Good Friday Morning! It’s a special day here. This week marks the 100th time I’ve written one of these newsletters. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I started this weekly writing experiment. I’ve posted for years on social media and was beginning to notice less and less interaction from people, as social media sites shifted away from users who share political/news opinion. Starting my website and writing directly to people who enjoy reading/interacting with what I come across each week freed me from the confines of Facebook, Twitter, and their algorithms.
That freedom is especially helpful during weeks like the past one where each day on social media was an avalanche of half-baked opinions on immigration. I refrained from jumping into the fray on social media because the stupid was strong this week. But there’s a lot to talk about on the immigration topic that memes, social media posts, and Google can’t give you. So buckle up, this week it’s all immigration, and I’m going to pop a lot of myth-bubbles on this topic.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
Both pieces this week are on the OIG report released last week on the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton email server. I covered that last week in the newsletter. These two pieces focus on specific areas within the report.
Let’s talk Immigration
Before jumping into this topic, I think it’s helpful to lay out two things. First, what my general policy preferences are in this area, so you’re aware of my biases going into the topic. And second, a quick history of how we got here on the current news cycle on child separation at the border.
This news cycle wasn’t some organic news story that bubbled to the top; it was a deliberate narrative shift by certain liberal pundits and journalists that started around six weeks ago after several failed starts. They workshopped several ideas until one stuck, and the media has memory-holed the past. I’ll also cover some legal concepts and basic history to place the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy in context.
My immigration views
Generally speaking, I’m pro-immigration.
What that means is I prefer, as a baseline, free and open immigration. If you want to come, live, and work in the United States, I’m okay with you living here. In fact, I’d go so far to say it’s imperative that we bring more people to the United States to offset falling population growth.
In 2016, the New York Times reported that US population growth was at the lowest it had ever been since 1937, during the Great Depression. Slowing population growth matters as the Baby Boomer generation ages and increasingly use welfare programs to offset retirement and medical costs. There are two ways to off-set the generational shift, you either increase the number of babies your population is having, or you bring in immigrants to offset the aging population.
I think there are things we could do to increase the population outside immigration. Getting rid of abortion laws is one definite step that would help improve the society. Another step is cleaning up the lead in the environment. Lyman Stone over at First Things noted a recent study that posits that lead exposure has impacted our population as much as abortion.
And while I think both of those options are great at reducing population issues in the long term, on a short-term basis we need more people working in the United States. Immigration is the only solution to that problem short-term. We don’t want to deal with the demographic crises facing China, Japan, or some European countries (the population bomb is a myth).
I don’t mind that some of these immigrants come from poorer South American countries. In fact, those types of immigrants fit an ideal profile for what America could use right now. They’re more likely to hold religious views (typically Christian), maintain healthy family and community ties, and believe in larger families.
What I want in a comprehensive immigration overhaul is the following:
- Make the process easier and faster to become an American citizen. Right now that process can take years, which encourages illegal immigration. We have to make the process easier, cheaper, and faster to navigate. Immigration is an overall net positive for the American economy.
- If the process gets made more accessible, then we absolutely must crack down, zero-tolerance style, on anyone coming here illegally. If the process is more accessible, then anyone breaking the law as their first option coming here shouldn’t stay.
- Mandate all new immigrants to learn and become fluent in English as the primary language. If you allow immigrants to use another language, you’re setting them up for failure and segregating them from the culture-at-large. English is the official economic language of the United States, and the world at large. The Harvard Business Review recommended in 2012 that all global businesses become English-centric because that’s where the money is in the world. As one EU official put it, English is the working language of the world. English is mandatory to know in American society if you want to move up in the world. The World Economic Forum draws a direct link between English proficiency of a nation and economic performance. The refusal to acknowledge this simple fact by many immigration advocates on the left has doomed far too many immigrants to poverty. It’s easier to create a melting pot of people and ideas when everyone speaks the same language. To help this, the federal government should partner with states to expand and make free any ESL classes/tutoring.
