Inanity Thrives in the Washington Post

Confusing or wrong? Why not both!

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 17, 2019

Washington Post political analyst Phillip Bump penned a column last week captioned "Trump thinks sending migrants to immigrant-heavy, immigrant-friendly cities is a punishment". That column is confusing, conflates very different concepts, and in places is just plain wrong.

He begins:

The subtext to The Washington Post's report that President Trump and his administration wanted to drop migrants entering the United States into "sanctuary cities" isn't subtle: The intent was punishment, a form of "retaliation" against heavily Democratic areas like San Francisco.

That idea fits with Trump's depiction of the groups of migrants entering the United States from Mexico being riddled with criminals, gang members and terrorists. But that would likely be at odds with how residents of those cities likely view immigrants — since those cities tend to be more densely immigrant-heavy than the country on the whole.

Let's begin there. The White House's most recent statement on the surge of illegal immigrants to the border can be found here. Nowhere in that statement is there any reference to "criminals, gang members and terrorists". It does contain the following:

An unsustainable number of alien families and children are arriving at the border; these migrants cannot be promptly removed and require extensive care and resources.

Sixty-four percent of all border enforcement actions in March were directed to unaccompanied alien children and family units.

Those are all accurate statements, and points I've been making for several months when those numbers were lower, and the crisis at the border less severe.

To be fair, the president spoke on April 5 at the border city of Calexico, Calif., and he did make the following statement:

People want to come in and they shouldn't be coming in. They shouldn't be coming in. And there are people that are causing problems, and gang members and lots of others. We're getting them out. We're stopping them, for the most part, but we're getting them out when they do get in. And nobody has done the job we've done.

Note that the president did not say that all of these individuals "are causing problems, [or are] gang members", or even most. In fact, he said, "and lots of others".

He also, to be fair, made the following statement:

Asylum — you know, I look at some of these asylum people; they're gang members. They're not afraid of anything. They have lawyers greeting them. They read what the lawyer tells them to read. They're gang members. And they say, "I fear for my life. I ..." They're the ones that are causing fear for life.

I'm not an apologist for the president by any stretch the imagination, but look at what he said: "some of these asylum people; they're gang members." Not all, or even most. Some.

He's probably right. For example, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan reported in February 2018:

Today, a smaller percentage of MS-13 members is believed to be here illegally. Some are U.S.-born, others have obtained green cards or have Temporary Protected Status; some have Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But when the gang leadership decided to launch a more concerted effort to enlarge in the United States, it was able to take advantage of the Obama administration's catch-and-release policies for unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border to move in younger members from Central America. For example, one MS-13 clique leader in Frederick, Md., who had received a DACA work permit and was employed as a custodian at a middle school in Frederick, Md., and who was recently incarcerated for various gang-related crimes, reportedly was told by gang leaders in El Salvador to take advantage of the lenient policies on UACs to bring in new recruits, knowing that they would be allowed to resettle in the area with few questions asked. [Emphasis added.]

Irregular migration is problematic for several reasons, but it poses a particular danger to the United States for the simple reason that is irregular. While this may seem like a banal statement, hear me out. The system of legal migration to the United States contains many checks on those who are seeking to enter, and in particular checks for prior criminal history. This is much more easily done by State Department consular officials abroad than by immigration officials in the United States. Once they are here, they're here. Most significantly, asylum confidentiality regulations (which also apply to credible-fear determinations) tie the hands of immigration officials in the United States as it relates to investigating an alien's background at home. The whole process would be comical if it weren't so tragic.

Want proof that criminals can exploit the border crisis? Consider this, from Margaret Mims, sheriff of Fresno, Calif., who spoke with the president in Calexico:

An uncontrolled, unsecure border directly affects our local communities. And without a secure border, transnational gangs, human traffickers, and drug cartels will take advantage of any opportunity to exploit our current border crisis to further their criminal behavior in our local communities.

We've experienced this firsthand. We have seen increased fentanyl traffickers and deaths in the Central Valley of California as a result of fentanyl overdoses. We've also seen MS-13 gang members from El Salvador commit horrendous, vicious murders. Our investigations into this gang resulted in connecting 18 homicides committed in three western states.

Those are facts, stated by an expert: Gangs will exploit the border crisis to enter the United States. As for crime, here's what Sheriff Mims stated:

Mr. President, there is a border crisis. And this crisis does not stay at the border. It trickles into our local communities, stretching the resources of local agencies. We must do everything we can to protect our communities from this threat. Border security is more important now than ever. Thank you.

