We’ve heard it from every quarter: our immigration system is “broken.” And the current border crisis seems to confirm this. But wherein does its “brokenness” lie?
No one disputes that incentives drive the “flood” of immigrants northward toward the U.S.: Specifically, such incentives comprise “push” factors (motivating the migrants to leave their former country of domicile) and “pull” factors (attractive features of the life they anticipate in the U.S.). And now almost everyone says the basic pull factor — or “magnet” — is the attraction of our government’s continuing practice of “catch and release” — though this term turns out to be imprecise, with no exact legal meaning:
There’s no hard and fast definition, but “catch and release” usually refers to U.S. immigration authorities’ practice of releasing unauthorized immigrants while they await immigration hearings, rather than keeping them in custody.
With some exceptions, only children and asylum-seekers are eligible for this kind of release. They often stay in the United States for months or years while their cases wind through the courts. Many of them do not show up for court dates and end up settling in the country without authorization. — Salvador Rizzo, President Trump’s claim that Democrats created ‘catch and release’ policies, April 4, 2018
There is no reason to deny such analysis regarding incentives. And clearly it implies that “catch and release” is a major cause of our system’s “brokenness.” But it is all the more remarkable, then, that this consensus as to one of our border problem’s major causes has led neither to any solution, nor to cessation of our government’s practice of “catch and release.” Could it be that some high-level group designed this border problem never to see a solution?
The Government’s Excuse
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For its part, the government holds a ready explanation of the reason for its continuing practice of “catch and release.” Media-gurus, political pundits, and officials in the Executive branch have been telling us — for years — that “our immigration laws need fixing!” For that law is — they say — full of “loopholes”!
Former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s standard blame-deflection went like this:
Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible, as a matter of law, to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States.
So, according to Nielsen, the immigration law itself is tying the hands of the government.
President Trump has similarly blamed our immigration laws. On April 3, 2018 he complained, “We have immigration laws that are laughed at by everybody…. We have to change our immigration laws.”
Former Atty. General Jeff Sessions intoned likewise that “as President Trump has warned, the need to fix these loopholes and weaknesses in our immigration system is critical and overdue.”
A recent version of this accusation says, more specifically, that a main “brokenness” in our immigration law is the part which deals with asylum. Media pundits, Executive Branch officials, and White House communications have all been decrying the “asylum loopholes” allegedly crippling our immigration system.
A White House “Fact Sheet” of April 29, 2019 entitled “President Donald J. Trump Is Working to Stop the Abuse of Our Asylum System and Address the Root Causes of the Border Crisis,” explained (red and italics ours):
THE ASYLUM LOOPHOLE: Migrants are flooding to our border to use asylum to gain entry into our country and remain here indefinitely.
- Our immigration system has reached a breaking point as we continue to see an overwhelming surge of migrants, with more than 100,000 arriving at our border in March alone.
- As a result of loopholes in United States immigration law, migrants claiming fear are often released into communities across the United States, where they often remain indefinitely.
- In order to remain in the country, they often fail to show up to court hearings, fail to file an asylum application, or fail to comply with removal orders once their claims have been denied.
Trump echoed the lament on May 30, 2019:
Trump said on Thursday [May 30] that he would not be closing the border as he has threatened numerous times. “The asylum procedures are ridiculous,” he added. “No place in the world has what we have in terms of ridiculous immigration laws.”
Informed Rebuttals of the “Blame Congress and the Immigration Law” Explanation
The standard, “law-loopholes are preventing good border-enforcement” account of our border crisis has its skeptics, however. And most of these skeptics are not amateurs: Rather, they are professionals (including researchers, writers, and Border Patrol agents) who have made it their job to understand our immigration system — and its malfunctions.
For example, Daniel E. Horowitz — who has been explicating the legal and administrative aspects of immigration for years — wrote in a recent post:
How much longer are we going to allow lawless acts of past administrations and lower courts to flip immigration law on its head and act as if the laws themselves are the problems? Our immigration laws aren’t broken, it’s just that carefully selected lower courts violate those laws as well as Supreme Court precedent, plus the executive branch has refused to enforce many laws that haven’t even been tampered with yet by the judges. The American people never voted for the system in place to today. In fact, the people’s representatives voted for the opposite.…
There is this dangerous perception that somehow our laws declared open borders or at least granted endless rights to avoid deportation until and unless we muster the votes to change the laws. The reality is the opposite.