- The Executive Branch and Congress maintain complete control over who can and can’t enter. If Congress and the President decide another nation is an enemy of the United States, they have absolute power to end all immigration from that country for any reason at all. And if the economy is getting strained by high immigration, Congress and the President have the power to end all immigration for any reason.
Concepts like the open borders movement on the left are just flat idiotic. The EU has experimented with the idea for years and the rise in nativism, populism, and other right-wing phenomena are the direct result of the EU trying to override the nationalist instincts of people-groups that have existed for centuries. It won’t happen there, and it won’t happen here either.
How we got into the current debate
There are two histories here, the legal history of what’s happening at the border and the news narrative. It’s helpful first to understand the legal reality first and then move on to the narrative.
On April 6, 2018, AG Jeff Sessions announced: “zero-tolerance policy” for offenses under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), which prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.” He later released a memo expanding that zero-tolerance prosecution for statutes 8 USC § 1324 – 26, along with two aggravating factors prosecution focusing on identity theft and assaulting a police officer.
Those statutes are part of the US code that deals with immigration that was first created by Congress under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. As you might guess, those laws have been amended over the years. The specific statutes important for our purposes, however, were last amended by Congress in 1996 in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
As an aside, when people say Democrats passed the laws that are at issue. In this case, that’s what they’re referring to above. The IIRIRA got enacted by a GOP Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton.
The DOJ has an excellent summary of all the above laws:
Section 1325 sets forth criminal offenses relating to (1) improper entry into the United States by an alien, (2) entry into marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws, and (3) establishing a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading immigration laws. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) amended 8 U.S.C. § 1325 to provide that an alien apprehended while entering or attempting to enter the United States at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers shall be subject to a civil penalty.
You’ll note from these statutes and the DOJ’s interpretation that none of them deal with the issue of child separation. I’ll get to that in a moment.
It’s been against the law for decades to enter the US illegally. What the Sessions memo meant is that US prosecutors on the border would prosecute every single case of illegal crossing that comes across their desk. Previously, not all instances got prosecuted, for a wide variety of reasons. The memo changed that to an absolute prosecution of anyone caught.
The zero-tolerance policy isn’t new. The current version is modeled in part after Operation Streamline, a program in the Executive Branch under George W. Bush in the mid-2000’s. Facing a massive spike of people pouring across the border, the Bush DOJ sought to speed up the prosecutions of illegal crossers to get them back to their countries faster. The important part for us is that the Bush program automatically prosecuted everyone except people traveling with children.
It was more of a procedural problem than anything else. Federal law only prosecutes the parents, not the children traveling with them. Federal prosecutors largely didn’t prosecute traveling families during this time because the options were: 1) Separate the children from the families, even though there isn’t a system set up to handle the children. 2) Prosecute the parents and keep families together, but in this instance, you’re imprisoning children (the ACLU objected to this during the Obama admin). 3) Not prosecute.
For all intents and purposes, with rare exception, both the Bush and Obama White Houses chose option three, not prosecuting families. Obama mostly kept Operation Streamline in place, with tweaks that came up due to changes in the law. Everyone continued to get prosecuted, which is one reason Obama deported more people than the entire sum of all Presidents in the 20th Century.
The Sessions memo changed this by telling families they no longer received an unspoken exemption and would get prosecuted like anyone else. The Sessions DOJ chose to go with family separation instead of keeping families imprisoned together. Sessions explained early on that this was a deterrent — telling families up front, they could get split up if they chose to enter illegally.
The entire procedure for family separation is mostly ad-hoc decision making by agencies. They’re creating solutions to issues Congress never wrote laws on. The Houston Chronicle has reporters in the area who describe what’s happening:
What happens to the children after the parents are separated?
Once adults are taken to a federal holding area to be prosecuted for the crime, their children are considered “unaccompanied.”
