Why Can't Immigration Statistics Be More Like Baseball Statistics?

By David North on October 12, 2010

As the World Series approaches, let's ask a question: what if the Baseball Commissioner and all the team owners decided to "streamline" the baseball statistics that they had previously provided to the fans.

What if, in order to save money, they fired the score keepers and shut down the scoreboards in the parks, keeping track of only the runs scored, and games won or lost? What if box scores disappeared from the newspapers?

In this scenario the home plate umpire would write down in a little book the runs scored and announce at the end of the game the number of runs for each side, and that's all.

The owners would argue that information on at-bats, hits, errors, bases on balls, batting averages, pitches thrown, and the like were just "process data" which no one except the teams' managers needed to know, so they would not be published.

Well, there would be blood in the streets, and MLB's decision would be reversed overnight.

But the runs-only-statistics system preferred by the team owners in this fantasy is just about all that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides to outsiders.

We are told little more than the number of immigrants and non-immigrants arriving, and, within that data, the numbers in various categories, and the numbers coming from various countries; we are also told how many are ejected from the stands (the country, that is.) It looks like a lot of data, but it is just simply results information (like runs scored) sliced in several ways.

What observers need, if they are to judge what is going on within that great black box of an agency, is data on inputs (how many people applied to enter the country, how many were accepted, and how many rejected), decisions by visa category (so we could see if some parts of the system are abused more than others), the names of the players (USCIS suppresses the names of immigrant-sponsors appealing staff decisions, and even the names of their lawyers), and the impact of all these decisions on the size of the U.S. population, and on wages and working conditions.

These data are needed to evaluate what really happens in a key part of the immigration management business. Most of this information is readily available but is routinely suppressed by USCIS; other data, such as the impact on wages and working conditions, would demand a little more effort on its part.

A particularly egregious example of this secrecy is how USCIS handles data on its controversial religious workers (R-1) program; it does not keep statistics on which church entities violate its rules, apparently so it cannot be asked about these patterns. Hint: it is not any of the mainstream Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations. For more on this, see my blog "What Do You Do With a Visa Program with a Fraud Rates of 30-33%?"

Back to baseball. MLB, though it may have a monopoly on professional baseball, does not have a monopoly on the customers' cash – it must compete with other sports, and other forms of entertainment, and one of the ways it competes is to lavish statistical data on anyone who wants it. Further, baseball statistical lore is nicely packaged and preserved, in easily accessible ways, and it is kept for decades – even on something as obscure as the number of no-hitters ever experienced in post-season play. (That number was one until a few days ago when it became two.)

USCIS, on the other hand, has a monopoly on its part of immigration management, and it provides just as much data as it wants to release, and not a bit more. And, as I have pointed out earlier, it provides considerably less useful information than other migration-management agencies, such as the Visa Office in the State Department or the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration.

Understandably, however, baseball-statistics consumers are both more vocal and more numerous than immigration-statistics users, so the current unhappy situation persists, at least in the United States.

There is, however, an alternative approach, one used in a wondrous, faraway land, which will be the subject of a subsequent blog.