegals. So why all the hue and cry from the Republicans over the supposed surge in illegal immigration under President Obama?

The obvious answer, of course, is electoral politics. Republicans used the issue as a xenophobic and racist dog whistle to appeal to that sector of their base that doesn't concern itself with things like subtlety, nuance, or facts3. And while I could happily while away the hours listing all of the ways in which the Republicans engage in dumbassery, I am actually trying for something a bit more productive here.

The underlying problem is the notion that "illegal immigrants take American jobs." Like many Republican statements, this makes sense on the surface ... but it doesn't take much digging to discredit this line of reasoning. To begin with, yes, the "first order" effects of immigration are that immigrants take American jobs. However, not to put too fine a point on it, but duh. American jobs are why they came here in the first place in many cases4.

It is also important to look at the other side of this coin (which is something the GOP often omits). The number of jobs is directly related to the demand for those workers in the overall economy. Every immigrant that comes here and starts working -- whether it is a migrant worker picking crops in the fields in California's Central Valley, or a computer programmer with a university degree -- generates economic activity, which increases demand for -- say it with me now -- more workers. Sure, some of these will be more immigrants, but some will be American citizens. Reducing the number of immigrants may actually hurt the economy by reducing overall economic activity.

The way to address the immigration issue is not to demonize immigrants, nor is the answer to make it more difficult for people to enter the country legally. Any immigration reform must address the following points:
  • Creating clear, simple (in the sense of "easy to understand and follow") paths to citizenship.
  • Applying consistent rules to deportations.
  • Relaxing of quotas.
  • Allowing for refugees and asylum-seekers to receive timely treatment and determination of status.
  • Temporary provisions for those refugees who are unable to return to their homeland.
  • Incorporation of a new class of refugees that we will be seeing soon: climate refugees (more on this in a bit).
Path to citizenship
There are currently several paths to citizenship for immigrants, including work visas, student visas, fiancé(e) and spousal visas, etc. All of these involve lengthy procedures including interviews, background checks, and so on. We need to make these processes more efficient so that people don't have to wait years, sometimes decades, for a decision on their case.

In addition, there is a rule in place that requires anyone seeking Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status to return to their home country and apply through the consulate, and it includes a proviso that if the application is denied then that person must wait anywhere from three to ten years before applying again. This rule needs to be modified to allow for legal immigrants to apply without leaving the country. As far as illegal immigrants, we should allow them to apply for LPR status from within the United States, provided they accept the equivalent of house arrest while the process is underway, with immediate deportation if the application is denied.

Consistency in deportation
A common complaint from the immigrant community is that the rules governing whether and when a person is deported are vague and not well-publicized. This, combined with some states taking matters into their own hands and independently enforcing immigration laws that may or may not be on the books (Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona being a leading example of this), makes it very difficult for immigrants to follow the law in the first place -- in some cases they have acted with the best of intentions but have been tripped up by hidden gotchas.

I am not advocating for relaxing the rules, only making them more well-known, enforcing them even-handedly across the board, and explicitly forbidding states from enforcing Federal immigration laws unless a formal deputization has taken place.

Relaxing of quotas
As it stands now, we have a system in place that allows the United States to specify which type of people will be allowed to immigrate. Doctors, for example, or computer programmers, or farm workers ... categories will be given preferential treatment if there is a perceived need for them. For example, in the nineties the number of computer programmers immigrating from India under the H1B visa skyrocketed in direct response to the tech bubble.

I propose that we not eliminate quotas entirely but that we place far less emphasis on them and instead use this simple criterion: will this person contribute more to society, in the long term, than he or she will take out of it? This way it doesn't matter if they are a doctor, a programmer, a dishwasher, an auto mechanic ... as long as they contribute and don't create a net draw on public institutions, then I say by all means ... let 'em in.

Timely and fair treatment
Current immigration procedures are long and arduous. Some say this is by design to prevent it from being too easy and thus attracting a flood of immigrants. I say making the process difficult serves nobody except the people who work in immigration, who have a nice, relaxed case load as a result.