The government has 72 hours to transfer them to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a subset of the Department of Health and Human Services that is in charge of caring for immigrant children.
ORR places the children in one of about 100 federal foster care facilities around the country that are licensed to care for minors.
How long do they stay there?
In the past, including during the so-called surge of 2014, most unaccompanied children came to the United States alone. They tended to be older, since they could travel by themselves, with most of them between the ages of 10 and 17. The majority were coming here to reunite with their parents or other relatives.
Most such children were quickly placed with their family after the federal government did a basic screening to ensure they weren’t being trafficked.
What is different now?
Children who have been separated from their parents at the border tend to be younger as many are logistically unable to come here alone.
It also may be harder to find relatives to place them with as their direct family members — their parents — have been removed from them.
They may not have other family here.
What happens to the parents?
Parents are usually charged with the misdemeanor crime of improper entry and plead guilty in speedy mass hearings that critics have called “assembly-line justice.”
They usually receive a sentence of a few days in federal prison or “time served” and are taken back to Border Patrol processing facilities before being sent to immigration detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security.
From there, they can be quickly deported under a process known as “expedited removal” that applies to those arrested near the border and means they don’t necessarily see an immigration judge.
One of the major problems with zero-tolerance is that it often creates havoc by throwing people who are seeking asylum in the same pool of people who are illegal crossers. An OIG report in 2015 noted this very problem and recommended fixing it. But like all things immigration-related, nothing was done.
In summary, zero-tolerance expanded prosecutions under the Bush DOJ to include families, something for which the current federal system was not ever prepared to handle. The uptick in prosecutions and children needing attention has swamped a system that requires Congressional oversight.
The current news cycle narrative
The AG announcement on April 6th is the central genesis for everything that’s occurred so far. But, it’s not where our ongoing media narrative started. Since that announcement, liberals have searched for some way to create an immigration news narrative to attack Trump. Up until the family separation issue, they’d failed multiple times. What we’re witnessing was, in effect, throw everything you have on the news and see what sticks.
That’s not to say what we see at the border isn’t horrible to watch or see. What the narrative spinning tells is that there’s very little concern on the left for the children and far more interest on hammering Trump ahead of the midterms.
The first significant story tried was deceptively editing remarks by the President on MS-13. That interaction went as follows:
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims complained to the president Wednesday specifically about the difficulties of reporting illegal immigrants who are also members of the notoriously vicious and brutal MS-13 gang.
“There could be an MS-13 gang member that I know about. If they don’t meet a certain threshold, I cannot tell [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] about them,” Mims said Wednesday.
The president responded, “We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” (Emphasis added.)
It seems pretty obvious what sort of people (or animals) Trump is referring to — MS-13 gang members. But if you can believe it, the national press convinced themselves this week that Trump is the bad guy in this story.
There was a considerable explosion across the news and social media of the President dehumanizing MS-13. Instead of noting the obvious response that MS-13 dehumanizes themselves in their complete desecration of humanity when they brutally rape and murder women, the left spent time defending MS-13. Not the most celebrated political moment, to be sure.
That story failed to move the needle more than a day or so.
Next up, a gaggle of journalists and pundits, most notably the Pod Save America crew (former Obama administration officials) started pushing three stories.
They correctly pointed out that family separations were happening at the border. Next, they followed that up by claiming that the federal government had lost nearly 1,500 of those children. And then followed that up by spreading viral pictures of children in cages and other squalor conditions. They even started a hashtag campaign, “#WhereAreTheChildren.”
The 1,500 missing children story was a blatant lie — even though it enjoyed prime time on CNN. As PolitiFact noted:
“These children are not ‘lost’; their sponsors — who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them — simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made,” HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said in a May 28 statement.
From October to December 2017, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement attempted to reach 7,635 unaccompanied minors and their sponsors, said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families within HHS in April.
Of the 7,635 children:
• 6,075 remained with their sponsors;
• 28 had run away;
• 5 had been deported;
• 52 relocated to live with a non-sponsor;
• 1,475 could not be reached.
