Thursday, December 2, 2021

Media Don’t Factcheck Right-Wing Migration Myths

[T]his imbalance is typical of much corporate media immigration coverage. Right-wing media figures and Republican politicians get little pushback when they promote evidence-free, often absurd claims about incentives for unauthorized immigration.

By David L. Wilson, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

December 1, 2021

Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked a bizarre question at President Joe Biden’s November 3 press briefing. The president seemed to misunderstand the question, which referred to potential settlements of a lawsuit stemming from the Trump administration’s notorious 2017–18 family separation policy. Biden bungled his response, apparently calling reports about the settlement “garbage.”

Not surprisingly, the media ran with the story of Biden’s blunder. Doocy’s question, on the other hand, was mostly ignored or played down.[…]

Read the full article:

Photo: Los Angeles Times


Saturday, October 30, 2021

The “border crisis” numbers don’t add up

 ...[T]he “border crisis” narrative ignores several important differences between 2000 and 2021—the number of successful border crossings, the legal situation of the migrants who arrive, and the impact of a global pandemic.

By David L. Wilson, MR Online

October 29, 2021

In July, environmental activist Laiken Jordahl tweeted out a short video featuring what he called “the almighty border wall,” a section of fence at the Coronado National Forest in Arizona. The fence there includes several gates that need to be kept open at times of heavy rain. Without them, explained Jordahl, a staffer at Tucson’s Center for Biological Diversity, debris would accumulate behind the structure and floodwaters would eventually knock the wall down.

The gates were wide open. The only barrier was a few strands of barbed wire: anyone could easily have clipped the wire and walked through. No Border Patrol agents were in sight; neither were any would-be migrants.[…]

Read the full article:

The Border Wall. Photo: David Bacon

Monday, October 25, 2021

What’s the Relation Between Border Apprehensions and Unauthorized Entries? Part 4

Now we can return to our original questions: does this year’s increase in border apprehensions mean that more undocumented migrants are settling here? Is it comparable to the border crossings in years like 2000?

Encounters and Admissions

On October 22 Customs and Border Enforcement (CBP) released fiscal 2021’s final number for migrants apprehended or expelled at the southwestern border: 1,734,686. This breaks down into 75,480 arriving at ports of entry and 1,659,206 crossing the border between ports of entry. The number is historically high, surpassing the 1,643,679 apprehended at that border in 2000. Still, there’s no reason to think that 1,734,686 migrants have been added to the U.S. undocumented population.


In fact, 1,063,526 of the migrants were immediately expelled under Title 42 of the U.S. health code, and another 128,851 were sent back through expedited removal, reinstatement of removal, voluntary return, or the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).


This leaves 542,309 border crossers admitted to the country, but the actual number is probably lower: 47,671 of these migrants still didn’t have a final disposition when CBP collected the data at the end of September, so some had probably been deported. The migrants admitted were almost all members of family units or as minors without their parents who were allowed to seek asylum: a total of 479,728 family unit members and 149,033 children without their parents were apprehended at the border. Note that seeking asylum is specifically protected by U.S. law, so it’s inaccurate to refer to asylum seekers’ entry as “illegal.”


Many thousands of the 542,309 migrants admitted to the country are undoubtedly now in immigration detention. The government doesn’t seem to have made the number available at this time.


The “Gotaways” and Overstays

There’s also a certain number of migrants who entered by crossing the border without being apprehended.


In Part 3 we estimated that the current apprehension rate was something like 80 percent. Applying this rate to the 1,659,206 migrants encountered at the border, we estimate that 414,802 migrants may have crossed the border without being apprehended, more than double the estimated numbers in 2016. But CBP seems to have a lower estimate: three anonymous CBP officials told the Washington Post in April that about 1,000 were crossing each day without being apprehended—which would come to 365,000 for the fiscal year.


Depending on how we count these “gotaways,” the total number of migrants joining the undocumented population through the southwestern border would be at most between 907,309 and 957,111.


