Of Baltimore and Borders

Every town is a border town

By Andrew R. Arthur on August 9, 2019

In my last post, I discussed a recent dustup between the president and House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Twitter about crime, trash, and rats in my hometown of Baltimore. That spat highlighted some of the less appealing sides of the city, many of which are tied to the issue that prompted it: The recent surge of migrants across the border illegally, and its effects on border security.

As I noted in that post, the president's initial tweets inspired a tantrum from the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun, the city's paper of record, headlined by the schoolyard taunt: "Better to have a few rats than to be one".

I will cut the Sun some slack as it pertains to the president's attacks on the city. He denigrated the town, and they, in their resentful way, defended it. Their defense, however, misses key immigration points.

But first, there is this, which cannot pass without mention:

Here are the key phrases [from the president's tweets]: "no human being would want to live there," it is a "very dangerous & filthy place," "Worst in the USA" and, our personal favorite: It is a "rat and rodent infested mess." He wasn't really speaking of [Chairman Cummings'] 7th [congressional district] as a whole. He failed to mention Ellicott City, for example, or Baldwin or Monkton or Prettyboy, all of which are contained in the sprawling yet oddly-shaped district that runs from western Howard County to southern Harford County.

If you knew Baltimore-area geography, the shape of Cumming's district would make no sense, as it loops around to encompass different jurisdictions. Why is the seventh congressional district "sprawling yet oddly-shaped", as the Sun describes it?

Because Maryland congressional districts are all gerrymandered that way, to ensure that Democrats can control as many congressional seats as possible, a fact even the Washington Post concedes. I am reminded of the line from Bertolt Brecht's "The Solution":

Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

Maryland Democrats have that all figured out.

Returning to the topic at hand, however, the effect of the border on Baltimore: Let's start with jobs. Significantly, the paper never explains why there is any poverty in Baltimore at all, given the fact that Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation, with a median income of $80,776. Despite this fact, the reported unemployment rate in Baltimore City in April 2019 was 4.9 percent, much higher than the national rate of 3.3 percent, and if observation is any indication, probably an undercount by a longshot.

Perhaps part of the problem with poverty in Baltimore is the following statistic: Some 17 percent of all Baltimoreans age 25 or older dropped out before completing high school or have no schooling at all.

There are many reasons for this, some of which I will discuss, but one is particularly telling in light of the screed from Chairman Cummings (directed at Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan) about the conditions of detention of alien children in Border Patrol (BP) stations that started the president's Twitter fight.

While questioning McAleenan, Cummings asked how much money was being spent on immigration enforcement. McAleenan stated that BP receives approximately $15 billion in funding per year.

Cummings thereafter asked the secretary: "You feel like you are doing a great job, right?" McAleenan answered: "We are doing our level best in a very challenging situation." In the course of McAleenan giving that answer, Cummings screamed: "What does that mean?! What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces?! Can't take a shower?! C'mon man!!"

He continued:

What's that about?! None of us would have our child in that position! They are human beings! ... I want to make sure they are okay. I want to make sure they are not defecating in some silver paper.

He is correct. We don't. We also want to make sure that our children are well educated, starting with having enough quality teachers, and ensuring that their teachers have the supplies they need to do their jobs. No such luck in the public schools of Baltimore.

On May 7, 2018, the local ABC affiliate, WMAR, published an article on its online site captioned "Hundreds of teachers are quitting at Baltimore City Public Schools". Among the points in that piece is the following (all emphases are added):

Several teachers have said they've paid for supplies beyond paper and pencils, to things like deodorant and other toiletries for their students.

Baltimore Teachers' Union President Marietta English says add on looming budget woes, layoffs, on top of creating lesson plans for the more than 80,000 students in the district and that can wear down on even the most tenured.

"I think it's bad because, as I said, a quarter of your salary goes to supplies," English said.

Not that funding for the school system should be an issue, as you might otherwise suspect: According to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) in 2018, Baltimore received the fourth highest per-pupil funding of any school system in the nation. The Census Bureau, more recently, claims in a May 2019 report that Baltimore City is actually number three (according to the latest figures, from 2017), at $16,184 per pupil, behind New York and Boston. Despite this fact, the governor also noted that year that the average Maryland state jurisdiction budgets half of its spending to support their schools, while Baltimore City budgets only 11 percent.