In a post earlier that month, Horowitz mentioned that this is the view also of Brandon Judd, head of the Border Patrol union (NBPC):
‘Political pundits, talking heads, scholars and politicians have convinced the American public that only legislation can solve the problem. They say there are too many immigration and asylum loopholes preventing the government from deporting illegal border crossers in a timely manner. They are all wrong.’
Those were not the words of yours truly, but of Brandon Judd, the head of the Border Patrol union, in a Washington Times op-ed. He suggests we [should] actually just enforce the asylum laws [that are currently] in statute and have border agents at the front lines, not bureaucrats in other DHS agencies, take the lead on enforcement.
The talking point about the broken laws, in the media and even from the administration, have [sic] been so incessant and emphatic that most people probably think the laws require open borders unless Congress votes to change them. In fact, our laws are very clear that people who come to our border without proper documentation are all illegal aliens and must be deported. In 1996, Congress further updated those laws to preclude endless lawsuits.
Likewise, researchers and writers from the Center for Immigration Studies have rebutted much of this standard account of our border crisis.
Why It’s Untrue, that “Asylum Loopholes” in the Law Tie the Hands of the Executive Branch
The skeptics are correct — the ostensible loopholes are excuses without merit. In this section we will discuss the “asylum loophole,” which the above-cited White House Fact Sheet alleges. In a companion post, we discuss the other category of immigration-law loophole — those relating to minors and families — which the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) claims hinder the enforcement of our border.
There are at least four reasons why the narrative that “asylum loopholes have forced ‘catch and release’” does not hold water. Either of the first two demolishes the narrative all by itself. Let’s review all four, though — and make our point inescapable.
The President’s Unlimited Authority over Immigration
One thing that the media — who are helping push this false narrative — never tell the American people, is that the president has “plenary” (absolute, unrestricted) authority to exclude any and every alien he wishes — at any time. This is an authority that is subject to neither of the other branches of the federal government.
This plenary authority over immigration turns out to be both “inherent” and “delegated.” The president’s inherent authority is built into the very structure of our federal government. The president’s delegated authority over immigration is that which the immigration statutes attribute to the president explicitly.
The president’s inherent authority over immigration is a foundational, long-standing principle of U.S. constitutional jurisprudence, recognized and openly acknowledged by the courts for over 200 years. The authority stems primarily from the president’s constitutional authority over foreign relations. (Aliens are, after all, foreigners, not U.S. citizens.)
One of the clearest judicial statements of this principle is in the Supreme Court’s opinion in Knauff v. Shaughnessy (1950):
The exclusion of aliens is a fundamental act of sovereignty. The right to do so stems not alone from legislative power, but is inherent in the executive power to control the foreign affairs of the nation.
However, to make sure everyone understands the president’s plenary authority to exclude aliens, our immigration law makes it explicit:
Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. — INA, §212(f); which is at Title 8 U.S.C. §1182(f)
Therefore, all the other immigration statutes, taken together, couldn’t “tie the president’s hands” if they tried! For this one provision implies that not only those whom the law excludes are to be excluded; but also, any and all whom the president excludes.
The Low Percentage of Arriving Aliens Claiming a “Credible Fear of Persecution”
The impression one tends to get from the media is that the immigration surges of 2018–19 are, to a large extent, people seeking asylum. According to our same White House Fact Sheet, President Trump has said that “The biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders is the use of fraudulent or meritless asylum claims to gain entry into our great country.”
But based on reliable reports — including some from the DHS — no more than about 10% at any time have actually been claiming a “credible fear of persecution” — far less a percentage than that of “families” and “UACs” (Un-accompanied children) coming across the southern border. (Issues surrounding “families” and “unaccompanied children,” we discuss in our companion post.)