But not all undocumented immigrants enter through the border. In Part 2 we cited estimates that as many as 66 percent of the new arrivals in 2016 were overstays. But this year’s number of overstays can’t be anything like the 306,000 to 320,000 we calculated for 2016.


Just as the pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted other migration patterns, it has dramatically changed the number of possible overstays. The US government has restricted travel from the areas that provided the most visitors in the past—China, the Schengen zone, the UK, India, Brazil—while much land entry from Mexico and Canada is also restricted. The result, according to 2021 policy brief from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), is an 80 percent drop in the number of visitors with non-immigrant visas.


Source: AILA 2021 Policy Brief

Applying the reduction in visas to the number of overstays from 2016, we get an estimate of just 61,000 or 62,000 overstays for all of fiscal 2021. But this is probably an underestimate, since more than 200,000 of the visas were presumably for H-2A temporary farmworkers; these are largely Mexicans, who have a high rate of overstays. To compensate for this, we round the overstays up to 120,000.

The Final Numbers

If we add overstays to the projected successful border crossers through September, we get between 1,127,309 and 1,177,111 migrants entering the undocumented population this fiscal year.


This is definitely higher than the unauthorized entries in recent years 2016, but still in line with the entries in each year from 1994 to 2006, and despite the media’s comparisons to 2000, below the estimated 1,389,322 entries for that year. As Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, an expert on immigration patterns, noted earlier this year, the current increase could be a return to the pattern that characterized most of the last five decades, or it may show the effects of the COVID pandemic, which created economic hardships pushing more Mexican workers to cross the border and more people coming from relatively distant countries to seek asylum.


And we don’t yet know how the pandemic may have affected the number of migrants leaving the undocumented population. CMS’s estimate for 2016 was 771,000. If that number left this year, the total increase in the undocumented population would be less than 500,000.


In other words, despite ominous warnings about “illegal aliens” and a “border crisis,” this year’s the rate of unauthorized entry is probably less than it was in the early 2000s and may just represent a temporary effect of the global pandemic.


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Sunday, October 24, 2021

What’s the Relation Between Border Apprehensions and Unauthorized Entries? Part 3

In Part 2 we saw how to break down each year’s unauthorized arrivals into the overstays and the migrants that entered successfully through borders, almost always the southwestern border. But there are two groups of border crossers who join the unauthorized population: the migrants who entered without being apprehended, and the migrants who were apprehended but were allowed to remain—that is, were admitted temporarily to pursue claims for a legal status. (These migrants are still subject to deportation if they fail to win their cases.)

There are three different ways of estimating the number of migrants who entered the U.S. without being apprehended—the “gotaways,” in the Border Patrol’s actual official terminology..


The ACS-Based Apprehension Rate

The first method relies on estimates that demographers make for each year’s number of new arrivals in the undocumented population; they base these on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS; see Part 2). New arrivals consist of migrants who overstayed their visas, migrants who were apprehended at the border but were allowed to enter, and migrants who evaded apprehension.

For the number of new arrivals in 2016, for example, we can use the
2019 CMS report or Robert Warren’s 2018 report in combination with the unpublished CMS data we cited in Part 2. The 2019 report estimates 515,000 total arrivals to the undocumented population in 2016, while the unpublished CMS data puts the number at 623,000. From these estimates we can subtract the estimated overstays, 320,000 in the 2019 report and 306,000 in the 2018 report, to establish how many entered at a land border.


Next, we need to estimate the number of migrants that agents apprehended but allowed to enter the country. (As we noted in Part 1, these are mostly asylum seekers who are admitted to the country pursuant to two laws that establish procedures to adjudicate their claims. Many come as family units or unaccompanied minors, and this category started increasing significantly in 2014; for example, 77,674 family unit members and 59,692 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the southwestern border in 2016.)