Of course, administrative costs in the school system might be part of the problem: A 2017 report stated that Baltimore City spent the most on such costs of any jurisdiction in the nation, 20 percent ahead of the runner-up, Boston. Restating the obvious, it noted: "This is money that does not go to the classroom."

As an aside, the website of the House Oversight and Reform Committee states: "Chairman Cummings is interested in any information regarding the waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars." He should consider this column such information. Lest you think that I do not have federalism in mind, I will note that a July 31, 2019, report in Forbes stated that:

$1.1 billion in grants and direct payments (subsidies and assistance) flowed into Baltimore city agencies and other city-based entities including non-profit organizations, corporations, and colleges during the last four years (FY2015-FY2018). That's the equivalent of nearly $7,000 in federal aid per family of four living in Baltimore during this period.

To put that funding into context, Forbes reports:

The last time we analyzed the amount of federal grants and direct payments flowing into major U.S. cities (FY2016), Baltimore received more funding per resident ($573) than the comparable cities of Portland, OR ($274); Nashville, TN ($353); Oklahoma City, OK ($201); Detroit, MI ($372); and Milwaukee, WI ($183). However, Baltimore also lagged cities like Chicago, IL ($1,942); New York, NY ($894); and was on par with San Francisco, CA ($588).

Having lived in both Baltimore and San Francisco, I find the fact that only $15 in grants and subsidies per person separate the two nothing less than astounding. And, of course, New York and Illinois have a lot more political muscle than Maryland to bring home the bacon — I trust Chairman Cummings would bring in more, if he could.

That report continues:

The City of Baltimore has 13,522 employees with total payroll exceeding $821 million annually. The mayor's office alone spent $7 million last year on salaries for 111 employees; another $1 million was spent on public relations.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Las Vegas, Nevada are comparable in population and geographic size to Baltimore. Milwaukee has 7,871 public employees and Las Vegas has 9,569 workers on payroll - including the metro police. Even the City of Detroit has less than 7,100 employees.

Places where Baltimore could use more employees, though, are its schools. Some 2,500 teachers left city schools in the preceding three years before the 2018 WMAR report. The fact that teachers have to pay for student supplies themselves likely was not the only reason, however. There were the attacks on teachers, heating issues in the winter, budget crises, allegations of grade fixing, and cooling issues in the summer. To name a few.

In addition to the 17 percent of Baltimoreans age 25 or above without a high school diploma, 29.6 percent of the city's residents have only a high school diploma or a GED. This combined population of Baltimore residents who have only a high-school diploma or a GED or who have not received a high-school diploma are in direct competition for employment with those who enter illegally. As my colleague Steven Camarota explained in January 2019: "There is agreement among researchers that illegal immigrants overwhelmingly have modest levels of education — most have not completed high school or have only a high-school education."

By deterring illegal entries, the Trump administration would therefore put that more than 47 percent of Baltimoreans with a high school diploma or less in a better position, economically, than they would be with more competition for the jobs that are available. That is the reason why section 212(a)(5)(A)(i)(II) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) renders inadmissible aliens who are coming to "the United States for the purpose of performing skilled or unskilled labor" unless the Secretary of Labor determines that "the employment of such alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed." Aliens who enter in violation of the law do not meet that test.

Unemployment leads to the high levels of crime in the city that the New York Times described in its March 2019 feature "The Tragedy of Baltimore", a depressing tale of violence and hopelessness. (I will note that although the Gray Lady's depiction of Baltimore therein is far worse than the president's, the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun has not engaged in a name-calling bout with the Times.)