The president responded as follows:

Thank you very much. And you're right about that. It goes into Iowa and Idaho and New Hampshire and — you know, it's not the border, it's the border and then they come in and you end up in places that you would never think of — of the kind of crime that we see. And it comes right through this border. It starts right here.

That was the extent of the president's statements about criminals, and it was in direct reference to, again, the statements of a law enforcement expert.

Finally, the president made no reference to terrorists in his statements, at all.

Back to Bump. He continues:

A "sanctuary city" isn't a place where immigrants living in the country illegally have carte blanche to do what they wish. Instead, they are generally jurisdictions where public officials are limited in their ability to inform immigration authorities about people who are in the country illegally. The intent is to encourage immigrants to work with authorities without fear of deportation in situations where that assistance is important, such as criminal investigations.

To begin with, what Bump describes ("jurisdictions where public officials are limited in their ability to inform immigration authorities about people who are in the country illegally") is a violation of federal law. Specifically, 8 U.S.C. § 1373(a) states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service [sic] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.

Who would limit "public officials ... in their ability to inform immigration authorities about people who are in the country illegally?" The politicians who shortsightedly make such laws. And why would "public officials" want "to inform immigration authorities about people who are in the country illegally"? Because they have to deal with the crime and disorder promoted by the shortsighted politicians. Mayors and governors get to bloviate at podiums; cops have to speak with victims on the street. And the fact that most of those victims are in immigrant communities themselves? Collateral damage.

I took my degree in Russian history, with an emphasis on the Soviet period. Not to bloviate myself, but there are odd parallels between the nomenklatura and the leadership of many "sanctuary cities". Those leaders are by definition "well-connected", and often comparably well off, like the former Soviet leadership.

Take for example California Governor Gavin Newsom. Here's how the Los Angeles Times described him when he was running for that position in October 2018:

For the last two decades, Gavin Newsom has been rising to the highest levels of California politics.

At the same time, he also has become a multimillionaire businessman, with an upscale chain of wine stores, wineries, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and retail shops stretching from the Bay Area and Napa Valley to Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs. He built some of those businesses with the Gettys, heirs to an oil fortune who have deep connections to the Democratic lieutenant governor's family.

Here is what he had to say about the president's proposals that are derided by Bump:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tore into President Trump's proposal to send detained undocumented immigrants to sanctuary jurisdictions on Friday, declaring the idea "unserious," "illegal," "asinine" and "sophomoric," among other things.


In an interview with CBS News Friday, Newsom blasted Mr. Trump's proposal as unserious and illegal.

"It's ludicrous. It's petulant. I have a 7-year-old, he would be embarrassed," Newsom said. "It really is the sophistry of adolescence. It's not serious. It lacks any rationale. It's insulting to the American people and to the intelligence of the American people. It's un-American. It's illegal. It's immoral. It's rather pathetic. I don't know what more I can say."

Newsom also labeled the president's statements "political theater" and a "sideshow" that is "demoralizing" but also "par for the course."

"To use immigrants as pawns — to put them in difficult and trying circumstances as political theater shows how low a human being can go. And this human being happens to be sadly and tragically the president of the United States," Newsom added.

I hope the irony of a multi-millionaire blasting a billionaire about how the latter is dealing with economic migrants is not lost on the governor, in much the same way as I hope his engaging in political theater while criticizing "political theater" is not either. I also doubt that he realized that he was stating that sending migrants to San Francisco, for example, is "put[ting] them in difficult and trying circumstances." Most people who have been there like the City by the Bay, and Newson is denigrating his own voters, but I trust that this statement was simply for political effect — proving my point.

Or consider former entertainment lawyer Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland. In 2018, as the New York Times reported, Schaaf "stepped into the middle of the national debate on immigration ... when she warned of imminent raids by federal immigration agents in the San Francisco Bay Area." It continued: "The next day the raids began, and the deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] said Ms. Schaaf's warning had compromised the safety of agents and allowed targets of the raid to flee."

In response to the president's sanctuary-cities statements, in which he specifically identified Mayor Schaaf, the mayor appeared on NPR, where she was interviewed by Scott Simon:

SIMON: ... If sometime, let's say, in the middle of next week, a number of buses arrive in Oakland with 5,000 migrants, do you say, welcome to Oakland?

SCHAAF: I always say, welcome to Oakland. But this is much less about immigration or sanctuary. This is about an outrageous abuse of power. The idea that you could use human beings, families as instruments of political payback to use public resources to exact retribution on your political enemies. This is not America. It is not democratic. And this is what should outrage all Americans, regardless of their stance on immigration or sanctuary cities.


SIMON: Would, let's say, a thousand more immigrants greatly tax the resources of Oakland?

