Another Facile 'Either-Or' Proposal

By Dan Cadman on January 23, 2019

There are so many immigration-related things to blog about these days, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, that it's a veritable beggar's feast.

This blog is a follow-on to something posted by my colleague Art Arthur pointing out the multiplicity of false "either-or" arguments made by opponents of the wall.

I recently read an "expert opinion" piece written for Law360 by Stephen Pazan, who is billed as a special counsel for a private law firm, and who "previously served as a consular officer with the U.S. Department of State and an adjudicator of EB-5 visa petitions for USCIS."

In the piece, "Eyeballs Are Better Than Border Walls", Pazan suggests that:

[T]here are much more cost effective and humane measures beyond building "Fortress America" that would address illegal immigration, both from Latin America, as well as from the countries listed under the president's so-called travel ban. Migration is a people problem, and it is people — consular officials and analysts — that can provide a cost-effective solution with a humanitarian face.

However, the fact is, the major source of illegal presence is not the desperate migrant sneaking across the desert, but rather, legal entries that overstay. The latter outweigh the number of successful land crossings by a large margin. Perhaps as few as 1 of 4 people currently in the U.S. illegally crossed the desert under the lit moon.

Recent human suffering associated with no-tolerance policies and family separation is of arguable effectiveness and does not present a vision of the U.S. in which most Americans take pride. However, my rough calculations suggest that "extreme vetting" could be as good as a wall, and that the human and economic costs would be much less. At the very least, a commitment to $2 billion per year and a goal of reducing illegal overstays by 33 percent is an alternative that we can all get behind. Hiring more analysts and consular officers are just a few ways we might try and solve this problem, keep the borders open and do it in the spirit for which the U.S. has been known.

It's a superficially attractive but completely false reading of the situation, and a mash-up of facts put together in a way that distorts reality.

First, we have to consider that one of the reasons for the border barrier is to impede such illegal traffic as exists between ports of entry: It is substantial, and the nature of it has changed completely. More than ever before in the history of our country, minors and (partial) family units are attempting to traverse thousands of miles of hostile terrain to cross our border illegally. Credible studies suggest that one-third of the women and girls will be physically assaulted, and who knows how many aliens of either gender are taken hostage, extorted, abused, or even murdered? And that's just the immigration aspect. Thousands of pounds of drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin to fentanyl are interdicted between the ports of entry. And, though less well publicized, innumerable weapons and other contraband, including illicit money that is the proceeds of crime also are interdicted being moved southward across our porous border. I don't think it's a stretch to say that failing to create a barrier to dissuade such movement of vulnerable aliens, drugs, weapons, and contraband is immoral.

Second, Pazan suggests that, because the problem of overstays has become so acute — estimates suggest that perhaps as much as 40 percent of aliens illegally in the United States came with visas or as part of the Visa Waiver Program and overstayed, and a majority of new illegal aliens may come that way — then money can be saved by not funding a "wall" and instead ponying up more money for consular officers, adjudicators, and inspectors. I have a hard time following that logic. If the current staff aren't competent to do a better job of divining an intended entrant's plan to violate the immigration laws upon being given a visa or admitted, how will more of the same people do better? Especially at a cost of nearly a half million dollars per year per consular officer — an estimate put forward by Pazan himself in his article.

Let me be clear, I have great respect for consular officers generally. I have known many who were conscientious and hard-working under difficult circumstances, as are border inspectors. But let's be frank, no amount of "extreme vetting" (which is a function mostly of better technology, systems, and databases to ferret out past conduct and expressions of an individual's intent, not human capital) will always work to tell U.S. officials whether an alien intends to remain and seek employment in perpetuity. Extreme vetting works best — to the extent it works, because there will always be those who have "flown under the radar" of U.S. and allied foreign intelligence agencies — at identifying national security and terrorism risks. It will not be particularly good at picking out people who are simply planning to stay in the United States as long as possible without regard to the legal niceties. And, similarly, no U.S. government official, no matter how well trained, will do better.

I don't argue that more resources cannot and should not be given to the consular corps, or to border inspectors, but Pazan's argument, as I noted earlier, falls into the false either-or category. Such resources should not be at the expense of a border barrier. And, quite honestly, something else that's equally important to improving the quality of consular and inspector decision-making is simply giving them the freedom to say no. That was lacking for the last several years. In fact, the problem of visa overstayers was made substantially worse by promulgation of an Obama-era executive order demanding radical increases in the granting of visas for countries like China and Brazil, even though visa recipients from those countries already had abysmal track records for complying with the terms of their admission and departing on time.

This brings us to my final point: Pazan suggests that the third part of his "do this instead of the wall" strategy is to do a better job of policing overstays. I wholeheartedly agree and have said as much before: "DHS compliance and enforcement efforts are pitifully inadequate to the task of policing this population." The division of ICE responsible for handling overstay compliance, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), actively avoids doing most kinds of immigration-related work, and needs to step up or be forced to do so by ICE leaders. But again, this is not an either-or proposition, and it won't happen easily or quickly. Even when going about it conscientiously, apprehending aliens in the interior of the United States is a difficult proposition. Consider that the southern border is not quite 2,000 miles long and the border with Canada is a around 5,500 miles. By contrast, the interior of the continental United States is nearly three million square miles.

When all is said and done, it's going to take all of these efforts — including an effective border barrier backed up by humans and technology — operating in synchronicity like a well-functioning machine before our nation's immigration system can heal itself. It can be accomplished, but facile and two-dimensional solutions won't get us there.

Topics: Border Wall