An April 2015 study by Sandra Ajimotokin, Alexandra Haskins, and Zach Wade found: "A one percent increase in the unemployment rate will increase the violent crime rate by 14.3 per 100,000 inhabitants." The Times article shows that there are more issues at play with respect to violent crime in Baltimore than simple unemployment, but plainly unemployment plays a significant role, as Ajimotokin, Haskins, and Wade made clear:

Our results support our hypothesis that lower economic status, specifically higher unemployment leads to higher crimes rates, both property and crime. The introduction of more police officers does deter violent crime some, but the greatest indicator of crime rates out of all the variables we tested was poverty rates.

The other border issue that directly affects Baltimore is drugs, in particular heroin and fentanyl. Vox reported in April 2019:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [Baltimore]'s overdose death rate was 22.7 per 100,000 people in 2011. It climbed to 49.1 per 100,000 in 2015 — comparable to the current figures in West Virginia, the state with the highest overdose death rate in the country. In 2017, the rate in Baltimore reached 85.2 per 100,000. That's almost the equivalent of 0.1 percent of the city's population dying from drug overdoses in one year.

Based on the most recent figures, 2018 was likely worse.


For Baltimore activists, the rising overdose death rate is proof that city, state, and federal officials aren't doing enough to stem the opioid epidemic. "People aren't all hands on deck to stop this," said Natanya Robinowitz, executive director of Charm City Care Connection, which offers services to mitigate the dangers of drug use.

Beyond lack of access to treatment, the increase in overdose deaths can be blamed on the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl supplanting heroin in the illicit market. Fentanyl can turn a more predictable dose of heroin deadlier by making it difficult or impossible to gauge the drug's strength.

The Baltimore City Health Department admits: "Baltimore City now has the highest overdose fatality rate of any city in the United States."

I agree with Rabinowitz that the federal government needs to do more to address the opioid epidemic in Baltimore. Stopping the drugs from ever entering the United States is the best place to start, because the ones that are killing Baltimoreans primarily come from the other side of the border, as the Council on Foreign Relations explained in January:

Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are the largest foreign suppliers of heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine to the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Mexican suppliers are responsible for most heroin and methamphetamine production, while cocaine is largely produced in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, and then transported through Mexico. Mexican cartels are also leading manufacturers of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid many times more potent than heroin. U.S. seizures of the drug have soared in recent years.

Most of those drugs coming across the border that are apprehended are seized at the ports of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics. Specifically, in the first nine months of FY 2019, CBP seized 3,528 pounds of heroin and 2,006 pounds of fentanyl at the ports. That the agency was able to seize such a large quantity of drugs coming through the ports of entry makes sense, because the ports are controlled environments in which trained officers and sophisticated equipment are available to detect those drugs.

By contrast, through the first nine months of FY 2019, BP seized 470 pounds of heroin and 174 pounds of fentanyl. Assuming current trends hold, BP will seize just less than 627 pounds of heroin and 232 pounds of fentanyl this year. Those numbers, as compared to the seizures the ports, require a significant amount of analysis to be understood in context.

First, while BP agents are as equally well trained as their counterparts at the ports, the 1,954-mile Southwest border is not a "controlled environment", like the ports: Most of it is wide open. And, as I have previously stated:

As for resources, USA TODAY elsewhere estimated that there were "as many as 18,600 Border Patrol agents deployed along the southern border" as of 2016. While this is almost 10 agents per mile, it actually equals out to many fewer at any given time. Some agents serve in supervisory roles, while others are performing administrative functions. Most importantly, however, agents serve long hours, but not 24 hours a day. On any given shift, the number of agents actually patrolling the border is far lower.

The quantity of drugs that are not seized, compared to the amount that is seized is therefore, logically, much higher between the ports of entry then at the ports of entry. The massive influx of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) and family units (FMUs) in the last two years has degraded BP's ability to detect and seize drugs, for reasons I will explain below.

Second, though, as port seizures increase, there will logically be more impetus to move heroin and fentanyl illegally over the border between the ports. The sophisticated detection systems in place at the ports aid CBP in identifying smugglers there. The wide-open spaces along the Southwest border do not pose such impediments. Drug cartels are sophisticated organizations that constantly reassess their business models to ensure the highest profits, and they will exploit any weakness in the system that they can to move narcotics into the voracious American markets (like and especially Baltimore) where their product is in demand.