A DHS release of April 4, 2018 noted: “Before 2013, approximately 1% of arriving aliens claimed credible fear (asylum). Now 1 out of 10 claim credible fear.” And Carl Landrum, Deputy Chief Border Patrol Agent in the Yuma Sector (our third-hardest-hit sector, behind the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso sectors), stated in a Fox News interview on April 22, 2019 that in his area, “Only six percent of the people crossing the border are expressing a credible fear and requesting asylum.”
Daniel Horowitz finds that news disturbing: “This revelation means that our government has essentially vitiated the entire Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and has declared a de facto open border.… We are shredding every word of the INA and processing and releasing almost all of these people, even those who don’t express a credible fear, rather than immediately placing [and keeping] them in expedited deportation.”
The Extremely Low Percentage of Arriving Aliens Possibly Qualifying for Asylum
Another pivotal misconception which our media and Executive Branch have fostered is the notion that people fleeing violence or poverty in Central America are legitimate refugees. In fact, virtually none of them are. Rather, what they are is “economic refugees.” But the criterion which our law applies for refugee status (and thus asylum), is whether the alien has a “credible fear of persecution” — as that phrase is defined, very precisely, in our immigration law.
The crucial part of that definition to understand is the term “persecution”: Once you know the technical sense of that, you may understand why practically no one fleeing violence, poverty, disease, or what have you in Central America (or in Mexico) satisfies our law’s criterion for such a “credible fear.”
Here is our law’s criterion for a “refugee” — including what qualifies as “persecution,” in this context (emphasis in highlighted bold ours):
any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
That definition is in Title 8, §1101(a)(42)(A) — which section, and which definition of “refugee,” are then referred to in §1158, “Asylum.”
So, if that’s what a refugee is, what exact level of proof makes it “credible” (in this sense) that a person has a “well-founded fear” of such persecution? Title 8, §1225(b)(1)(B)(v) gives this definition (emphasis in highlighted bold ours):
[T]he term “credible fear of persecution” means that there is a significant possibility, taking into account the credibility of the statements made by the alien in support of the alien’s claim and such other facts as are known to the officer, that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum under section 1158 of this title.
What constitutes a “significant possibility” is undefined in the immigration law, and the standard has not yet been discussed in immigration case law. However, a USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) Basic Training Course for asylum officers has a helpful discussion of what constitutes that “standard of proof.” After reminding readers that the alien is “the party who bears the burden of proof,” and discussing a range of “different standards of proof [which] are relevant in the immigration context,” this training course says that the “significant possibility” standard requires the person bearing the burden of proof to “demonstrate a substantial and realistic possibility of succeeding” in establishing eligibility for asylum under section 1158. [Emphasis in original.]
Now, Central America countries — and Mexico, for that matter — are each made up of such a homogeneous mass of people, with regard to race, culture, and so forth, that these countries’ likelihood of having “persecution” for any of the above reasons is miniscule or non-existent. It is therefore (to use the USCIS training course’s terms) “a claim that has ‘no possibility of success,’ or only a ‘minimal or mere possibility of success,’ [and thus] would not meet the ‘significant possibility’ standard.”
Daniel Horowitz concurs:
This law was clearly written for a situation where a group is facing religious persecution, such as the Yazidis in Iraq. Nobody can say with a straight face that any of these people coming from the Central American triangle meet any of these five conditions [viz., persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion]. These are some of the most homogeneous countries in the world. There is no religious or ethnic persecution. And it is quite laughable to assume they are being persecuted for political opinions. Those teeming across our border are not a bunch of Madisonians railing against the lack of free markets in Honduras. — Daniel Horowitz, How Trump can protect the border without Congress
Thus, it’s clear that the legal standard of proof is being misapplied in credible-fear determinations — with disastrous results. Even Atty. General Jeff Sessions, speaking in October 2017, admitted that the credible-fear adjudication process was being “gamed”:
[T]he adjudication process is broken as well. DHS found a credible fear in 88 percent of claims adjudicated. That means an alien entering the United States illegally has an 88 percent chance to avoid expedited removal simply by claiming a fear of return.