Wagner said HHS’s interpretation of the law is that it’s not legally responsible for children once they are under a sponsor’s care.
HHS would need more resources and legal clarity if it “were to remain legally obligated for the welfare of (unaccompanied alien children)” after they are sent over to a sponsor, Wagner said.
The federal government placed these children into homes and didn’t get an answer on a phone when checking on the status of the children. It’s not the federal government’s job to track children once they’ve done the right thing and placed these kids with family. And we shouldn’t want the government to follow kids like that.
Next up, the viral pictures the Pod Save America crew and other liberal pundits/journalists pushed was from a June 18, 2014, investigative report from the Arizona Republic newspaper. They went undercover to a detention center that housed children. Note the date — this is during the Obama administration. The tour got arranged at the request of the government to quell rumors at the time of widespread abuse in the detention centers.
The government lied.
The ACLU of San Diego filed FOIA’s to get records from these types of facilities. The documents were from 2009 – 2014 and painted a horrifying picture:
The records obtained likewise reflect rampant abuse. Children describe excessive force: being stomped on, punched, kicked, run over with vehicles, tased, and forced to maintain stress positions by CBP officials. Minors also report verbal abuse: being called a “dog,” “piece of crap,” “son of a bitch,” and “prostitute,” and being told they “contaminate this country.” In complaints, children describe being deprived of edible food and potable water and held in freezing and unsanitary cells with inadequate bedding and no access to personal hygiene items. Children report being threatened with rape and death, being told to remove their clothing before they are subjected to questioning, and being touched inappropriately by CBP officials.
In direct violation of federal law, DHS does not appear to have reported alleged child abuse out to the FBI. Moreover, records of the investigations conducted by DHS oversight agencies like CRCL and OIG indicate systemic failures to meaningfully investigate the allegations, including a lack of independent fact-finding, ineffective reporting systems, and routine closure of investigations due to agency delays and unreliable record keeping. The records provide no indication that DHS has taken any remedial or disciplinary measures to hold any individual accountable for these abuses.
Remember, these are government documents that indicated all the above were happening, along with testimony from children and government employees.
When people noted to the Pod Save America crew and various liberal journalists they were tweeting and sharing Obama era documents, they quickly started deleting posts. They then went on to claim that family separation is worse than anything that happened under the Obama administration — which as the evidence above shows is clearly and utterly false.
These facts came up again on when the Associated Press ran a story about the state of Virginia looking into allegations of abuse at their detention facilities for immigrant minors. It took the Associated Press 21 paragraphs to mention the fact that all their information was from this same Obama era. Trump was said multiple times before that point.
The Obama administration got skewered on this point in 2014 when the detention facilities and sanctuary cities issues came up. Nancy Pelosi even made a speech talking about how it was a bad situation, but the people involved were doing the best they could. The Republicans won the Senate using this as an issue.
To bring this section to a close: there’s a reason the family separation issue stuck. It involves kids and the mistreatment of kids. There’s a known history of abuse with the federal agencies involved. It’s an absolute travesty.
But it’s been a travesty for a long time, which is why Democratic Senators are dodging questions about why they weren’t outraged by this same conduct under the previous administration. And the electoral losses in 2014 are why Chuck Schumer is comfortable not solving the problem in Congress, which is what needs to happen, and wants to run on the issue in November.
For all the liberals claiming this is a “literally Hitler” moment, very few cared four years ago. Not only that, these are facilities they built and approved of at the time.
There are many problems with immigration. Zero-tolerance just forced everything to surface for everyone to see. Again.
What happens next?
The entire situation is a mess. We need an overhaul of the whole system — hopefully following the principles, I laid out above. Separation of families is off the table now, and you can’t jail families together, because that’s against the law, as Rich Lowry notes:
That’s because of something called the Flores Consent Decree from 1997. It says that unaccompanied children can be held only 20 days. A ruling by the Ninth Circuit extended this 20-day limit to children who come as part of family units. So even if we want to hold a family unit together, we are forbidden from doing so.
