'May You Live in Interesting Times...'

By W.D. Reasoner on November 5, 2011

Every now and again, a friend or acquaintance will remind me of "the old Chinese curse, 'may you live in interesting times.' " I don't know whether the provenance imputed to the saying is true or not, but the import of the words says much about human history and mankind's collective psyche: that living in interesting times can be as much bane as it is boon.

There's no doubt in my mind that we do indeed live in interesting times. How else to explain the president of the United States describing the most recently released immigration enforcement statistics of his administration as a bit "deceptive" at the same time that his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, his Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and others in the administration are touting those same figures as proof of the administration's unwavering commitment to tough enforcement?

Where is the truth meter on this one? It seems to lean toward the president's description. As became evident during a recent congressional hearing by a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee at which ICE Director Morton testified, to boost the numbers the administration packed into its "removals" data all of the figures for voluntary departures and voluntary returns, including those for the Border Patrol. When those figures are stripped out, the numbers don't look so good.

What is more, Border Patrol apprehensions for the last federal fiscal year are at near-historic lows for the past decade, when considered on a per-agent basis. The administration would have us believe that this is because of their success in controlling the border, but of course if the figures were at near-historic highs, they would be touting this as proof of their success in controlling the border too. The doubtful value of such metrics has been examined by no less than the Rand Corporation, as I have noted in a prior blog posting.

So it would appear that the president and his aides seem to want it both ways: "tough enforcement" as a way to sell conservatives and middle-of-the-road voters and, who knows, maybe even slip in some "comprehensive immigration reform" (translate that as "amnesty again") along the way. Meantime, they also don't want to alienate the open borders advocates or special interest groups who form a part of their traditional political base – so they minimize, or even undermine to this audience, the very same numbers being touted as a success elsewhere.

But these aren't the only strange and contradictory signals coming out of the administration where immigration law enforcement is concerned. On November 2 the media carried a story in which House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith announced that the committee would be issuing a subpoena for records that DHS failed to provide of its own volition over a protracted period when previously requested. Now here's the corker: both DHS and ICE proudly proclaim that they are part of the administration's "proactive FOIA" initiative in which they provide information and statistics to the public without the need to file one of those nasty Freedom of Information Act requests. Hmm. Go figure. Looks like they're committed to openness with everyone except Congress. Oh, wait. They're not doing so good on the public openness front either, as my colleague Janice Kephart reveals.