Source: Congressional Research Service

The Border Patrol reported 408,870 apprehensions at the southwestern border in fiscal 2016, and 245,400 border crossers were removed that year, almost all from that same border. That leaves 163,470 migrants, mostly asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, who were admitted to the country after being apprehended. 

 Once we subtract the overstays and the admitted migrants from the total arrivals, we have a rough idea of how many migrants entered without being apprehended, and we can use this number to estimate the 2016 apprehension rate—that is, the percent of border crossers that DHS succeeded in apprehending.


Using the 2019 CMS report’s estimate of 515,000 total undocumented arrivals and subtract the 320,000 overstays and 163,470 admissions, we estimate that about 31,570 migrants evaded apprehension at the southwestern border in 2016. By adding this 31,570 to the 408,870 total apprehensions, we arrive at some 440,440 unauthorized crossings at that border. This gives us an apprehension rate of 93 percent.


If instead we use 2016 arrival number from the unpublished CMS estimates—623,000—and the overstay number from Warren’s 2018 report—306,000—then 317,000 migrants arrived by crossing the border without authorization. Subtracting the 163,470 admissions, we get 153,530 migrants who evaded apprehension. Adding this to total apprehension gives us an estimated 562,400 border crossers, with nearly 73 percent of them being apprehended.


Model-Based vs. Observational Apprehension Rates

The US government has a different way to estimate the number of unauthorized migrants who cross the border without being apprehended. In fact, it has two.


The government’s two methods are explained in an August 2020 DHS report on border metrics. One is a model-based apprehension rate that extrapolates from a survey the Colegio de la Frontera Norte takes of migrants who have recently attempted to cross the border. The other is an observational apprehension rate. This is extrapolated from Border Patrol observations of people crossing successfully and from evidence like footprints.


DHS reports on the model-based apprehension rate go back to fiscal 2000. This shows a dramatic increase, from as low as 32.5 percent in 2003 to a high of 83.9 percent in 2016, with a tendency to rise throughout the period. DHS didn’t start calculating the observational rate until 2006; it too shows a tendency to rise, but not nearly as much as the model-based rate. The lowest rate is 63.5 percent for 2006, while the highest is 79.4 in 2011 both and 2016.

Source: American Immigration Council 2021 Report

The model-based rates seem much too high for the early period. For example, the Border Patrol reported 1,643,679 apprehensions for 2000. The model-based apprehension rate for that year was 42.5 percent, so the number of successful border crossers would have reached some 2,224,000. But Warren and Warren’s estimates based on the ACS only show a total of 1,389,322 undocumented immigrants entering the country that year—and this includes both border crossers and overstays.


The observational rate seems to give a more convincing result, and the government’s two different apprehension rates have been close to each other since 2015, which suggests that that they may both be fairly reliable now. For example, the observational rate for 2016 was 79.4 percent, while that year’s model-based rate was 83.9 percent. Applying the observational rate to the 408,870 reported apprehensions, we would estimate that a total of 106,000 migrants crossed the border that year without being apprehended. The model-based rate would yield about 78,000 crossers who weren’t apprehended.

These rates from DHS are about halfway between the rates we calculated from the two different ACS-based estimates. This suggests that the actual rate now is somewhere around 80 percent.

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Friday, October 22, 2021

What’s the Relation Between Border Apprehensions and Unauthorized Entries? Part 2

In Part 1 we considered the official numbers for apprehensions at the Mexico-U.S. border and how the meaning of those numbers fluctuates over time. Now we’ll consider ways to estimate the number of unauthorized border crossers who become part of the general U.S. population—that is, the ones who either evade apprehension or are allowed to remain after apprehension.

For these numbers we need to use estimates based on various sources. As with the apprehension numbers, the metrics for the data in these sources aren’t necessarily consistent over time. Adding to our difficulties, most government data uses the U.S. fiscal year, which begins in October, while other sources may use the calendar year, or even comparisons between certain months.

We will note these discrepancies but won’t try to adjust for them. All estimates will be rounded to the nearest thousand.


