The Cost of Responding to Faux Analysis, Part 2: Ignoring Inconvenient Truths That Detract from Your Hypothesis

By W.D. Reasoner on September 11, 2012

Author's Note: Following is the second of two blogs examining the report entitled "The Cost of Responding to Immigration Detainers in California — Preliminary Findings", issued on August 22, 2012, by the Justice Strategies organization. The first blog examined the hype and reaction surrounding release of the report to the media. This blog takes a look at the report itself and critically examines the analysis.

I see any number of shortcomings in the analysis embedded in the report described immediately above, but because this is a blog, and not a full-blown Center for Immigration Studies report, I'll have to be brief. First, the report consists of only three-and-a-half pages. That's quite a bit of territory to cover in such a spartan amount of space. This should immediately raise questions about how thorough or rigorous the analysis is.

Second, although it purports to have derived the costs to California taxpayers statewide, of honoring immigration detainers filed by federal authorities in pursuit of their law enforcement mission to identify alien criminals, in fact only one paragraph — the next-to-last in the report — deals with statewide costs. The remainder of the report focuses on Los Angeles County, and its participation in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) criminal alien program called "Secure Communities".

Third, right from the start, the report reveals its underlying anti-immigration enforcement bias. It begins by repeating as gospel in its introduction several highly inflammatory allegations:

As [Secure Communities] deployment has been expanded throughout California, it has come under fire for its failure to achieve stated priorities, its damaging effect on community policing, and its role in multiple civil rights violations including racial profiling of Latinos, the criminalization of immigrants, and the illegal detention of U.S. Citizens by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

From this juncture forward, only a complete naïf would not question any analytical results put forward by a group willing to advance the same assertions previously touted in the report "Secure Communities by the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographics and Due Process", from the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School, all of which were systematically shown to be inaccurate and untrue in a three-part examination conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies.

Fourth, the author has taken a dismayingly simplistic approach to assessing Los Angeles County costs. She used a financial formula along these lines: Take three months of inmate figures, calculate the detention length of aliens with detainers placed on them, subtract from it the detention length of inmates with no detainers, multiply the difference by daily costs, and multiply again to achieve a full year's worth of results.

Anyone with real-world experience knows the criminal justice system is anything but simple and straightforward, but facts or figures that don't support the hypothesis that this facile formula puts forward have been trimmed away and form no part of the report.

Fifth, there is no proof of causality: Is it really just because an immigration detainer has been filed that the length of stay for these inmates is 20.6 days longer? (I will accept that figure for the sake of argument, although there are no tables, charts, or graphs to support it.) Or is it because federal authorities are routinely filing detainers on individuals charged with extremely serious crimes and therefore the bail amounts assessed by state magistrates are substantially higher? We don't know — there is no analysis whatever of crimes charged, nor bail amounts imposed. But the author dispenses with that critical analysis with the throwaway line that "once a detainer is lodged, both court and jail officials may consider the person to be ineligible for pretrial release, even if they are charged with a low-level non-violent charge and have well-established ties to their home communities."

Sixth, I'm trying to figure out how illegal aliens can routinely have "well-established ties to their home communities." Seems to me to be, in the main, an oxymoron. They have no legal right to be anywhere in the United States, frequently do not have identification except from their home countries (unless it is fraudulent), and pretty much encapsulate the definition of "flight risk". Is it a wonder that court and jail officials are reluctant to release them, lest they see a massive uptick in the number of fugitive bench warrants issued against fugitive illegal aliens who are suddenly nowhere to be found in those communities where they have well-established ties?

Which brings us to the seventh shortcoming: how does the author factor in the cost savings to the county of keeping flight risks locked up as long as needed to dispose of their criminal charges? She doesn't. There is no analysis of the cost of hunting down a fugitive and bringing him to justice, or how it interrelates to aliens who are released back into the streets, so that we can compare one scenario against the other and arrive at an intelligible balancing of public safety interests.

Eighth, let's talk a little more about public safety and the interests of the community. What is the cost to the community, in both time and money, but more importantly in human misery to victims and their families, if the county declines to honor immigration detainers? These aliens are, after all, individuals who have been arrested and charged with a crime by state and local police officials. Let us not pretend that aliens do not offend (else why would they be in the County Jail?), nor reoffend if not deported. A March 2011 GAO report, for example, states that 25 percent of federal prison inmates are aliens. That same report asserts that alien inmates in state and local facilities increased by 25 percent in the study period (fiscal years 2003 – 2009). Most incredible, GAO reports that "the average incarcerated alien had seven arrests, and committed an average of 12 offenses."

So what is the percentage of criminal aliens in Los Angeles County Jail? How does it compare with the overall population? How many of these aliens are multiple arrestees? What kinds of crimes did those multiple arrests consist of? Gosh, we don't know — that wasn't in the Justice Strategies analysis either. The report makes no mention whatsoever of recidivists and, as it did in ignoring the relevant fugitive data, attempts no comparative analysis of either financial or societal costs for continually rearresting and detaining alien repeat offenders, vs. detention and removal from the United States by honoring immigration detainers.

Ninth (the last I promise; we're running out of space), the report makes no mention of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funding that has been received in large amounts by law enforcement and correctional agencies throughout California for several years. For instance, in 2010 Los Angeles County alone received about $14.3 million from the federal government. Now, how could that pocket change have gotten lost in the cost-assessment shuffle?

In sum, this report was a foregone conclusion in pursuit of an analysis to justify it. The financial analysis used to support the assertion that "[Secure Communities] is an expensive burden that Los Angeles, and California, can ill afford" has been pruned and sculpted to fit the preferred zeitgeist of the author and her organization. It seems that Justice Strategies has adjusted the world to fit its spectacles, rather than the reverse.

Well, at least they were brief. My two blogs are roughly twice the length of the Justice Strategies report, and I only touched the surface of the material that should have been explored.