Statistical Analysis Shows that Violence, Not U.S. Immigration Policies, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border

Tom K. Wong is Assistant Professor of Political Science at UCSD, tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

Download a PDF version here.

An earlier version of this article appeared on July 8, 2014 via the Center for American Progress.

A humanitarian refugee situation at the U.S. southern border has been unfolding over the past few years and dramatically intensifying over the past several months, as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are fleeing their homes in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In search of a safe haven, these children embark on dangerous journeys, arriving in the United States and neighboring countries throughout Central America. Indeed, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, asylum applications from children are up by 712 percent in the neighboring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has argued that “many of the children apprehended at the border are fleeing unspeakable violence in their home countries.”

Even as the Obama administration struggles to deal with the situation, including finding adequate shelter and protection for the kids, some in Congress have attempted to score political points by arguing that the increased numbers are the result of the administration’s own immigration enforcement policies, such as the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in 2012, which grants eligible unauthorized youth a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), for example, called on President Barack Obama to end the DACA program and begin deporting those with the status to send a message to prospective child refugees that they should not come to the United States. A recent Congressional hearing also placed the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) at the center of the current increase in unaccompanied minors. However, a close statistical evaluation of the available data suggests a very different dynamic that is leading children to leave their Central American homes. It is not U.S. policy but rather violence and the desire to find safety that is the impetus for these children’s journeys.

An analysis of the available data suggests that:

  • Violence is among of the main drivers causing the increase. Whereas Central American countries that are experiencing high levels of violence have seen thousands of children flee, others with lower levels of violence are not facing the same outflow. This trend holds even when accounting for poverty and distance to the United States.
  • By contrast, the evidence does not support the argument that DACA, the TVPRA, or lax border enforcement has caused the increase in children fleeing to the United States.

 

Violence is driving children to flee Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador

How can it be determined that violence is a primary factor causing children to flee? One way is to use the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, data on homicides and homicide rates by country. Coupling this data with that of the number of children arriving each year allows us to examine the relationship between violence and children arrivals.

Figure 1 shows how violence affects the flow of children. The relationship is positive, meaning that higher rates of homicide in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are related to greater numbers of children fleeing to the United States.

1

Another way to examine the relationship between violence and unaccompanied children is to use the data on security levels in Latin America compiled by FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. The annual index ranges from 1 (safe) to 5 (very dangerous) for each country, and data are available from 2009 to 2014. Here again, the relationship is positive, meaning that more dangerous security conditions are related to greater numbers of unaccompanied children. Using the FTI Consulting index data provides an even more strongly statistically significant result, suggesting an even clearer link between violence and children fleeing.

Not only do countries with the highest rates of homicide have the largest numbers of unaccompanied children fleeing, but the data also make clear that countries in Latin America with lower rates of homicide are not sending large numbers of unaccompanied children.

In 2012, the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico accounted for 41,828 homicides, at a rate of 28 per 100,000 people. Exclude Mexico and the murder rate jumps to 54 per 100,000 people. The president of Honduras has gone as far as calling the children refugees from “war” in his country. By contrast, other countries in the region, such as Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama had a total of just 1,881 murders, at a rate of only 13 per 100,000. Nicaragua is particularly useful as an example: It is the second-poorest country in the region—behind only Haiti—and yet, with far lower rates of violence than the three main sending countries, it has not seen an uptick in unaccompanied children leaving.

These findings reinforce a report released by DHS that shows that many of the unaccompanied minors who have recently arrived come from some of the most dangerous cities in Central America.

I also note here that including all Latin American countries in the analysis adds leverage (increases the n) so that other factors can simultaneously be analyzed. The main finding about violence holds when also accounting for economic conditions and distance to the United States.

 

DACA, the TVPRA, or lax border enforcement is not to blame

DACA

In fiscal year 2009, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, encountered slightly fewer than 20,000 unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. So far in FY 2014, more than 51,000 children have entered, with the increase almost entirely coming from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala (see Figure 2).