Calculating Changes in the Undocumented Population

One way to estimate the number of successful border crossers is to study changes in the size of the undocumented population.


The traditional approach to determining this population’s size is the residual method. Demographers start from the estimated number of immigrants in Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS), subtract the number of naturalized citizens and green card holders, make adjustments for underreporting, and come up with an estimate for the undocumented population in that year. (Note: the ACS is based on the calendar year.)


Conservatives frequently claim this method undercounts the undocumented population, but it has proved itself in a real-life test: the “amnesty” of 1986. The number of migrants applying for legalization was within the range the residual method predicted. Since then a number of refinements have led to more detailed ACS-based estimates.


A further refinement of the residual method is presented by demographers Robert Warren and John Robert Warren in a 2013 paper. In addition to estimating the size of the undocumented population from 1990 to 2009, they break out estimates for the number of unauthorized migrants that entered the country each year and the number that left the count—by emigrating, adjusting their status, being deported, or dying. The year of entry is provided by the ACS, and DHS supplies the number of those who adjusted status or were deported; mortality is based on standard mortality rates for Latino males based on age.


The Warren and Warren estimates, which run from 1990 through 2009, form a pattern not too far from that of border apprehensions. The growth rate for the undocumented population reached a high point in 2000 and then declined; by 2008 the number of people leaving the undocumented population exceeded the number that entered.


Source: ProCon, based on Pew Research reports

Two other studies show that the decline continued for at least the next decade: a summary of estimates through 2017 by Pew Research, and unpublished data supplied by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) extending the Warren and Warren estimates to 2016.


But What About the Overstays?

However, estimates of the undocumented population don’t tell us how many of these migrants entered by crossing the southwestern border. Many undocumented migrants enter with a visa but overstay the visa’s expiration date; if they stay permanently, they become part of the undocumented population.


In recent years this group may have surpassed border crossers as a share of new undocumented arrivals.


The main source for an overstay count is an annual “entry/exit overstay” report from DHS. The report for fiscal 2016  shows 50,437,278 entries by foreigners who were issued visas for limited stays or were allowed to enter through the Visa Waiver Program. The department subtracts the number of visa holders who adjusted their status—received new visas or applied for permanent residence—and estimates the number of visa holders who exited the country before their visas expired. The result is what DHS calls 739,478 “overstay events.” Subtracting people who simply overstayed by a few months or less, DHS comes up with a 628,799 “suspected overstays.”


But these numbers are educated guesses, as is shown by the term “suspected overstays.” The government has a system for tracking people entering with visas, but tracking people leaving is more difficult. Most enter and leave by air, along with some who travel by sea, so it’s possible to track exits by consulting passenger manifests, but matching the tens of millions of visa holders with the tens of millions of manifests is a monumental task. And tracking is even more difficult for the visa holders who enter and leave by land—mostly Canadians and Mexicans.


There are other hurdles to estimating overstays. People who receive more than one visa in the course of a year can overstay more than one time in a year, thus getting counted more than once, and visa holders who die while in the US—elderly parents visiting their children, for example—might be counted as overstays.


Correcting the Overcount

DHS’s estimate is a significant overcount, according to demographer Robert Warren, who is Senior Visiting Fellow at CMS. Warren uses the ACS data, including a breakdown by national origin, to adjust the DHS overcount and provide a new estimate. Warren and CMS Executive Director Donald explain the method in a 2018 article, and Warren describes the results in an accompanying article. The number Warren comes up with for 2016 is 306,000, less than half the DHS number.


Source: Center for Migration Studies

If we take this 2016 overstay estimate in conjunction with CMS’s 623,000 estimate for that year’s unauthorized arrivals, then these 306,000 overstays would account for 49 percent of the arrivals, while 317,000 migrants had presumably entered the U.S. population by crossing the border without authorization.


