Ted Robbins, NPR’s fine reporter in Arizona, used some hard numbers in his recent story about border security.
Said Robbins: “Since the mid-1980s, the U.S. Border Patrol has quintupled in size — growing from about 4,000 to more than 20,000 agents. The government has built some 700 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers. It has placed thousands of ground sensors, lights, radar towers and cameras along the border.”
Then he got to the point of the story, in a way that ignored inconvenient evidence. I think the story came perilously close to rigging the evidence in order to reach a desired conclusion.
Said Robbins: “So here's the question: Is the Southwest border secure?"
Answered Robbins: “The statistics paint a picture that says yes. The number of illegal crossers apprehended is at a 40-year-low.”
A 40-year low sounds impressive. It certainly is a measure of improvement. But here’s the missing evidence that contradicts the picture that says "yes".
The number of Border Patrol apprehensions last year was 340,252. Nearly a thousand a day.
The reduction in apprehensions, from the million-per-year level of the 1970s, does not show that the border is secure. No more than a drop in the number of concussions in the NFL would prove that the game is safe. No more than a reduction of your chronic credit card debt to $5,000 would be proof of affluence.
Moreover, conventional wisdom at the border is still that the number of people who avoid apprehension is two to four times the number who are apprehended.
Now, I happen to agree that a credible compromise solution for immigration reform will require credible worksite enforcement and a limited program for guest workers.
But Ted, who is a friend, made another point I found objectionable. It could have come from the mythical National Association of Let’s Get Congress to Give Us Access to the Cheap Global Army of the Unemployed and Forget These Pesky Unemployed Americans.
Said Robbins: “People come for work without visas because they can’t easily get visas. Employers who need guest workers say it’s a long, frustrating, costly process to get the workers.”
Well, people come for work because employers hire them, often in defiance of law and the interests of native Americans and legal permanent residents.
Of course, employers complain they can’t find American workers. An eloquent response came from Jared Bernstein, who wrote in 2007, when he was with the liberal Economic Policy Institute: “I can hardly remember meeting an employer who didn't complain of a labor shortage. But businesses claiming that 'we can't find the workers we need' tend to leave out the other part of the sentence: 'at the wages we're willing to pay'."
When Bernstein made that observation, employers were pushing Congress for their version of “comprehensive immigration reform”. It would have brought in more than a half-million low-wage workers every year.
The dissenters included populist Democrats who tried unsuccessfully to kill the program but did pass an amendment to reduce its size. The leader was North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, who declared, “The main reason that big corporations want a guest worker program is that it will drive down U.S. wages."
Now that’s a reduction I’d like to see some serious reporting on. Otherwise, immigration reform will widen the income inequality gap that is one of our most serious national problems.