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October 2014, Volume 21, Number 4

DHS: Unauthorized, Interior

The number of border-area deaths fell in FY14 even as apprehensions of unauthorized foreigners rose. Some 284 border-area deaths were recorded in the first 11 months of FY14, down from 420 during the same period in FY13. Meanwhile, over 450,000 foreigners were apprehended just inside the US during the first 11 months of FY14, up from 380,000 during the same period a year earlier.

The estimated number of unauthorized foreigners, about 3.5 million in 1990 after the legalization of 2.7 million mostly Mexicans in 1987-88 under IRCA, rose to 7.9 million in 2000, 10 million in 2005, and a peak 12.2 million in 2007. The stock of unauthorized then fell to 11.3 million in 2009, where it has remained since.

The unauthorized included six million Mexicans in 2012, over half of the unauthorized foreigners in the US. California had 2.5 million unauthorized foreigners, followed by 1.7 million in Texas and 900,000 in New York.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the 10.4 million unauthorized immigrant adults had been in the US a median 13 years in 2013, up from nine years in 2007. Fewer than a sixth of unauthorized adults were in the US less than five years, highlighting the slowdown in unlawful entries since the 2008-09 recession.

About three million of the unauthorized lived in the US with US-citizen children under 18, while over half, almost six million, were living in the US without US-citizen children.

Congress. Congress is divided about what to do with unauthorized foreigners in the US. The House in 2005 approved an enforcement-only bill that would make it harder for unauthorized foreigners to get jobs and live in the US.

The Senate in 2006 did the opposite, approving "comprehensive immigration reform," including more enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration, earned legalization that culminates in US citizenship for most unauthorized foreigners in the US, and new guest worker programs to allow employers to easily hire legal migrant workers and discourage illegal migration.

The House did not act on the Senate bill, and in 2007 the Senate did not approve comprehensive immigration reform again.

However, the Senate approved another comprehensive immigration reform bill in June 2013, S 744. Like the 2006 Senate bill, S 744 would step up border and interior enforcement to prevent illegal immigration, offer a path to legal status and eventual US citizenship for most unauthorized foreigners in the US, and create new guest worker programs. As in 2006, the House did not act on the Senate's S 744.

President Obama in June 2012 created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by Executive Order. It gives renewable two-year work and residence permits to unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before age 16, have lived in the US at least five years and were under 31 on June 15, 2012, and are enrolled in school or have a high school diploma. Honorably discharged veterans are also eligible for DACA.

The failure of the House to approve any kind of comprehensive immigration reform bill led to pressure on Obama to introduce another DACA-type program for additional groups of unauthorized foreigners, such as the parents of youth with DACA status. Some migrant advocates want Obama to protect unauthorized foreigners with US jobs, with US-born children, and those who satisfy other criteria.

Meanwhile, most of the 7.5 million unauthorized workers in the US, five percent of US workers, go to work with little fear of workplace raids. Employers get work done more cheaply with unauthorized workers than via alternatives, and the children of unauthorized foreigners go to US schools and often receive health and other social services.

Interior. Some 438,421 foreigners were deported from the US in FY13, including 44 percent who were removed shortly after they entered the US from Mexico without appearing before an immigration judge. Another 40 percent of deportations were based on old deportation orders that had not been carried out, as when an immigration judge orders a foreigner removed, and the foreigner disappears. Only 17 percent of deportations in FY13 resulted from orders by immigration judges that were carried out.

About 45 percent of those removed in FY13, almost 200,000, were convicted of US crimes. Over 72 percent of those deported were Mexicans.

The major threat to unauthorized foreigners inside the US is being swept up in enforcement actions not related directly to immigration enforcement, as when state and local police establish checkpoints that require all drivers to undergo DUI tests. Some unauthorized foreigners innocent of any offense other than unlawful presence are detected during routine state and local police traffic stops and when ICE agents search for foreigners convicted of US crimes.

Since 2008, DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency ( has made agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to help detect unauthorized foreigners. Under Secure Communities, when law enforcement agencies find suspected illegal foreigners, they hold them until ICE agents determine whether they are legally in the US.

Migrant advocates charge that Secure Communities has become a dragnet that sweeps up foreigners who have committed only the misdemeanor federal offense of illegal entry and work. An article in the November 2014 Journal of Law and Economics concluded that Secure Communities did not reduce crime rates in communities where it was implemented below those of similar communities without the program.

However, ICE says that Secure Communities contributed to the deportation of 288,000 convicted criminals between October 2008 and May 2014, including more than 113,000 foreigners convicted of major violent offenses such as murder and rape. Since convicted criminals have a recidivism rate of more than 50 percent, removing them reduces crime, according to ICE.

Jose Antonio Vargas, an unauthorized Filipino journalist in the US since 1993, admitted that he was unauthorized in a June 22, 2011 article in the New York Times Magazine. Since then, Vargas has traveled around the US advocating immigration reform. He has been intercepted several times by state and federal officials but was released each time.

USCIS. The US makes 10,000 investor visas available each year to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 and create or preserve 10 US jobs. Investors receive immigrant visas that are probationary for two years and then become regular immigrant visas if the job creation criteria are satisfied.

Some 600 so-called regional centers match US firms seeking capital with foreign investors seeking US immigrant visas. The Association to Invest in the USA wants the government to take family members out of the 10,000-a-year visa limit in order to make more visas available to investors.

About 80 percent of US investor immigrant visas went to Chinese in FY13, many of whom want an escape hatch in the event of turmoil in China. Canada in 2014 ended its immigrant investor program, which granted immigrant visas in exchange for C$800,000 interest-free loans to the Canadian government, encouraging many of the Chinese seeking investor visas to turn to the US.

The regional centers that match foreigners who have $500,000 to invest with US projects typically charge their clients $10,000 to $50,000 for their services. Some also collect management fees from the businesses in which the foreigners invest.

The US investor visa program is popular despite a finding by the DHS inspector general that the government "cannot demonstrate that the program is improving the US economy and creating jobs for US citizens." Most studies touting the program give the immigrant investors credit for all jobs attributed to a project, even if immigrant investors' money was only a small fraction of the total. Fortune in July 2014 highlighted a scam that persuaded Chinese to invest in what was to be a convention and hotel complex in Chicago that was never built.