Warren gives somewhat different figures in a 2019 CMS report, estimating arrivals at 515,000 arrivals and overstays at 320,000, or 62 percent. By this estimate, only 195,000 migrants—or 38 percent of total arrivals—had entered the U.S. population in 2016 by crossing the border without authorization.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

What’s the Relation Between Border Apprehensions and Unauthorized Entries? Part 1

Politicians and the media have spent much of this year creating panic over the number of border apprehensions, which have now reached their highest level in two decades. Very few ask the obvious question: do more border apprehensions mean that more people are now living in the United States without authorization?

It’s true that the number of border apprehensions tends to mirror the number of unauthorized entries, but the relation between the two numbers—that is, the apprehension rate—is complicated and is constantly changing. A million border apprehensions now may not mean the same thing as  miallion border apprehensions meant in 2000. This year they clearly don’t.


Understanding Border Apprehensions

There’s an easy way to determine the number of apprehensions at the Mexico-U.S. border: the government keeps records, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), makes them available on the web. But the nature of these apprehensions keeps changing.


In 2000, for example, Border Patrol agents would frequently just ID the migrants they had apprehended and then release them; the official name for this is “voluntary return.” As a result, an apprehended migrant might simply attempt a second crossing the next day and be apprehended again. This recidivism meant that the number of apprehensions was significantly higher than the number of individual migrants apprehended.


The “voluntary return” approach was largely dropped during the administration of George W. Bush. The policy was now to put as many migrants as possible through the deportation process, and many were also criminally prosecuted under a section of the immigration code—rarely used in the past—that made unauthorized border crossing a misdemeanor with a six-month sentence for first offenders; there are harsher penalties for second offenses. These measures made it less likely that an apprehended migrant would make a second attempt and reduced the recidivism rate.


Other changes also affected the number of apprehensions at the southwestern border. The Border Patrol has more than doubled in size since 2000, and some 650 miles of barriers were installed on the southwestern border during the century’s first decade. These factors made migrants significantly more likely to be caught if they tried to enter, while the increased likelihood of getting caught presumably discouraged people from making the attempt.


Southwest Border Apprehension and Border Patrol Staffing Levels, FY 1975-2017


Source: Migration Policy Institute, 2018

Factoring in Asylum Seekers

The number of border apprehensions declined dramatically during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and remained low for a decade, except for a significant increase in 2019. A number of factors contributed to this reduction—the lack of employment opportunities in the U.S., for example, a lower birth rate in Mexico, and the higher level of border enforcement.


There was another important change: a new group of migrants appeared on the scene. Throughout history, the people crossing the border had tended to be adult males, mostly Mexicans, who were looking for work. Starting in 2014, more and more of the migrants being apprehended were unaccompanied minors and family unit members, most of them Central Americans seeking asylum.


Unlike the single males, who often try to evade capture by entering through dangerous but less well patrolled sectors, these new migrants tend to enter in safer areas and turn themselves in directly to Border Patrol agents in order to start the process of establishing asylum claims. Immigration opponents talk about migrants “sneaking across the border,” but in reality, asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors often literally walk into the arms of waiting Border Patrol agents.


The ease with which asylum seekers and unaccompanied children can be apprehended naturally led to an increase in the apprehension rate.

The Title 42 Effect

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major new factor in apprehensions since March 2020. Apprehensions of asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors declined during the pandemic’s first months due to lockdowns in the sending countries. But the rate started to rise rapidly soon afterwards—largely as a result of a Trump administration policy of invoking Title 42 of the health code to exclude almost all non-citizens from entering the U.S.


Under Title 42, which the Biden administration has continued in part, many migrants apprehended at the southwestern border are simply IDed and then expelled back into Mexico. This is in effect a resumption of the old “voluntary return” policy, and although the returns are far from voluntary, the new policy has the same effect: expelled migrants keep repeating their attempts to enter.


Before Title 42 the annual recidivism rate averaged 15 percent. By June 2021 it had more than doubled to 38 percent, thus significantly increasing the number of apprehensions.

