Welcome Attention Paid to the Usually Ignored Third Flow of Illegal Aliens

The usually neglected third flow of illegal aliens – those who manage to come through ports of entry when they should have been stopped – gathered some attention at an academic conference sponsored by Georgetown University last week.

The invitation-only session was part of a highly useful series sponsored by Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration; it was conducted under the Chatham House Rule; i.e., one can write about what was said, but one cannot attribute anything to a specific speaker.

The illegal flow that was discussed at the meeting is in addition to two other groups: 1) those crossing the borders without inspection (Entrants Without Inspection, or EWIs), and 2) the visa overstayers, the two subpopulations usually considered in immigration law enforcement dialogues.

This third group of entrants includes those who are imposters, those bearing counterfeit or altered documents, and those (particularly those with Border Crossing Cards) who are misusing government-issued documents, generally to travel to illicit jobs on this side of the international boundary. Aliens wanted for criminal activity are also in this group.

There seemed to be pretty universal agreement that the Congress’s fixation on forever expanding the size of the Border Patrol was inappropriate, in that the staffing levels at the ports of entry had remained largely stagnant, and that more inspectors at the ports would lead to more identification of male fide entrants, to use the government’s jargon. (To the extent that it is harder to cross between ports, there is more illicit pressure on the ports themselves, and thus a need for more inspectors.)

Someone told of a recent government report that showed that the more seconds on average for the initial (primary) interview in the ports, the more numerous the would-be entrants sent onto secondary inspection, for more thorough screenings. It is at secondary where most unlawful would-be entrants are identified.

The long lines and the rushed initial interviews at both land and airports are legendary, and many aliens get through who should not.

I said that a study of mine for INS in the 1970s – I was then with the New TransCentury Foundation – found that when the time pressure on primary inspectors was relieved, and they could spend as much time with entrants as needed, that the identification of inappropriate would-be entrants increased substantially.

After leaving last week’s conference I revisited the study (the “Illegal Alien Study / Part 1: Fraudulent Entrants Study,” INS, 1976) and found that I had grossly understated, at the meeting, the significance of a little extra time for inspections.

The study team – eight INS career inspectors – identified 13 times as many illegal entrants as the agency did on average. We designed a study in which they were always extra staff at the ports, and they always had plenty of time for the interviews. We drew the people to be inspected randomly from the incoming flows at the various land and air ports.

I was also reminded, as I dipped deep into my own immigration library, that this study of mine was published in an unusual way. INS at the time had little experience with contract research and printed copies of my report, with a nice little preface by the Commissioner, Gen. Leonard Chapman, but with no notation as to who had written the document, as if it were an internally produced one. I don’t think the government does that any more.

One of the participants at last week’s conference brought in some current DHS data on passenger inspections and inadmissable aliens identified, showing about 360,000,000 inspections and only about 132,000 inadmissable aliens, or a ratio of one stop per 2,700 or so inspections. This was in 2013. That was something of an improvement of the nationwide experience at the ports in 1976, when about one in 5,000 entrants was so identified at the land ports, and one in about 3,000 were found at the airports.

The 1976 study team, however, with sufficient time to do their jobs, had an identification ratio that was 13 times as high. I must admit that our eight inspectors – all volunteers for the study – probably were more motivated than inspectors on average, but I cannot imagine that they were 13 times as motivated.

Back to the Conference. One of the conferees (again, no names can be used) brought up a problem that I will explore further. He said that DHS took away Mexican-issued IDs from Mexican nationals turned back at, or deported over, the southern border. This left many of them stranded just south of our border, and a long way from home, because one needs an ID in Mexico to take a plane or a bus.

I gather that he felt that neither his government nor mine was doing anything about this, which left the once-apprehended illegals tempted to try to cross back into the U.S. The conference participant told me that he had written about this issue, but only in Spanish and French. I am seeking a translation of the documents in question.

Several of the participants, including some people running Homeland Security-funded research projects, complained that there was a lot of DHS data on immigration matters that were not being shared with the research community, sometimes data that related directly to the DHS-funded studies. These secrecy decisions were blamed on unnamed “risk-adverse” managers. I agree.

I have been going to such meetings for a long time, and this time, unusually, there were three senior Border Patrol officials at the table fully participating in the discussion, which was presumably easier for them because of the Charter House Rule. That was very helpful.

The 20 or so of us civilians at the session, incidentally, were well protected from hostile forces: each BP delegate was in full uniform, including a holstered automatic.

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