SCHAAF: Oakland is growing very quickly. And we welcome families. We welcome people that seek to make better lives for their families, that are willing to work hard and become wonderful members of our community.

There are two interesting points here. The first has to do with the mayor's complaint that the president is essentially objectifying "human beings" for political gain. But in essence, aren't sanctuary city mayors like Schaaf doing the same thing? As the New York Times noted in the 2018 article referenced above:

The face-off with ICE is likely to score her political points in such an unabashedly liberal city, and Ms. Schaaf says she will continue to advocate for those being displaced by rising housing prices and for undocumented residents threatened with deportation.

The second point is the mayor's non-answer about whether "a thousand more immigrants [would] greatly tax the resources of Oakland." Why bother talking about the effects of illegal immigration on American communities when there are political points to be made?

About Oakland's resources: the Times article discussed one of the major issues facing Oakland today, a lack of affordable housing:

The past few years have been a time of wrenching change for Oakland. The wealth generated by the tech industry across the San Francisco Bay is pushing up housing prices and making many neighborhoods unaffordable to any family not earning six figures. The economic pressures have caused the number of homeless people to rise to around 2,800, an increase of more than 25 percent since Ms. Schaaf took office in January 2015.

Some may say that rising housing costs are a good problem for a city to have, but it is a bad one for the citizens who are actually affected. It is also a difficult problem to solve. Smart politicians know to sidestep difficult problems, and instead pivot to politically popular themes. Mayor Schaaf likely has a bright future in politics.

That said, what about the citizens of Oakland who are living on the margins and who are going to be in direct competition for jobs and housing with the theoretical thousand migrants to whom Simon refers? Barbara Jordan, former congresswoman, civil-rights icon, and then-chairwoman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, took this issue head-on in congressional testimony in August 1994, stating: "The Commission is particularly concerned about the impact of immigration on the most disadvantaged within our already resident society — inner city youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to life in the U.S." Apparently, Mayor Schaaf does not share those concerns.

As for Bump's contention that the "intent" of sanctuary cities "is to encourage immigrants to work with authorities without fear of deportation in situations where that assistance is important, such as criminal investigations," I would question the fundamental premise. In all of the thousands of immigration cases that I have handled or heard, I don't recall one respondent that came to the attention of the immigration authorities because he or she was the victim of a crime.

In fact, as the Center has noted:

There is no credible, empirical evidence to support the assertion that police-ICE cooperation erodes trust, resulting in limited interaction between police and alien victims and witnesses. The suggestion defies common sense. Exactly who from immigrant communities is being put into the cages of police vehicles? Certainly not victims and witnesses. No, it's aliens who have been taken into custody for commission of crimes, and statistically it's a good bet that the victims of and witnesses to the crime(s) were other members of the immigrant community. So why would city, county, or state leaders think that it serves them well to be sure that these alien criminals are treated with kid gloves and, quite likely, sent back to prey once again on those same immigrant communities? Isn't that where the trust of those communities is most likely to be quickly eroded?

Bump never challenges the premise, or suggests that there are contrasting views, although his column is presented as "analysis".

Bump then deviates into some confusing additional bases for sanctuary-city policies:

Some jurisdictions passed laws or regulations to establish those sorts of protections because they already had large populations of immigrants, particularly Hispanic immigrants. Some places, with smaller immigrant populations, passed such laws in part to show solidarity with undocumented immigrants.

Consider San Francisco, which the administration apparently considered targeting under this proposal. More than a third of the city's residents are immigrants, many of them from Asia. That's a substantially higher percentage than the country on the whole, according to the Census Bureau. San Francisco is slightly less heavily Hispanic than the United States overall, which is not uncommon for sanctuary cities.

Looking at 34 sanctuary cities identified by the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, nearly two-thirds had a higher density of immigrants than the United States on the whole, by an average of six percentage points. While just under half the cities had a more densely Hispanic population than the country on the whole, cities with higher Hispanic density were often much higher. The 34 cities were, on average, six points more densely Hispanic than the country on the whole.

Sanctuary cities in California in particular were more heavily immigrant than the United States on the whole, though, again, many of those immigrants are Asian. More new immigrants in the United States are Asian than Hispanic.

The first point to make is that Bump's analysis appears to conflate immigrants who are here legally with those who are not here legally. To understand the fallacy in such conflation, I go back to Barbara Jordan, who testified in 1995: "To make sense about the national interest in immigration, it is necessary to make distinctions between those who obey the law, and those who violate it. ... Unlawful immigration is unacceptable." Bump's justification for localities that deliberately thwart federal law, thereby wasting taxpayer resources, makes no sense in light of this point.