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Four of the Worst Takes on Asylum

News stories about asylum seekers at the southwestern US border are regularly greeted with uninformed comments from politicians, op-ed writers, and social media users. We’ve compiled a list of four of the worst claims about asylum seekers, with explanations of the actual situation. Please feel free to use our list if you encounter any of these claims.

1. They should apply for asylum from within their own countries instead of taking the long, dangerous journey to the United States.

Migrants cannot apply for asylum from outside the United States. The U.S. asylum system is only for people inside the country or at the border.

U.S. law (8 U.S. Code § 1158defines an asylum seeker as someone seeking refuge at the U.S. border or from within the United States:

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States [emphasis added] (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

U.S. law provides a different system for people seeking protection from inside another country. These people are seeking status as “refugees”; this status is defined in 8 U.S. Code § 1101. But people seeking refugee status can’t just visit a U.S. consulate to apply; they usually must go through a “refugee process” involving an international refugee agency. Moreover, this refugee process isn’t available in most of this hemisphere’s nations.

The Obama administration did set up a refugee program called the Central American Minors (CAM) program, and the Biden administration is restarting it. But this program is very limited. During nearly two years of operation under Obama, only about 5,000 Central Americans managed to enter the United States through CAM.

2. Most asylum seekers pass through Mexico—and sometimes other countrieson their way to the U.S. border, so they need to apply for asylum in those countries, not here. Besides, they’d be better off in places where people speak Spanish.

Migrants are not required to apply for asylum in Mexico or other Latin American countries. U.S. law only requires asylum seekers to apply in a country they pass through if that country has a safe third country agreement with the United States.

Here too 8 U.S. Code § 1158 is very specific. The right to seek asylum in the United States is denied only in cases where

the Attorney General determines that the alien may be removed, pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement, to a country (other than the country of the alien’s nationality or, in the case of an alien having no nationality, the country of the alien’s last habitual residence) in which the alien’s life or freedom would not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and where the alien would have access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum or equivalent temporary protection…

Canada is the only country with which the United States has a formal safe third country agreement. The Trump administration negotiated agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras relating to asylum seekers, but even that administration didn’t have the nerve to designate these as “safe third country agreements.” The three Central American countries clearly didn’t meet the required standards for protecting the asylum seeker’s life or freedom, and they are incapable of providing a full and fair procedure for handling asylum claims.

Media coverage often overlooks one important reason asylum seekers come to the United States rather than nearby countries: Many have family and friends here who can give them help and a place to stay as they pursue their claims. This an especially important consideration for the many family groups with small children and few resources.

Incidentally, there are more than 50 million Spanish speakers in the United States. Mexico is the only country in the world with a larger Spanish-speaking population.

3. Asylum seekers need to enter the country properly at a port of entry; otherwise, they can’t apply for asylum.

How asylum seekers enter the country has no effect on their right to apply for asylum; neither does their immigration status.

This is yet another case where the law is perfectly clear: 8 U.S. Code § 1158 states that

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival  [emphasis added] and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status [emphasis added], may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

There are various reasons why asylum seekers would decide cross the border between ports of entry, including the presence of dangerous gangs in some Mexican cities near the ports of entry. Border agents also frequently find excuses to impede asylum seekers at the ports of entry. The problem has gotten worse since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the U.S. government has used as a pretext for blocking still more asylum seekers.

4. Most asylum seekers are just trying to get into the United States and disappear. Once inside, most never attend their court hearings.

The government doesn’t provide reliable statistics showing the rate of court attendance by asylum seekers, but studies show that most do in fact attend their hearings.

Determining the rate at which asylum seekers “disappear” is extremely complicated, but the overwhelming evidence is that very few simply remain in the country without pursuing their claims. A University of Pennsylvania Law School study showed a 95 percent attendance rate between 2008 and 2018 for people who had applied for relief through asylum, cancellation of removal, or some other legal option for remaining in the country.