Andy: That story about ICE vastly exaggerating the level of enforcement is probably a little more complicated. The researchers are putting ICE in the hot seat, saying the agency either is lying about the level of enforcement or withholding massive amounts of data requested under the Freedom of Information Act, intentionally or negligently. The researchers’ FOIA appeal spells this out (emphasis added):
If we assume the agency’s public claims are correct, then the files we received were grossly deficient – a fact immediately apparent from how few records they contained. Records for 80,695 apprehensions were missing. Information on 159,169 individuals deported weren’t there, and data on 226,639 individuals who had been detained weren’t in the files we received.This is withholding on a massive scale! Indeed the margin of discrepancy suggests either extreme negligence in how our FOIA request was handled or willful unlawful behavior in knowingly withholding these public records.
On the other hand, if one assumes that the FOIA request was properly handled, then ICE has been making highly exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the level of its enforcement activities. We note that the alleged failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws has been a hotly debated topic during both the Bush and Obama administrations. Thus,the agency’s apparent inability to substantiate the level of its claimed enforcement activity is a very significant matter. Indeed, it is central to the current public debate on federal immigration enforcement policy in the ongoing presidential election campaign.
I suspect the problem is a combination of all three possibilities: Janet Napolitano’s subordinates intentionally withheld some data, botched the collection of other data, and are exaggerating the level of enforcement, though that would mean the exaggeration isn’t as gigantic as these data would suggest.
But whatever the real story is, it’s pretty clear we still don’t have the institutional capacity to properly enforce the immigration laws. Two other bits of news reinforce that conclusion. The Daily reported yesterday that:
Higher-ups within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are pressuring rank-and-file officers to rubber-stamp immigrants’ visa applications, sometimes against the officers’ will, according to a Homeland Security report and internal documents exclusively obtained by The Daily.
Of course, this pressure to “get to yes” is pervasive in the State Department, as my colleagues Jessica Vaughan and David Seminara, both former Foreign Service officers, have noted, so it’s no surprise to see it at USCIS, too. Congressional hearings are being scheduled, but even throwing the current management out as of January 2013 won’t be enough. Any time you have a complicated body of law that various pressure groups benefit from, there will be implacable political pressure to game the system. This is as true of immigration law as it is of the tax code or environmental regulation. While this problem will never disappear (unless we enter the libertarians’ Bizarro World and abolish all regulation of immigration), there are ways to address it, and they’re the same as with the tax code — minimize and simplify. Cut the level of taxation and immigration, and radically streamline the system by eliminating loopholes and targeted programs.
Finally, my colleague David North just today has crunched numbers dumped by USCIS and found that it’s become dramatically easier to get citizenship. Of the naturalization decisions rendered in FY 2000, 31.1 percent were denials. In 2011, only 7.6 percent were denials. As David notes:
The data in the table reinforce what I have written in several previous blogs: USCIS is an agency that loves to say “yes” when asked to grant a benefit and its current leadership is leaning on the system to make it even more friendly to applicants of all kinds.