Policing crime vs immigration?

Do you fear crime? Do you fear terrorism? Do you feel safe? It turns out that the government is much more afraid of immigrant groundskeepers and farm workers than terrorists or violent criminals:

Congress… has elected to spend more than twice as much money on the two federal law enforcement agencies charged with stopping illegal immigrants, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, as they spend on the FBI. But the FBI’s mission includes counterterrorism and counterintelligence, organized crime, and a range of other responsibilities. Obviously it is well understood that despite their fairly lavish budgets, ICE and CBP have not, in practice, succeeded in creating a situation where all unauthorized immigrants are caught, detained, and removed. That state of affairs is frequently portrayed as a kind of urgent national crisis requiring even harsher crackdowns, even more money, and all the rest.

ICE and CBP are charged with getting undocumented immigrants, not people who have committed any frauds, terrorism, violent crime or anything else. That’s the FBI’s job. In addition to investigating terrorism and violent crime, the FBI is charged with investigating white collar crime like the crimes that brought about the 2008 housing crisis and economic crash. The government prosecuted nobody related to the 2008 economic crisis not because all the investment bankers were innocent, but because almost no resources go into prosecuting white collar crime.

One of the lessons of the Trump era is that the FBI doesn’t normally prosecute white collar criminals. Numerous Trump associates like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are being charged with millions of dollars worth of white collar crimes. In their defense, they are claiming that nobody usually prosecutes the kind of white collar crimes they committed and they would have never been charged if not for the investigation into Trump’s obstruction of justice in the investigation of his collusion with Russia. This is true, and they would have gotten away with it if Trump had not produced the Mueller investigation, but should they go free despite their guilt simply because the FBI normally doesn’t investigate their kind of crimes? Or should the FBI start investigating more white collar crime?

Meanwhile, Malcolm Gladwell reports in his podcast that immigration enforcement really only began in the 1980s for the first time in American history. Before that, the US had a completely porous southern border (and northern border too, but most Americans don’t worry about the hordes of Canadians yearning to breathe free and work here in the US). The US didn’t award citizenship to undocumented immigrants, but we didn’t try to stop them from coming in any serious way. That meant that most undocumented immigrants from Latin America would come and work for a little while and then leave. When the US started making it difficult to cross the border, the immigrants were forced to stay if they wanted to work because they couldn’t come and go at will and so many more became permanent immigrants rather than temporary immigrants and the entire effort to keep them out completely backfired and created massive net immigration from Latin America for the first time in US history.

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Posted in Labor, Public Finance

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