2

The sharp increase during FY 2012 has been used by senators such as Ted Cruz (R-TX) to argue that the creation of the DACA program in June 2012 is the reason “that we have seen the number of children taking the incredible risks entailed with coming across the border grow exponentially.”

There are two problems with this line of thinking. For one, the increase in unaccompanied children began well before 2012. CBP estimates that between FY 2008 and FY 2009, for example, there was a 145 percent spike in unaccompanied children arrivals, jumping from 8,041 to 19,668.

But even more importantly, the U.S. fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following year. This means that FY 2012 actually started in October 2011 and ended in September 2012. Considering that applications for deferred action could only be submitted starting on August 15, 2012, it is highly unlikely that DACA caused an increase in children. Data on monthly border apprehensions—which admittedly do not distinguish between unaccompanied children and all others caught at the border—show that the number of people caught at the border actually slowed in the months after DACA was announced.

It also stands to reason that if DACA is causally related to the increased flow of unaccompanied children, the national origins profile of these children should potentially be as diverse as the profile of DACA recipients themselves—in other words, the dramatic increase in unaccompanied minors would not, as the data currently show, be limited to only a few countries. This, in the language of causal inference, means the absence of unit homogeneity. In other words, if DACA were in fact incentivizing the flow of unaccompanied children, Nicaraguans and Panamanians would feel this just as Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans, which would mean dramatic upticks across the board. However, this is clearly not the case.

TVPRA

The TVPRA, which was signed into law by former President Bush at the end of 2008, includes core provisions that are germane to the current political debate over unaccompanied minors. To begin, the TVPRA makes a distinction between non-contiguous and contiguous countries to the U.S. For unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries, the TVPRA requires that they be given “safe and secure placement” under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HSS, in order to protect them from “traffickers and other persons seeking to victimize or otherwise engage such children in criminal, harmful, or exploitative activity” (see Section 235(c)(1)), and that they have access to legal counsel “to the greatest extent practicable” (see Section 235(c)(5)). This by no means is a “free pass,” as these unaccompanied children are also placed in removal proceedings pending the hearing and adjudication of their cases. The TVPRA also allowed the U.S. to negotiate “child repatriation agreements” with contiguous countries (see Section 235(a)(2)). As a result, unaccompanied Mexican minors are to be treated in the manner described above unless they agree to “voluntarily return,” a process that can lead to their return to Mexico in as little as 48 hours. As the UNHCR notes, most Mexican unaccompanied minors are promptly returned to Mexico under the voluntary return procedure after no more than 1-2 days in U.S. custody. And while data are currently not publicly available on the percentage of children who are returned under this procedure, the fact that only 3% of all unaccompanied minors who were transferred to HSS custody during FY 2013 were from Mexico suggests that the vast majority of unaccompanied Mexican minors are in fact being promptly returned.

It is important to note that the general treatment of unaccompanied minors under the TVPRA is consistent with U.S. obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention (as well as our own Refugee Act of 1980). However, some such as Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), argue that these provisions are contributing causal factors to the flow of unaccompanied minors.

If the TVPRA had a causal effect upon its enactment, one would expect the number of unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. from non-contiguous countries (i.e., Central American countries south of Mexico) to increase from 2008 to 2009. However, the data show that unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras decreased by 12%, 20%, and 39%, respectively, from FY 2008 to FY 2009. Moreover, as noted earlier, while CBP estimates an overall increase in unaccompanied children between FY 2008 and FY 2009, the data show that this increase is driven exclusively by unaccompanied minors from Mexico—to recall, the TVPRA allowed the U.S. to immediately deport unaccompanied Mexican minors under expedited return procedures. This suggests that the expedited return of unaccompanied Mexican minors has not deterred children from Mexico from attempting to enter the U.S. I note here that during this period, Mexico experienced one of its largest year-to-year increases in deaths as a result of its drug war, jumping 141% (an increase from 2,837 deaths to 6,844).