But even more telling, half of those that pass that screening—the very people who say they came here seeking asylum—never even file an asylum application once they are in the United States. This suggests they knew their asylum claims lacked merit and that their claim of fear was simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.…
The system is being gamed. The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution. But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.…
Our asylum laws are meant to protect those who because of characteristics like their race, religion, nationality, or political opinions cannot find protection in their home countries. They were never intended to provide asylum to all those who fear generalized violence, crime, personal vendettas, or a lack of job prospects. Yet, vague, insubstantial, and subjective claims have swamped our system.…
… As one immigration judge recently told me about the credible fear process, “any adjudicatory system with a grant rate of nearly 90 percent is inherently flawed.” … We can elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews.
OK; but if they can elevate it — why haven’t they done so? According to Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, there have been “reports from whistleblowers at USCIS who say that [USCIS] asylum officers [currently the ones handling all fear-claim interviews] have been instructed by resistant career supervisors to ignore efforts by the Trump administration to return to deciding these cases according to the letter and intent of the law.”
The Necessity that Arriving Aliens Pass a “Credible Fear” Interview or Review
Yet another misconception which media and Executive Branch officials promote is the idea that any arriving alien can just claim a “credible fear,” and they will be released to await their asylum hearing. That is, the media never make clear that arriving aliens who cannot show valid documentation of legal immigration status are each put, immediately, into “Expedited Removal Proceedings” — and kept there until removal, unless that arriving alien instigates and passes a “credible fear interview,” (or an administrative review of that interview).
In short, as long as the alien is in Expedited Removal, they are held in mandatory detention. Thus, there is no question at all of some alien, having just arrived, being “caught and released” legally.
There is a lawful process which is, sometimes, informally classified as “catch and release” — but more properly called, “parole” — but one must argue that, administratively, in many cases it’s given too eagerly after a determination of “credible fear.”. But neither that legal procedure, nor any “asylum hearing,” is available legally to “arriving aliens” by their simply showing up and claiming a “credible fear” of persecution.
Rather, an “asylum officer” (who is from USCIS, as things are working currently,) conducts an “interview” regarding the alien’s credible-fear claim; and based on this interview, makes a determination regarding this claim. If that determination goes against the alien, and he or she wants to contest it, they can ask for an “administrative review” — which will be before an EOIR “immigration judge.” But all of that happens as part of what’s called “Expedited Removal Proceedings,” into which all “arriving aliens” (and some others) who have no documentation of legal immigrant status are placed automatically. (An important qualification: “Expedited Removal” is not the process which the law stipulates for “unaccompanied alien children,” or “UACs”; we discuss those in a separate, companion post.) And detention is mandatory all through those proceedings, according to the law.
In contrast, an “asylum hearing” does not happen for any such (adult) “arriving alien” unless the alien has been determined (during expedited removal) to have a “credible fear of persecution,” and been therefore removed from “expedited removal” proceedings and placed into “formal removal proceedings,” and allowed to make formal application for asylum. And only once they’ve made such application are they eligible for “parole.” And that is what so-called catch-and-release is, for “arriving aliens” — a “parole,” under Title 8 §1182(d)(5).
Legally, then, they cannot be paroled until they’ve been “determined” to have a “credible fear of persecution.” All of which implies that if they fail in that determination — and virtually all Central Americans would fail, were the determination conducted according to statute — then there’d be no question of our immigration authorities ever paroling them, legally, into our country. Ending the fraudulent determinations that these aliens have a “credible fear” would, therefore, end their “catch and release.”
Locating Our Immigration-System’s Real “Breakage”
Besides those related to asylum, there are other alleged “catch and release loopholes” which need addressing as well, such as those pertaining to “unaccompanied minors” — all of which we discuss in a companion post. Taking also those into account, we could summarize the “immigration loopholes” situation this way:
- The DHS and DOJ are applying an inexcusably and illegally low standard of legal proof, in their credible-fear determinations. And this is the only reason that the vast majority of adult arriving aliens from Mexico or Central America are allowed out of Expedited Removal — with its mandatory detention — and (then) considered for parole (one kind of “catch and release”).
