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Where MPI's Doris Meissner Slices And Dices "Vituperative" and "Disingenuous" Attack from Mark Krikorian

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 doris meissnerEarlier this week, the Migration Policy Institute published a report, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. The headline of MPI’s press release summed up its findings, “U.S. Spends More on Immigration Enforcement than on FBI, DEA, Secret Service & All Other Federal Criminal Law Enforcement Agencies Combined.”

Of course, the anti-immigrant, border-security crowd didn’t take too well to this document, which pretty much demolished one of their key talking points (that we are not ready for immigration reform because border security–a vague goal with shifting goalposts–must come first) . Mark Krikorian, the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, took to the pages of the National Review to challenge the report’s findings. But Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute wasn’t having any of that. She penned a powerful response, posted in full:

The policy and political debates over immigration in Washington have long been contentious across the ideological spectrum, and for understandable reasons, since immigration touches on so many facets of U.S. life and policymaking.

It’s a difference in orders of magnitude, however, for an independent, non-partisan policy research organization to be accused of fraudulence and false findings – particularly on the basis of paper-thin evidence.

In a National Review Online column, Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian makes those accusations about a recent Migration Policy Institute report on immigration enforcement. At issue is how to parse, among agencies and their budgets, what constitutes immigration enforcement.

His central claim is that the report counts the entire budgets of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies assigned the missions of immigration enforcement at the borders and in the U.S. interior. He acknowledges, as noted in our own report, that the CBP and ICE budgets are not disaggregated into spending on immigration and non-immigration functions.

Setting aside Mr. Krikorian’s vituperative language, we want to answer the claim.

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. Therefore, our calculations are limited only to those agencies whose primary or dominant mission is immigration enforcement. Those are CBP and ICE, as well as US-VISIT, the principal DHS enforcement technology initiative.

As a result, the estimates in our report can be viewed to be quite conservative because significant additional immigration enforcement activities are carried out by other agencies that we did not count because their primary missions are not immigration enforcement. For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administers the E-Verify program, the Coast Guard interdicts migrants at sea and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs screens non-citizens for visa issuance.

With the birth of DHS in 2003, CBP was created to establish border security that is to be seamless and integrated across immigration and customs missions, i.e. “one face at the border.” In the post-9/11 environment, CBP is responsible both for deterring illegal immigration and preventing the entry of contraband goods and people seeking to do the country harm. The steep increases in CBP funding have been driven by border security imperatives, which have both immigration and customs dimensions embedded in them. To argue that screening of arriving passengers at airports does not represent immigration enforcement defies common sense.

Where ICE is concerned, the agency is charged with enforcing both immigration and non-immigration statutes – in fact 400, the last time we reviewed it. As a result, ICE sets priorities and devotes resources to major transnational criminal networks that implicate immigration violations, as well as others. But here again, the lion’s share of the agency’s funding is for immigration activities and the main driver for ICE budget growth has been beefed-up interior immigration enforcement efforts, particularly deportations.

In preparing our 182-page report during months of careful research, we felt it important to provide the public the full methodology and sourcing for our findings, through extensive charts, appendices and more than 700 footnotes.

Against that, we have the research rigor of Mr. Krikorian, who apparently believes that a federal agency’s mission and priorities can be divined from a brief list of its press releases.

It is also disingenuous to claim that this report was driven by election results. Having worked on it for nearly two years, we would have released it regardless of who won the election. The suggestion that this is a covert political effort doesn’t pass the laugh test.

The American public’s understanding of immigration and the need to have an honest, informed debate about how immigration policy can best serve the national interest are too important for such demagoguery.