Of course, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are currently at the center of the political debate over unaccompanied minors. Does this mean that the TVPRA has a lagged causal effect? This does not seem to be the case. If the TVPRA is causally related to the recent increase in unaccompanied children, it also stands to reason—given the TVPRA distinguishes between contiguous and non-contiguous countries—that the national origins profile of unaccompanied minors would include fewer Mexican children (as a contiguous country whose children are subject to expedited return), and a broader range of Latin American countries (as non-contiguous countries whose children are provided basic protections under the legislation). This is not the case. Unaccompanied minors from Mexico have held largely steady over recent years. Moreover, and to reiterate, the recent increase in unaccompanied minors remains limited to only three countries. As with DACA, this again, in the language of causal inference, means the absence of unit homogeneity.

Border enforcement

Arguments such as those of Sen. Cruz connecting DACA to the increase in unaccompanied children also cite lax border security by the Obama administration as an additional contributing factor. But these arguments, such as those about DACA, are equally unsupported by the data. To give just a few examples:

  • Under the Obama administration, funding for the Border Patrol has reached record levels, increasing from $2.3 billion at the end of the Bush administration in 2008 to $3.5 billion in FY 2013—an increase of 52 percent.
  • The number of Border Patrol agents in general, and at the southwest border, now stand at record levels (see Figure 3).

3

If lax border security were contributing to the increase in children arriving, we would expect to see a negative relationship between border security metrics and the number of unaccompanied children entering the United States. To put it another way, we would expect more children to arrive as border security efforts decrease. Instead, the opposite has occurred: As the United States has ramped up its border enforcement, more children have come (see Figure 4).

To be clear, this should not be interpreted to mean that more border security means more unaccompanied children—again, we only have a handful of observations to analyze. Rather, the data suggest that the recent increase in unaccompanied children is not the result of lax border security, but is occurring despite record levels of border security spending and staffing.

And from recent press reports, it is clear that our border security policies are working exactly as intended: Numerous stories note that the Border Patrol is apprehending these kids upon entry, or soon after. Here too, the evidence is clear that border enforcement policies are not driving the surge in unaccompanied children.

4

 

Conclusion

Instead of attempting to repeal programs such as DACA or the TVPRA, the United States should—as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has suggested—ensure that these children are safe and secure, go after the smugglers and traffickers bringing them here in the first place, often luring them by spreading misinformation, and seek solutions that help quell the violence in these children’s home countries. The data show that this situation is a humanitarian and refugee issue, not an immigration issue, and all sides must not lose sight of the children themselves who are at the heart of the matter.

 

Notes

Notes to Figure 1. Violence and the annual percentage change in unaccompanied minors from 2009 to 2013. For example, Honduras’s homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 people in 2012 was associated with a 125% increase in unaccompanied minors from 2012 to 2013. The result is only weakly statistically significant (p = .094), which is expected given the fact that the data covers only a few years. UNODC data are only available through 2012; still, the data are helpful in explaining the relationship between violence and childhood arrivals. Violence is measured using UNODC data on homicide rates—lagged so that cause comes before effect—and unaccompanied children are measured using the annual percentage change in unaccompanied children. Source: Author’s calculation of UNODC and CBP data. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Global Study on Homicide, 2013” (2013), available at https://www.unodc.org/documents/gsh/pdfs/2014_GLOBAL_HOMICIDE_BOOK_web.pdf. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children,” n.d., available at http://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children (last accessed July 2014).

Notes to Figure 2. Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children,” n.d., available at http://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children (last accessed July 2014).

Notes to Figure 3. Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “United States Border Patrol: Border Patrol Agent Staffing by Fiscal Year,” n.d., available at http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%20Staffing%20Statistics%201992-2013.pdf (last accessed, July 2014).

Notes to Figure 4. Author’s calculations based on U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children,” n.d., available at http://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “United States Border Patrol: Border Patrol Agent Staffing by Fiscal Year,” n.d., available at http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%20Staffing%20Statistics%201992-2013.pdf (last accessed July 2014).

Angela S. Garcia Publishes Article in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

CCIS Graduate Student and PhD Candidate in Sociology Angela S. Garcia has published an article in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

The paper, titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Unauthorized Migrants Strategically Assimilate in Restrictive Localities in California” (download), shows how the immediate legal contexts of receiving communities of unauthorized Mexican immigrants.