The clock ticking on the time the government can hold a child will almost always run out before an asylum claim is settled. The migrant is allowed ten days to seek an attorney, and there may be continuances or other complications.
This creates the choice of either releasing the adults and children together into the country pending the ajudication of the asylum claim, or holding the adults and releasing the children. If the adult is held, HHS places the child with a responsible party in the U.S., ideally a relative (migrants are likely to have family and friends here).
Even if Flores didn’t exist, the government would be very constrained in how many family units it can accommodate. ICE has only about 3,000 family spaces in shelters. It is also limited in its overall space at the border, which is overwhelmed by the ongoing influx. This means that — whatever the Trump administration would prefer to do — many adults are still swiftly released.
For now, Trump’s latest executive order discontinuing family separation means we’re going to go back to the Obama era rules on detention.
Predictably, Democrats are now pretending to be outraged at those same Obama era rules. This reaction is pure politics, just like the Feinstein bill that claimed to solve the problem but created a litany of other issues.
Congress has to act. They have to set up a system where families are either together or not under legal conditions created by Congress. The ad hoc agency approach is an utter failure, rife with clear abuse and corruption.
I’m not expecting Democrats to help in solving the problem. Schumer and Pelosi are pretending that this is all the Presidents fault and only he can solve it, which is only right on the zero-tolerance part for families. If the detention centers are going to get fixed, Congress has to do it.
What I suspect will happen is Senators like Ted Cruz and other GOP politicians along the border and swing states will demand a vote. There was already a push towards some form of action. The question is if there is a will in Congress to do it now absent the clear harm of separating families.
I do not see the drive to solve this in Congress anymore. Everyone can pretend that Trump solved the problem. Separation was a useful leverage point in that regard if only to force the GOP to move on legislation. If the GOP could unite on a legislative front, it would force Democrats to filibuster a bill that prevented any President from separating families — a political suicide move.
It wouldn’t shock me to see Trump bring back the full zero-tolerance move again. It gives him leverage and that’s useful. And we’re far enough away from the elections where it shouldn’t have an outsized impact.
Links of the week
Decline Is a Choice – Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard (2009)
Charles Krauthammer, 1950-2018 – John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine
Charles Krauthammer’s Democratic Vocation – Bret Stephens, The New York Times
April Sets Gun Sales Record: Second month in a row with gun sales record as push for new gun control continues. 400 million guns now in US population. – Stephen Gutowski, The Washington Free Beacon
What Happened to the GOP Surge? – David Byler, The Weekly Standard
Trump Picks a Losing Fight on Immigration: The growing economy should be improving Republicans’ odds at holding their congressional majorities. Instead, they’re preparing for a backlash against the president’s cruel and unusual family-separation policy at the border. – Josh Kraushaar, The National Journal
Turning Point USA struggles with allegations of student sexual assault, harassment – Philip Wegmann, The Washington Examiner
America’s decision to leave the cowardly U.N. Human Rights Council had nothing to do with immigration: The UNCHR is a haven for despots and bigots that shields the world’s worst human rights abusers from the scorn they deserve. – Noah Rothman, NBC Think
Four species of Beltway Republicans – Kristen Soltis Anderson, The Washington Examiner
Reasonable Politicians Need to Take Immigration More Seriously – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Satire piece of the week
Soccer Player Suffers Career-Ending Boo-Boo – The Babylon Bee
RUSSIA — According to sources at the World Cup, a star soccer player suffered a career-ending boo-boo during an important match Tuesday after another player carelessly ran near him on the pitch.
Doctors initially thought the injury was just an ouchie, but after examining the player more extensively, they gravely concluded it was in fact the dreaded boo-boo. Boo-boos are responsible for more early retirements from the sport than any other injury, including oopsies, bump-bumps, and owies.
Thanks for reading!