The current procedure is to have someone apply for Legal Permanent resident status, then for citizenship after that. This is a process that can take years or decades, during which the prospective immigrant is in kind of a state of limbo. In addition, there are situations where a person's life may be in danger due to the delay, for example, if they are fleeing a civil war, terrorism, or a natural disaster.

Given modern technology, it should not be at all difficult to strike up partnerships with other nations so that we can easily conduct background checks on individuals in their country of origin and thus render a decision more quickly.

Temporary status
We also need to amend our procedures for temporary status. People fleeing from the civil war in Syria, for example, sometimes have to undergo years of intense scrutiny before they are allowed in. While I am not advocating that we lessen the stringency of these background investigations, we can at least amend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) so that it encompasses all people without having to have their home country on a list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. People should be able to receive a TPS designation based solely on whether or not the conditions in their country of origin warrant it.

Climate refugees
Current Temporary Protected Status includes people who were the victim of a natural disaster (the Haiti earthquake, for example). The problem with these environmental provisions is that they are designed for short-term relief -- people are granted TPS for the duration of the emergency, then are required to either complete formal immigration procedures or return to their home country.

The problem we now face is that, thanks to inaction on climate change, we are facing an entirely new and unprecedented class of refugees. Climate refugees are people who are unable to return to their home country -- forever -- because of the devastation wrought upon it by climate change. For example, the Maldives are expected to be entirely submerged by 2050, which creates an entire population of displaced people with nowhere to go. We will see similar effects from Bangladesh and many places in the Caribbean and South Pacific.

Our immigration procedures need to be updated to accommodate this new class of people. This can done quite simply by removing the words "short-term" from the description of refugees due to natural disasters. Existing processes can remain in place; we are simply expanding the definition of environmental refugee to include those for whom environmental degradation has caused a permanent loss of their homes.

None of these measures are exceedingly difficult; the only thing lacking is political will. By implementing these measures, we can return the United States to its place it held for so long as the beacon of promise, the "shining city on the hill," as President Ronald Reagan put it, and we can demonstrate our fundamental humanity to the rest of the world in a meaningful way.

I gotta lie down.

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1It should be noted that part of the reason for all the media hysteria is that the Republican Party often intentionally fans the flames of anti-immigration sentiment as a campaign tactic.

2 Data are current up to October 2015. The yearbook itself contains data back to the nineteenth century; however, we are only concerning ourselves with data from this century (2001 through 2015).

3Obviously, not all Republicans are racist or xenophobic. However, for decades the GOP has used racism and xenophobia in their messaging as a tool to rile up the reactionary members of their party; this partly explains why the Republican Party has such an effective Get Out The Vote machine.

4Granted, there are significant numbers who arrive at our shores for other reasons, but the majority come looking for work.

In terms of lawful immigration, the United States granted Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status to roughly one million individuals per year from 2001 through 2015 (see Table 1). There was a slight dip to just over 700,000 in 2003, but on the whole the numbers held steady, ranging from a low of 957,883 on 2013 to 1,266,129 in 2006 (given trump's obsession with Mexican immigrants, of these people granted LPR status, less than 150,000 came from Mexico).

The granting of LPR status is an early step in the naturalization process. When we look at the petitions for naturalization, we see that the percentage of these petitions that are being denied fell steadily from 2001 through 2011 (see Table 2), from a high of 26.48% (of the total number of petitions for Legal Permanent Resident status) to a low of 7.6%. This rate of declined petitions has been slowly increasing in the past few years to 9.4% in 2015.

In addition, the number of refugees/asylum seekers granted entry to the United States during this period averaged around 57,000 per year (see Table 3), with unusually low numbers in 2002 (26,875) and 2003 (28,266). If we remove these two outlier years, the average jumps to a little over 61,000 per year.

