Pravda and the Rise of a Toothless Tiger

By W.D. Reasoner on January 11, 2013

On January 7, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) — which bills itself as "an independent, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide" — held a symposium entitled "Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery".

Alright, I admit it was rude, but I laughed out loud when I read the MPI lead-in announcing the event. "Formidable"? Hardly. This administration has done more to dismantle the effective enforcement of immigration laws — and to use presidential orders to circumvent the proper role of Congress in establishing immigration policy — than any other administration in recent history, perhaps in all of American history. It is the executive branch equivalent of "judicial activism" and, sadly, our legislative leaders appear unable or unwilling to push back and stop the assault on their constitutionally mandated role.

Then came the event itself, with appropriate trumpets and fanfare, including simultaneous release of a nearly 200-page report sharing the same name as the event.

Most surprising, though, at least to me, was concurrent publication in the Washington Post of an op-ed written by Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at MPI, former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and a co-author of the report.

I say "surprising" because it gives us a clue as to the depth of manipulation behind the event and the report. How many people do you know who have so tamed the editorial board of a major newspaper (in the nation's capital, no less) that they are willing to lend their hand to orchestration for maximum exposure by agreeing to publish the op-ed on exactly the same day as the event and report release? I don't think I could get the local Pennysaver to help me out, let alone the Post. When, exactly, did they become so patently domesticated as to be willing to eat out of the hand of the pro-amnesty lobby and the White House? Are they turning into the Pravda of the Obama administration where immigration policy is concerned?

As to the event and the report, well, they followed a predictable course — basically arguing that so much money, technology, and human capital have been thrown at immigration enforcement that we can now afford to relax our tough immigration policies, presumably through a broad-based amnesty, although the language used is a bit coy. I find myself wondering: If our immigration policies are so tough, how did another 10-plus million people manage to get here and stay illegally since the last amnesty?

MPI seems to conflate quantity and quality, either deliberately or through confusion. I lean toward the former explanation — for exactly the same reasons laid out by Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, in a piece published by National Review Online on January 10.

This leads to my second surprise: Doris Meissner's response to Krikorian's article, also published January 10. The rapidity and vigor of her reaction, bordering on overreaction, suggests that Krikorian must have touched on a tender spot — conscience, perhaps? — when he suggested that MPI had used bogus facts in arguing that immigration law enforcement is stronger than it has ever been, in no small measure because MPI put forward, as applicable to immigration enforcement, total budget and resource figures for agencies whose missions go well beyond just immigration law enforcement. (For more specifics on this, refer to "New Report Offers Deceptive Assessment of Immigration Enforcement", by CIS Policy Director Jessica Vaughan.)

In addressing Krikorian's observations, Meissner states, "It is not possible to break down functions within these agencies because publicly available budget information does not provide the disaggregated information that would be required."

I beg to differ. Demographers, analysts, and statisticians routinely aggregate and disaggregate data in order to arrive at macro- or microscopic findings about whatever it is that they are studying. It is what they do for a living. Almost never is information so neatly arranged and organized that one can simply gather it up in a basket for closer examination.

And there is plenty of information available from sources beyond government budgets for those who choose to look. Among other things, it takes the form of reports from watchdog agencies such as the Office of Inspector General or the Government Accountability Office, Freedom of Information Act requests, and congressional testimony. (For just one instance, see the June 2012 testimony of Donna Bucella regarding U.S. Customs and Border Protection counter-narcotics efforts.)

If, as Meissner states, this report was nearly two years in the making, one is tempted to ask how or why it is that MPI didn't make the effort to disaggregate the data to arrive at a realistic assessment of the resources truly being applied to immigration law enforcement today? And how does a think tank make the cardinal mistake of concluding that resources alone, whatever their level, have been effective at dealing with a problem, without examining the policies already in play that affect (or, more appropriately where this administration is concerned, constrain) the application of those resources?