 

 

Mapping DACA Renewals

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

PDF of report here

DACA: 2 Years Later 

According to the latest figures released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), over half a million (521,815) undocumented youth have received temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The first DACA applications were submitted on August 15, 2012 and USCIS started approving applications a month later.

DACA is a temporary two-year status, which means that 2014 is the first year that “DACAmented” youth will have to renew their status. USCIS, immigrant-serving organizations, and other stakeholders across the country are already deep in planning and preparing for the renewal process. Will the renewal process mirror the initial success of DACA? To what extent will the costs associated with renewing deter individuals from reapplying? Should we even expect all “DACAmented” youth to reapply These are just some of the questions that loom over the renewal process.

In an effort to inform outreach efforts, this report uses data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to identify and map where the first wave of DACA renewals are likely to be concentrated.

The Data

The FOIA data analyzed here are the first 146,313 applications submitted to USCIS from August 15, 2012 to September 30, 2012. While it has been 18 months since USCIS began accepting applications, nearly one-quarter of all DACA applications submitted to date were submitted during this time period. Moreover, state-level trends in DACA applications during the first months of the program, with some exceptions, largely mirror current trends.

The data can thus speak to the first wave of DACA renewals and are also informative when it comes to evaluating DACA on the whole. Identifying where DACA renewals are likely to be concentrated is no easy task, as DACA applicants are spread widely across the country. For example, 10,678 zip codes and 1,922 counties are represented in the first 146,313 applications alone. However, there are only 148 counties that are home to between 100 and 449 applicants among the first 146,313 applicants, 33 counties that are home to between 500 and 999 applicants, and 21 counties that are home to more than 1,000. Indeed, the finer-grained the data are, the more leverage we have in identifying DACA renewal “hotspots.”

I note here that complementing this analysis with analysis of where large numbers of estimated DACA-eligible youth have yet to apply at the county- or city-level would add much needed depth to our understanding of the program. However, data limitations currently do not permit this. I refer readers to Wong et al. (2013), which identifies the under-representation of DACA-eligible youth at the state level.

Results

This report identifies and maps DACA renewal “hotspots” across the country. This includes:

1. A map of DACA applications by county for all counties in the U.S. (see Figure 1).

2. County-level maps for California, Texas, New York, Florida, and New Jersey, which represent the top 5 states of residence for DACA applicants during the initial months of the program (Illinois has since supplanted New Jersey in the top 5; see Figures 2 to 6).

3. Zip-code level maps for the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the New York metropolitan area, the greater Houston area, the greater Chicago area, and the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area. These places represent the top 5 metropolitan areas of residence for DACA applicants during the initial months of the program (see Figures 7 to 11).

 

 

Figure 1: Number of DACA Applicants by County for All Counties, 8/15/12 – 9/30/12
map1

Contact author for tabulations

 

 

Figure 2: DACA Applications by County, California (37,797 applications), 8/15/12 - 9/30/12

map2

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 3: DACA Applications by County, Texas (22,330 applications), 8/15/12 – 9/30/12

map3

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 4: DACA Applications by County, New York (11,570 applications), 8/15/12 -9/30/12

map4

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 5: DACA Applications by County, Florida (9,049 applications), 8/15/12 – 9/30/12

florida

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 6: DACA Applications by County, New Jersey (6,484 applications), 8/15/12 - 9/30/12

 newjersey

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 7: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Greater Los Angeles Area

greaterla

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 8: DACA Applications by Zip Code, New York Metro Area

nynj

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 9: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Greater Houston Area

houston

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 10: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Greater Chicago Area

Chicago

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 11: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Riverside-San Bernardino MSA

riverside

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

 

Fifth Annual University of California Conference on International Migration

Fifth Annual University of California Conference on International Migration:
Immigrant Integration in Comparative Perspective

January 31 – February 1, 2014

Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UC San Diego

To be held at the Great Hall

Agenda

Co-sponsored by the  Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy (UC Irvine) & Program on International Migration (UCLA)

With the participation of the Gifford Center for Population Studies (UC Davis) and Division of Social Sciences (UC Santa Cruz)

CCIS Fall Seminar – American Values: Migrants, Money and Meaning

Seminar to be held on Wednesday, December 4th in ERC 115. Event begins at 12:00PM.