And the most significant weakness in our border-protection system at the present time is caused by that huge influx of UAC and FMUs.

In the past, aliens coming unlawfully to the United States along the Southwest border were predominantly single adult males from Mexico, who could be processed in eight hours and usually were removed or voluntarily departed this country within 48 hours, if they had no claim to remain in the United States. According to CBP statistics, as of June 2019, more than 65 percent of the 688,375 aliens apprehended at the Southwest border are FMUs (390,308, 56.7 percent) and unaccompanied alien children (UAC) (63,624, or 9.2 percent). Some 60 percent of those crossers are other than Mexican nationals (OTMs). It takes BP about 78.5 hours just to process each of those individuals.

That processing time pulls BP agents off of the border; the cartels know that, and exploit the void those agents' absence creates. More significantly, however, when UACs and FMUs are apprehended along the border, more BP agents are required to transport those individuals to stations and processing facilities.

And, as McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 11, those aliens are arriving in larger groups, which strains BP resources in a given area even more:

Just two weeks ago, [BP] agents apprehended the largest group of individuals ever encountered crossing the border unlawfully. Agents took custody of over 1,000 people after they illegally crossed the border in El Paso, Texas. All members of the group were from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador. The group included over 900 family unit members, over 60 unaccompanied alien children, and just under 40 single adults.

Cartels know this, and exploit these weaknesses, as McAleenan explained:

While we are doing everything we can to manage the crisis, managing the volume of vulnerable populations arriving is simply unsustainable. The facilities, resources, and legal authorities that we have at DHS are not able to address the challenges we are seeing and which we anticipate will continue without abatement absent Congressional action.


We [] know that the drug cartels are using the migrants as human diversions by putting them into large groups and dropping them at a remote location in the middle of the night, forcing our border patrol officers to redirect their coverage to rescue these groups. As part of their business model, smugglers and traffickers are forcing desperate inadmissible or removable aliens into inhumane conditions, demanding extraordinary sums of money, and putting lives in danger.

Just to close the loop, Mexican drug cartels are exploiting weaknesses in our immigration laws and resources, both killing Baltimoreans with drugs and placing migrants in danger.

So, how has Baltimore Mayor Jack Young responded? On August 7, 2019, he signed "an executive order directing city agencies to protect immigrants" and "approv[ing] funding for lawyers to represent residents facing deportation." I wish I were making this up.

With respect to that executive order: "It prevents Baltimore City from assisting in immigration enforcement or intimidate [sic] a resident based on their status."

By the way, Jack Young was not elected to be the Mayor of Baltimore — he got the job when his predecessor, Catherine Pugh, stepped down in the wake of controversy surrounding her "Healthy Holly" book series. That scandal is too depressing to get into. If you need something to cheer you up after reading that link, however, there is a review of one of the "Healthy Holly" books from Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post.

One refrain you will hear a lot from most any sheriff at or near the Southwest border (and at least one senator) is that, because of the issues above, "every town is now a border town." Baltimore (and its representatives) either fails to appreciate this fact, or doesn't care. Its paper of record plainly doesn't.

The Baltimore Sun's website contains the following, which apparently functions as the paper's mission statement:

The Baltimore Sun, founded in 1837, is the largest daily newspaper in Maryland and owns the Capital Gazette and the Carroll County Times.

Our mission is to deliver the truth every day. We bring you the stories that matter most, written without bias, so you can make informed decisions.

The Sun's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism works to protect your interests, help navigate your daily life and tell the stories that connect you with the communities where you live and work.

Former Sun columnist H.L. Mencken once wrote:

Politics, under a democracy, reduces itself to a mere struggle for office by flatterers of the proletariat; even when a superior man prevails at that disgusting game he must prevail at the cost of his self-respect. Not many superior men make the attempt. The average great captain of the rabble, when he is not simply a weeper over irremediable wrongs, is a hypocrite so far gone that he is unconscious of his own hypocrisy — a slimy fellow, offensive to the nose.

I wonder what the "Sage of Baltimore" would have said about his own paper's editorial board, circa 2019.