House Democrats Outdo Themselves with an Unserious Border Security Proposal, Part 2

By Dan Cadman on February 5, 2019

Read Part 1

In a prior posting, I discussed some of the many objectionable features of the bill that House Democrats are putting together as their gambit in the government funding vs. shutdown game with President Trump and the Republican Senate, and the fundamentally disingenuous way in which they are packaging that proposal as some kind of "smart" border security and immigration control.

For many reasons, there is nothing smart at all about such a move, nor will it prove to be effective, but that seems to be the point: just more smoke and mirrors that they hope both the American public and the Republican majority in the Senate will buy into.

I wrapped up Part 1 by saying:

[T]he House bill would apportion massive amounts of funding to radically expand use of alternative-to-detention [ATD] programs instead of actual confinement for immigration law violators. While this probably sounds superficially attractive because most people dislike thinking about human beings put into lockdown in a jail-like environment, it's the equivalent of offering the president magic beans in lieu of real border security.

To be specific, here is what the summary says the bill would do:

  • Funds an Alternatives to Detention (ATD) daily participation level of approximately 100,000 (current is 82,000);
  • $40 million above the request for new ICE Alternatives to Detention case management personnel; and
  • $30.5 million above the request for family case management within the ATD program.

The problem is that substituting ATD for actual detention is a "feel-good" measure that will prove untenable and fix nothing. Here's why.

Proponents point to the salutary "appearance rates" of a pilot study on ATD to argue that it is an effective alternative to detaining aliens, but doing so overlooks that:

  1. The number of participants in that pilot pool was so exceedingly small as to make it completely unreliable when extrapolated to hundreds of thousands of aliens.
  2. There is every reason to believe that the participants were more than likely cherry picked for reliability, rather than being completely representative of the alien population at large. If you were spending time, money, and energy on a pilot project, would you doom it to failure by loading it right off the bat with probable court absconders and incorrigibles, or even just your run-of-the-mill population of aliens in removal proceedings? Unlikely.
  3. And even in the context of the pilot project participants, the time frame was too abbreviated to determine the final, and only meaningful test of success, which is: Will aliens really show up for an airplane or bus to deport them? That's a whole different thing than showing up at immigration court hearings until the point at which they are denied asylum or other relief and ordered removed. Whether they would do so is doubtful in the extreme. Why would they, when the simpler alternative is to cut off your ankle bracelet, remove the sim card in your phone that makes you traceable, and then simply disappear. That's what a large percentage of aliens already do, and there's little reason to think ATD aliens would do otherwise. It defies human logic. What's the worst that happens to an absconder who gets caught? They get deported. If that's going to happen anyway, why not risk fleeing and being able to stay and work indefinitely?

Democrats and proponents of ATD argue that it costs less than the daily rate of detention. But is that true over the long run? Perhaps not, because aliens on ATD go into the "non-detained" court docket, which is approaching a million-case backlog. In other words, count on them being under ATD (at the expense of the American taxpayer) for three or four years, possibly longer, whereas an alien who is detained and receives a prompt removal order may only be in detention three or four months.

Furthermore, calculations of ATD don't figure in the cost to the taxpayer of conducting lengthy and expensive "locate" investigations trying to find the hundreds of thousands of aliens who flee the court and remain at large in the United States. Imagine the thousands of hours expended on these cases by ICE Fugitive Apprehension Teams, and calculate the cost per hour of an agent at the GS-12 or 13 rate of pay. It adds up quickly. Not only that, but those aliens who abscond from ATD — if and when found — end up back in detention anyway, don't they? No savings there.

So how does the House Democrats' bill propose to handle that? By limiting the total amount of detention space available for the interior of the entire United States to 16,500 beds. In other words, make it impossible through lack of bed space to take such aliens into custody when they prove themselves scofflaws who violate the conditions of ATD release, and just leave them to go their way in the interior as they choose.

We also have to ask the following question in the context of a choice between the wall and ATD: If Congress and at least some segment of the public object to ICE or USBP detaining families at the front end of their illegal crossing, then how will they feel if those very same families get detained at the back end of the process because they break the conditions of ATD and flee? Will House Democrats still have moral qualms about detaining families even after they have broken their ATD bargain? Probably. So what will be the point of such a futile exercise in the long run?

Finally, if the point of the exercise is to dissuade additional families and minors from making the incredibly perilous journey, and putting themselves into the hands of cartel members and alien smugglers, how precisely does ATD do that? It doesn't. It does exactly the opposite because it ensures their prompt release into the community for years, during which they can work, either with permission if they get it, or even without — thus displacing (or at least competing with) economically challenged or disadvantaged American citizens on the bottom of the ladder.

I know that aliens in the ATD program often work without authorization because I and others at the Center have spoken to the personnel who run the ATD programs: They acknowledge that they are aware from GPS tracking that these aliens often work without benefit of employment authorization; in fact, they know exactly where. But for the sake of keeping the aliens in the program, they turn a blind eye. How ironic, then, that the U.S. government underwrites a program permitting aliens in removal proceedings to work without authority — which is itself a basis for removal — and in the process continues to act as an incentive for more aliens to pay smugglers to aid them in illegally entering the United States.

Mind you, I don't suggest that there is no utility to ATD; there is, but it's foolish to perceive of it as some kind of cure-all or silver bullet to be used as a substitute for detention across the board. It's nothing of the sort.

In sum, the House Democrats' version of a "smart" border security and immigration control bill is a fraud.

Topics: Politics