Author Meets Critics: Join David Pedersen, Beatriz Cortez and David Gutierrez as they discuss Mr. Pedersen’s book American Value: Migrants, Money and Meaning in El Salvador and the United States.

El Salvador has transformed dramatically over the past half-century. Historically reliant on cash crops like coffee and cotton, the country emerged from a civil war in 1992 to find much of its national wealth coming from money sent home by a massive emigrant workforce in the United States.  In American Value, David Pedersen examines this new way of life across two places: Intipucá in El Salvador and Washington, DC in the USA.  Drawing on Charles S. Pierce to craft a highly innovative semiotic of value, he critically explains how the apparent worthiness of migrants and their money is shaping a transnational moral world with implications well beyond El Salvador and the USA.

David PedersonDavid Pedersen

Associate Professor of Anthropology – UCSD

w/ Beatriz Cortez, Professor of Central American Studies – CSUN

& David Gutierrez, Professor of History – UCSD

REPORT NOW AVAILABLE: Understanding Change in Science & Engineering – July 12 & 13 Workshop

CCISBuilding the Innovation Economy? The Challenges of Defining, Creating and Maintaining the STEM Workforce: 

For several years, policymakers in Washington, academic and other experts, and industry leaders have emphasized the importance of the so-called “STEM” fields—science, technology, engineering and math—for economic growth, national competitiveness and security, and job creation. Yet we still know little about how this crucial sector of the economy works, and in particular, why industry demands ever more foreign workers even as many US workers are leaving this vibrant sector, and how US workers keep their skill sets current in the face of continual change. Most broadly, we need to understand what STEM actually means. It is a term that is used widely, and even forms the basis of legislation, yet it resists a clear definition.

These are some major conclusions from a workshop held at the University of California-San Diego on July 12 and 13, 2013. The workshop, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, brought together academic specialists from fields as diverse as economics, education, management, public policy, and sociology to meet with industry leaders representing biotech, finance, software, telecommunications, and tech journalism, for a results-oriented and wide-ranging discussion of these important issues. Several key conclusions, as well as related readings by workshop participants, are included.

Download here: CCIS.BuildingTheInnovationEconomy

Can GOP Keep House in 2014 Without Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

As Republicans prepare to meet to discuss how immigration reform will proceed in the House, Speaker John Boehner has maintained that he will adhere to the Hastert rule when it comes to immigration – in other words, he will not support any piece of legislation that does not have majority support among Republican representatives.

Much of this Republican caucus will involve discussions between House Republican leadership and the Republican rank-and-file over how immigration reform fits into the party’s short-term and long-term political prospects. Here, Republicans are at odds. On the one hand, Republican leadership will undoubtedly have an eye towards the future viability of the Republican brand – this includes the ability of Republicans to compete in national elections. On the other hand, many of the Republican rank-and-file may have an eye towards their own short-term electoral survival. Whereas the former may mean supporting comprehensive immigration reform, the latter may lead some within the Republican rank-and-file to oppose it.

For Republican leadership with an eye towards the viability of the party one of the most immediate concerns may be holding onto Republican control of the House in 2014. There are currently 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats in the House. This means that a Republican loss/Democratic gain of 17 seats will shift the balance of power. When viewed from this perspective the question that leadership should be asking, irrespective of the Hastert rule, is will opposition to immigration reform cost 17 seats in 2014?

To start, there are 33 Republican representatives who are expected to oppose an S.744-type of immigration reform bill, but who are electorally vulnerable headed into 2014. Taking a closer look at these 33 representatives, 18 are in competitive/swing districts. A Republican loss/Democratic gain of these 18 seats, all else equal (I know, all is rarely equal) means a Democratically-controlled House in 2014.

In comparing the districts of these 18 representatives with the districts of Republicans who are not electorally vulnerable and are in safe red districts, clear demographic differences emerge that magnify the salience and importance of supporting immigration reform.