That justification also appears to rest upon an extremely questionable premise: that legal immigrants want more illegal immigrants in their communities. Bump does not even bother to underscore this point; instead, he accepts it as an article of faith and a logical conclusion.

Does that mean that a Filipino lawful permanent resident who waited for more than two decades abroad for a visa to become available supports illegal entry? How about the Chinese lawful permanent resident who is waiting two years for her husband to get his visa to come to the United States? Further, does the unskilled Salvadoran lawful permanent resident who recently arrived in the United States clamor for additional unskilled Salvadoran nationals to enter this country illegally and compete for the same jobs? That seems like an especially doubtful proposition.

These are not purely rhetorical questions. The Pew Research Center, in a report linked in Bump's article, states that 76 percent of all immigrants in the United States entered legally, and that 45 percent are naturalized citizens. So, does a 50-year-old citizen who was born in Kenya and who entered as a lawful permanent resident at the age of five identify with the Guatemalan men from Chiquimula who are "all leaving ... bringing a child with them", knowing that they will be released in the United States, as Bump's Washington Post has reported?

Logically, the only way that the interests of these diverse groups of individuals could possibly be linked is if proponents of illegal immigration (1) conflate legal and illegal immigration; and (2) label those individuals who support immigration enforcement (or worse, limiting legal immigration) as "anti-immigration". As Bump has done, and in particular in regards to the Center.

Remember above, when he described the Center for Immigration Studies as "anti-immigration"? As if it were a fact not worth explaining. Of course, it's not true: I work there, and I'm not anti-immigration. If I were, I would have spent the most productive 27 years of my work life in a field that I hated. In fact, I have a first-hand understanding and appreciation of immigration, and the important vitality that immigrants bring to this country, in a way those without such experience likely lack. In fact, I don't know anyone who works with me who is "anti-immigration".

To the degree that the Center supports lower levels of immigration, this hardly puts it at odds with almost half of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center report referenced above, which states:

Americans were divided on future levels of immigration. Nearly half said immigration to the U.S. should be decreased (49%), while one-third (34%) said immigration should be kept at its present level and just 15% said immigration should be increased.

This is a bigger issue than just a personal or professional affront. Again, to quote Jordan:

We decry hostility and discrimination towards immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.

As Bump appears to miscomprehend, the American people as a whole get to choose those immigrants who are invited to share in the blessings of our democratic society. Not a group of local politicians who are looking to score quick political points.

But even that doesn't tell the whole story. Once more to Barbara Jordan: "Those who come here illegally, and those who hire them, will destroy the credibility of our immigration policies and their implementation. In the course of that, I fear, they will destroy our commitment to immigration itself." If you want to know why 49 percent of Americans support lower levels of immigration, the former congresswoman from Texas explained it to you. Twenty-four years ago. I am surprised that the percentage is that low.

Finally, Bump states: "It's worth noting that many, or perhaps most, of those apprehended at the border with Mexico in recent months have arrived seeking asylum in the United States, a legal process that is distinct from illegal immigration."

It's actually not worth noting that, because it is legally and factually wrong, as I explained (with professional help) in a March 2019 post:

As my former criminal procedure professor, Jonathan Turley, explained in July 2018:

It sounds like a pitch that only the most craven coyote smuggler would make: If you make it into the United States, you are lawful. Yet, that seems to be the claim by various activists and politicians as our immigration debate continues to divide to the furthest extremes.

The latest iteration came from CNN political analyst and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, who insisted on air that people brought by coyotes over the border are doing something perfectly legal under federal law, since most seek asylum. The greatest danger from such statements is not the risk of misleading viewers but misleading immigrants who take such statements as an accurate description of the law.

To be clear: Illegal entry for whatever purpose is a crime under section 275(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). [Emphasis added.]

So, not only is Bump legally and factually wrong, but in Turley's analysis, he is actually making the problem worse. And so is his paper.

There are arguments for why a plan to bus illegal migrants from the border hundreds, if not thousands, of miles into the interior of the United States to sanctuary cities is not a good one. For example, it would require the expenditure of scarce immigration-enforcement resources. Or there is no way to prevent a migrant who has already traveled illegally through one country from leaving the sanctuary city to which that migrant has been sent. Or there is no reason for the president to increase the population of areas politically opposed to him in advance of the 2020 census, which could potentially give them greater representation in Congress. Or it will be much more difficult for ICE to remove those migrants who have been ordered removed from those sanctuary communities, which oppose such immigration enforcement.

Logically, an "analysis" would include all of the arguments that would militate against such a plan. Unfortunately, Bump only focuses on those that appear to advance his own agenda. And many of those aren't even exactly right.