- As we discuss in our companion post, the government is granting a thoroughly undeserved deference to the dubious features of Judge Gee’s 2015 ruling(s) on the FSA (Flores Settlement Agreement) — including a pivotal one that the Appeals Court overturned! And this is the only reason the government is saying that it must release minors within 20 days — and that it must release whole alien families that happen to include a minor.
Contrary to representations by the president, DHS administrators, and media, though, none of this is a matter of immigration law, or of the FSA (which has the force of law). Furthermore, even if the law did have an actual “loophole,” the president would not thereby be prevented from using his full, plenary authority to restrict — or even to shut down — immigration!
Thus, the loophole-skeptics are correct: there is no law-problem; there’s only an implementation-of-law problem, a lack-of-enforcement problem. In short, contrary to repeated claims by the Executive Branch and the media, the president has by no means required Congress to close alleged “loopholes,” in order to secure our border.
Of course, there are logistical challenges to stemming the current flood. But historically, the hope of catch-and-release has created most of the “magnet” attracting immigrants. And removing the main “pull” factor — that magnet — would have no less impact on the flow than had the mere anticipation of catch-and-release ending, which anticipation slowed immigration dramatically in the wake of Trump’s 2016 election. The logistical challenges could then be handled, as we have handled them in similar (if smaller) border crises time and time again.
Accounting for This Inversion of the Truth
The story of the immigration law’s culpability for our border crisis is so patently, undeniably false, that there is really only one way to account for its dominance in the media and Executive Branch statements: which is, orchestrated duplicity. More specifically: it is an agreed duplicity on the part of much — we’d estimate, most — of the media, and of many top administration officials, lower court federal judges — and even of many Congress-people, insofar as they remain silent in the face of this dangerous disinformation. But what could be motivating this orchestration of duplicity?
Well, if we recall that the Establishment — which controls most of the institutions spouting this story — wants open borders (as the FFS has often documented), then several plausible motives come to mind:
- Laying the blame on Congress and immigration law diverts the public’s attention from, and tends to keep them ignorant of, those places in which the system is indeed broken (namely, poor enforcement of the law) — which diversion is crucial for continuing or growing the crisis.
- Also, such misdirection has the potential — very appealing to the Establishment — of convincing the public (finally) that our immigration law needs a major overhaul — which overhaul, given Congress’s increasingly wishy-washy stance for strong borders, might well eviscerate our (heretofore basically sound) immigration law.
- Even if failing to find consensus for a major overhaul (a.k.a. “comprehensive immigration reform”), those seeking open borders may find enough consensus for one or more “amnesties” — which helps keep the crisis boiling.
- Also, this crisis offers the ever-increasing possibility (again, appealing to the Establishment) of getting the public to accept an international “resolution” of the problem — which would make permanent of course, rather than repair, our loss of control of our border — through further bilateral agreements with Mexico and/or Central American countries, for example, or even reviving the development of a North American Union, and/or through inviting U.N. “Peacekeeping” troops in — “to help.” Any of those approaches to a “solution” would seriously sabotage our national sovereignty and independence.
There is, therefore, no reason to doubt that the current border crisis is intentional — created, not by Congress, but by conspiratorial elements controlling our media and Executive Branch (with supporting roles played by a few lower-court judges). And this lie about “immigration loopholes” is the main tactic keeping the public from realizing the true cause of the problem — which is intentionally inadequate enforcement by our government’s law-enforcement branch (the Executive).
What to Do
Clearly, the only way that this non-enforcement will be remedied, is for an informed, activated electorate to apply concerted pressure on the government to remedy it. But an electorate not informed, will certainly neither be activated. So, the widespread exposure of this fraudulent “loopholes” tactic is key. That is the most obvious mission we must undertake, therefore.
Less obvious is that we must also use such educational effort to grow — as rapidly as possible — the reach and level of understanding of the Internationalist, conspiratorial intrigue that is seeking to strangle our national sovereignty, independence, and freedom. Indeed, if we neglect this latter mission, then the public’s demand for border enforcement will continue to be betrayed, as it has been for decades.
Both of these are crucially important tasks. In pursuit of the first, if this article has been found enlightening and helpful, then it is certainly worthwhile to share it with friends and acquaintances.