First, we see that the Asian percentage of the total population is 2.2 times higher in these 18 districts than it is in safer Republican districts. This difference, 6.2% versus 2.8%, is highly statistically significant – in other words, the difference is not due to chance. We also see that the Hispanic/Latino percentage of the total population is 1.5 times higher. This difference, 14.6% versus 10.1%, is also statistically significant.

Electoral competition does not occur in a vacuum and, as some Republicans have suggested, increased outreach to white voters may attenuate the electoral effects of demographic change. However, when viewed from a different lens, we see even more striking differences. The average number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who will come of voting age in 2014 is 1.7 times higher in these 18 districts than it is in safer Republican districts. This difference, 10,464 versus 6,171, is highly statistically significant. This trend continues when looking at the young Hispanic/Latino and Asian population who will come of voting age in 2016.

In fact, 6 representatives will see their total 2012 margin of victory eclipsed by the number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who turn 18 in 2014.

In addition, 1 representative’s 2012 margin of victory will be eclipsed by the number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who turn 18 in 2016 and 4 more representatives have young Hispanic/Latino and Asians populations that place their long-term electoral survival in doubtI note here that there are other Republicans who face similar outlooks, such as Representative David Valadao (CA-21). However, Valadao has expressed support for immigration reform.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.07.07 PM

Another group of Republican representatives is also worth mentioning. There are 10 representatives who are in traditionally safe Republican districts, but are electorally vulnerable and represent districts that are rapidly changing demographically.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.06.25 PM

It is yet unclear how Republicans will proceed on immigration. However, it seems clear that the approach that Republicans take and, perhaps more importantly, whether they are perceived as working towards or standing in the way of reform, will have serious implications in the districts identified above.  

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the House: Will the SAFE Act Pass?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

After the Senate passed S.744 attention shifted immediately to the House. While an upcoming July 10th conference wherein Republican representatives are set to gather to discuss immigration will provide greater clarity in terms of what we can expect in the weeks ahead, Speaker of the House John Boehner has already indicated that he will adhere to the Hastert rule when it comes to immigration reform. What this means is that we are unlikely to see S.744 debated and then voted on in the House. Rather, we are likely to see stand-alone immigration bills introduced, debated, and then voted on, one by one (e.g., the piecemeal approach).

While a House vote on S.744 or an equivalent comprehensive immigration reform package is still possible, the next series of posts in the CIR 2013 Blog will focus on simulating vote outcomes for the major stand-alone bills that are already working their way through the House, beginning with the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or SAFE Act.

The SAFE Act focuses on interior immigration enforcement. While Title III of S.744 also focuses on interior immigration enforcement, the SAFE Act is distinct. First, the SAFE Act would make being undocumented, more specifically, “being unlawfully present in the United States,” a federal crime. It is already a federal crime to enter the U.S. without authorization. The SAFE Act would thus add the act of living (without authorization) to this list. The bill also provides states and localities “specific congressional authorization to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law and includes provisions to facilitate their assistance.” Moreover, as described by the House Judiciary Committee, it allows states and localities to enact and enforce their own immigration laws, which speaks directly to state-level immigration policies such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56.

The SAFE Act carries many of the hallmarks of H.R. 4437 – the restrictive immigration enforcement bill passed in the House in 2005, which sparked nationwide protests in 2006. For example section 203 of H.R. 4437 also made unlawful presence a crime and section 220, among other sections, also affirmed the authority of states and localities to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws.

While proponents of the SAFE Act see tougher interior immigration enforcement as an essential component of immigration reform, critics oppose it as an overly punitive measure. The SAFE Act is thus sure to be a lightning rod of controversy as the immigration debate moves forward in the House.

Will the SAFE Act pass in the House?

The answer is yes and no. Congressional efforts to tighten interior immigration enforcement did not end with H.R. 4437. Year after year, legislation has been introduced that either affirms the authority of localities to enforce federal immigration laws or facilitates and enhances it. These distinctions are meaningful, as the varying degrees of restrictiveness in interior immigration enforcement have led to markedly different vote outcomes.