When we look at the number of deportations, we can see that this actually comes in two flavors: removals and returns (see Table 4). Although the ratio between these two categories fluctuates fairly dramatically year to year, the overall numbers have been  on a steady decline, from a high of 1,538,397 in 2001 to 462,463 in 2015.

Finally, when we look at alien apprehensions from this time period, we see a steady decline in the number apprehended (see Table 5). The most precipitous drop in apprehensions -- 325,216, or 23.44% -- occurred in 2003, followed by 2004 (217,810, 20.81%), and 2007 (245,735, 20.37%). The smallest drops came in 2012 (7,297, 1.07%) and 2013 (8,844, 1.32%). The number of apprehensions actually increased in 2008 (83,086, 8.65%), 2005 (26,833, 2.12%) and 2014 (17,513, 2.64%).

Table 1: Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status, 2001 TO 2015
2001 68,920
2002 26,785
2003 28,286
2004 52,840
2005 53,738
2006 41,094
2007 48,218
2008 60,107
2009 74,602
2010 73,296
2011 56,384
2012 58,179
2013 69,909
2014 69,975
2015 69,920

Table 2: Petitions for Naturalization, 2001 through 2015
Year Total Civilian Military Not reported Denied Denial %
2001 606,259 575,030 758 30,471 218,326 26.48%
2002 572,646 550,835 1,053 20,758 139,779 19.62%
2003 462,435 449,123 3,865 9,447 91,599 16.53%
2004 537,151 520,771 4,668 11,712 103,339 16.13%
2005 604,280 589,269 4,614 10,397 108,247 15.19%
2006 702,589 684,484 6,259 11,846 120,722 14.66%
2007 660,477 648,005 3,808 8,664 89,683 11.96%
2008 1,046,539 1,032,281 4,342 9,916 121,283 10.39%
2009 743,715 726,043 7,100 10,572 109,832 12.87%
2010 619,913 604,410 9,122 6,381 56,994 8.42%
2011 694,193 677,385 8,373 8,435 57,065 7.60%
2012 757,434 745,932 7,257 4,245 65,874 8.00%
2013 779,929 769,073 6,652 4,204 83,112 9.63%
2014 653,416 642,431 7,468 3,517 66,767 9.27%
2015 730,259 720,645 7,234 2,380 75,810 9.40%

Table 3: Refugee arrivals, 2001 through 2015
2001 68,920
2002 26,785
2003 28,286
2004 52,840
2005 53,738
2006 41,094
2007 48,218
2008 60,107
2009 74,602
2010 73,296
2011 56,384
2012 58,179
2013 69,909
2014 69,975
2015 69,920

Table 4: Aliens Removed or Returned: 2001 through 2015
Year Removalsa Returnsb Total
2001 189,026 1,349,371 1,538,397
2002 165,168 1,012,116 1,177,284
2003 211,098 945,294 1,156,392
2004 240,665 1,166,576 1,407,241
2005 246,431 1,096,920 1,343,351
2006 280,974 1,043,381 1,324,355
2007 319,382 891,390 1,210,772
2008 359,795 811,263 1,171,058
2009 391,341 582,596 973,937
2010 381,738 474,195 855,933
2011 386,020 322,098 708,118
2012 416,324 230,360 646,684
2013 434,015 178,691 612,706
2014 407,075 163,245 570,320
2015 333,341 129,122 462,463

aRemovals are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal. An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry owing to the fact of the removal.
bReturns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.

Table 5: Aliens Apprehended: 2001 through 2015
2001 1,387,486
2002 1,062,270
2003 1,046,422
2004 1,264,232
2005 1,291,065
2006 1,206,408
2007 960,673
2008a 1,043,759
2009b 889,212
2010 796,587
2011 678,606
2012 671,327
2013 662,483
2014 679,996
2015 462,388

aBeginning in 2008, includes all administrative arrests conducted by ICE ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations).
bBeginning in 2009, data include administrative arrests conducted by ICE ERO and administrative arrests conducted under the 287(g) program (authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law).

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