Thus the conclusion is that the SAFE Act will likely pass, but if it is amended so that the bill includes stricter and even more punitive enforcement provisions it will not.

The following provides two examples.

SAFE Act “Lite”

An analysis of 2,067 roll call votes that speak to local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials (e.g., “affirms the inherent authority of,” prohibits federal funds for sanctuary cities) shows passage. Analyzing these past votes and then simulating a vote for current House representatives shows 233 “solid yes” votes. An additional 9 representatives are categorized as “lean yes.” This gives us a range of 233 to 242 potential “yes” votes. Among these, 232 are Republicans and 10 are Democrats. Contact author for full list.

SAFE Act

However, during the 2005 debate over H.R. 4437 an amendment was introduced and voted on (the Sullivan amendment) that moved interior immigration enforcement further to the right along a permissive/restrictive spectrum. This amendment not only sought to affirm the authority of localities to enforce immigration laws, but it also facilitated and enhanced their ability to do so via changes to immigration detention (see section 240D of the amendment; in short, all apprehended undocumented immigrants, with some exceptions, would be held in immigration detention). Surprisingly, the Sullivan amendment was criticized by Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner as being “unworkable” given it would lead to overcrowding of immigration detention centers and thus “all of a sudden, there are going to be criminal aliens that are going to be either released on the street or not being put in detention simply because there are not the slots that are available” (see Sullivan amendment link for text from Congressional record). He also voiced practical concerns about infrastructure and costs.

The amendment would have also changed the landscape of interior immigration enforcement by expanding the practice of expedited removal nationwide. Expedited removal gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to remove (deport) undocumented immigrants without the oversight of an immigration judge. Currently limited to border regions, the Sullivan amendment would have extended this practice to all parts of the country, wherever undocumented immigrants where apprehended. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee criticized this aspect of the amendment for clearly violating civil liberties and rights of due process.

Analyzing the Sullivan amendment and then simulating a vote for current House representatives shows 193 “solid yes” votes. An additional 15 representatives are categorized as “lean yes” – 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats. This gives us a range of 193 to 208 potential “yes” votes. 32 Republicans are categorized as “lean no.” Contact author for full list.

Conclusion

If the SAFE Act simply affirmed the authority of localities to enforce federal immigration laws and withheld federal funds from sanctuary cities, the results show passage by a healthy margin with 233 to 242 “yes” votes. However, the SAFE Act goes further than this – it is yet unclear how far it will go. If what the SAFE Act ultimately becomes is analogous to the Sullivan amendment, then the results show no passage with only 193 to 208 “yes” votes.

To be clear, the contrast I make here between the “SAFE Act Lite” and the Sullivan amendment represent two very different positions along the interior immigration enforcement spectrum. However, this is instructive in that it shows that moderate reforms to interior immigration enforcement can attract bipartisan support, whereas more extreme reforms are likely to attract broader bipartisan opposition. This broader opposition, as the Sullivan amendment shows, can not align across claims to civil liberties and rights of due process, but also on “workability,” meaning the practicality and costs associated with significant changes to interior immigration enforcement. I should note here that what constitutes “extreme” is a major wildcard. If representatives today have a softer view of extreme than they did in 2005, then we can expect more support for interior enforcement measures such as those included in the Sullivan amendment (and vice versa).

As the SAFE Act moves closer to final passage and the details of the bill become clearer, I will update this analysis. 

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Pass in the Senate? An Update

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

This week marks a critical test for comprehensive immigration reform. In advance of a scheduled vote on the bill, I revisit the initial predictions I made for the Senate in March. Scroll down for the results.

The Senate bill has largely remained in tact – mostly due to the absence of floor votes on a number of significant amendments. However, there have been some major developments. First, several efforts to use border triggers to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining legal status have been defeated. Second, the Corker-Hoeven amendment to significantly bolster border security via a combination of increased personnel, fencing, technology, and other resources is likely to be voted on (and passed) this week.

I thus update my previous analyses by a) factoring in recent roll call votes on border trigger amendments – the Grassley, Thune, Paul, and Cornyn amendments – and b) past voting on border security measures that mirror the Corker-Hoeven amendment.

Republicans to Watch

Altogether, Republicans that are likely to support the bill are:

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), John McCain (Arizona), Marco Rubio (Florida), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nevada), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin).

In March, in addition to the 4 Republican members of the “gang of 8,” my models pegged the following Republicans as “solid yes” votes: Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Dean Heller (NV), and Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania). All but Patrick Toomey are still predicted as “yes” votes. Moreover, my models also pegged some Republicans who have publicly expressed support for the Senate bill as “lean yes/no” votes (i.e., confidence intervals around their respective predicted probabilities intersect 0.5). These are: Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), John Hoeven (North Dakota), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) – it would be awesome if I could also claim Bob Corker (Tennessee) on this list, but, alas, no.

While the recent votes on the border trigger amendments add some clarity to the predictions – mostly by reclassifying those as leaning one way or another into solid yes or no votes – there are some Republicans who remain in the “lean yes” category: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin). Note: Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey) is also predicted as a “lean yes” vote.

It is interesting to note that some of the most vocal opponents of the Senate bill – including John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Mike Lee (Utah) – are predicted as “lean no” rather than “solid no” votes in the updated analysis. Of course, I do not think that these are really swing votes. However, they are categorized as such given the large foreign-born populations in their respective states and the increased border security measures in the bill. It will thus be interesting to follow how a “no” vote by these Senators translates with voters during their next elections.

Democrats to Watch

In factoring in the border trigger votes, only 1 Democrat stands out as a potential “lean no” vote: Mark Pryor (Arkansas). Note: there are no Democrats predicted as “solid no” votes. In March, my models characterized Senator Pryor as a “lean yes” vote. However, he recently voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments. It is also worth noting that while he is predicted as a “solid yes” vote, Joe Manchin (West Virginia) is another Democrat who voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments.

Conclusion

There are 62 Senators predicted as “solid yes” votes, 6 who “lean yes,” 11 who “lean no,” and 21 predicted as “solid no” votes. A full list is available here. Assuming that all who are predicted as “solid yes” or “lean yes” actually vote yes, we have 68 votes for the bill. Assuming that Mark Pryor joins the “yes” votes, this leads to a total of 69 votes for the bill. As the confidence intervals around the predicted probabilities of the “lean no” votes intersect 0.5, after excluding Senators Cornyn, Cruz, and Lee, we can reasonably suspect an upper limit of 76 yes votes, though this would be a real far reach.

In March, the data pointed to 67 to 71 yes votes on CIR. Today, after factoring in the border trigger votes and the increased border security measures, the data point to 69 to 76 yes votes. For those who argue that stricter border security measures are necessary for increasing support for the bill, there is some support for this (moving from an upper limit of 71 to 76). However, for others who argue that stricter border security is unnecessary for securing a filibuster-proof vote, there is also support for this (the needle was already at 67 and moved only to 69).

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

A Test of the CIR 2013 Blog: The 287(g) Vote

By Tom K. Wong, tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

While we are still far from a vote on final passage of the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill in the Senate, a vote yesterday in the House provides an early test of the models and predictions of the CIR 2013 Blog.

Yesterday, the House voted on an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriation bill that was introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis (CO-2). The amendment was related to the controversial 287(g) program, which promotes local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. Last week, I was asked to help count votes for and against the amendment.

1

The model predicted up to 185 yes votes on the Polis amendment. The actual votes was 180, which means that the model performed within 97% of the actual vote.

Taking a look at the actual roll call, we see that the model correctly predicted 94% of the actual votes cast – nearly 400 representatives were correctly predicted out of the 425 who voted.

92.3% of those predicted as “solid yes” votes actually voted yes. 92.3% of those predicted as “lean yes” votes actually voted yes. And 99.6% of those predicted as “solid no” votes actually voted no (Michelle Bachman was the lone “solid no” vote who voted yes). The model performed the worst with the “lean no” category. Only 31.5% of those who were predicted as “lean no” votes actually voted no.

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.