Et tu, JohnO?

Friday, April 28, 2006
I don't read John O'Sullivan habitually, but I've read a goodly number of his columns and I cannot recall ever being left with the idea that Mr. Sullivan was playing fast and loose with the facts. Before I get into what will be a long post I will admit that the facts - or at least the numbers - seem oddly difficult to come by. (If any of my fellow Yargbians or our legions of readers can find better sources than I have, please point me to them.) I may be misinterpretting Mr. O'Sullivan's purpose, point, or anything else. It seems to me, however, that he's joined in doing what far too many Les artistes de la Presse Ancienne have long been doing. Well, anyway, on to looking and Mr. O'Sullivan and such facts/numbers as I can discover.

In his NY Post article, A 'CRACKDOWN' THAT WASN'T - DUBYA'S IMMIGRATION ARRESTS, (ht: commenter "falco" at Polipundit) O'Sullivan uses the Great Pallet Raid to do the initial setup for the takedown of Dubya about his immigration policies. Fine, nuttin' new there. But when I reached this:

I recently suggested - wrongly - that there had been little or no enforcement of employer sanctions since the passage of the 1986 amnesty law; that, once an illegal reached a major city such as Los Angeles, Phoenix or Chicago, he was safe from official interest and could work unmolested. That was not quite accurate. The Clinton administration in fact managed some (albeit patchy) "internal" enforcement of employer sanctions. For instance, the period 1995-1997 saw 10,000 to 18,000 worksite arrests of illegals a year. Some 1,000 employers were served notices of fines for employing them.

Under the Bush administration, however, worksite arrests fell to 159 in 2004 - with the princely total of three notices of intent to fine served on employers. Thus, worksite arrests under President Bush have fallen from Clintonian levels by something like 97 per cent - even though 9/11 occurred in the meantime.

I was stopped in my tracks. Numbers tend to do that to me, especially when they rise and/or fall dramatically (80% increase from '95 - '97 followed by a 97% freefall through '04). Why did they rise so dramatically in Clinton's second term and why did they fall off the cliff in Bush's first term? Hmmm... that struck me as perplexing and so I set off with my trusty google to try and have a look at the numbers and see if any sense could be made of them. My discovery was somewhat unsatisfying but here's where it has taken me.

First, where did those numbers come from? I don't know but
according to this DoJ report:

INS national worksite arrest statistics and removal targets reinforce what we were told in the field. INS has reported approximately 10,000 to 12,000 worksite arrests of illegal aliens annually from FY 1991 to FY 1995. INS has targeted 12,400 worksite arrests for FY 1996 and 17,200 for FY 1997. Prior to FY 1996, INS did not track removals associated with worksite enforcement. However, INS intends to modify systems to track these removals this fiscal year. INS has targeted 1,680 worksite enforcement removals for each of FY 1996 and FY 1997. If INS meets these targets, its removal rates for aliens arrested in the worksite will be 13.5 percent for FY 1996 and 9.8 percent for FY 1997.

These seem to agree closely enough with O'Sullivan's numbers. “Worksite arrests” were running around 10-12K annually entering into the Clinton administration and seem to have been growing somewhat and then reached a spike in ‘97. That’s the 18,000 year that Sullivan quotes although it says 17,200 for '97. Close enough for gummint work.

What the devil was going on over these years. Well, I found some hints in this Migration News piece.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 introduced federal sanctions on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized foreigners. However, in an effort to ensure that employers would not discriminate against minorities, IRCA made it an offense for an employer to request more documents from some newly hired workers than others, or to specify particular work-authorization documents that new hires must present. The result was confusion and a proliferation of false documents during a time of very limited enforcement.

By 1994, when the Commission on Immigration Reform examined workplace enforcement of immigration laws, document fraud had become so widespread that CIR called for a new national registry to verify new hires. Critics decried the expense and "Big Brother" aspects of a national registry, and the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act instead called for the government to test three pilot verification systems with employers who volunteered to participate. The Basic Pilot, the only one of the three that has continued, was expanded from five to 50 states by the Basic Pilot Program Extension and Expansion Act of 2003, and in Fall 2005 included 3,600 employers (the US has 8.4 million employers) and 22,000 work sites.

To participate, employers complete a Memorandum of Understanding and obtain a login name and password. In FY04, they submitted data on 757,000 new hires to the Social Security database, up from 613,000 in FY03. About 75 percent were immediately confirmed to be employment-authorized, and only 208 were found to be definitely unauthorized. Of those that triggered questions, 70 percent were quickly found to be employment-authorized, and another 10 percent were cleared after further checking.

The major verification problem involves work-authorized non-US citizens. Only half are verified to work by the automated Social Security database because its databases are not up to date. Those rejected must have their data sent to USCIS, which also does not have continuously updated databases. Most of those who persist are found to be employment-authorized. By contrast, unauthorized workers tend to quit, so employers do not resubmit their data.

The major impact of Basic Pilot is not found in submitted data. Instead, when applicants learn that their data will be submitted for verification, they do not apply or withdraw their applications.
OK, so the DOJ/INS gave employers voluntary access to a system that did a reasonable, but slow and somewhat mistake prone, job of verifying the legal work status of the people they were considering hiring. The spike of worksite arrests and employer fines in ‘97 probably “encouraged” some additional “voluntary” access to this system. The net of all this is that by ‘97 the big boys wanted no part of hiring illegals (well, they wanted no part of the fines and bad press) and were pretty much out of the jobs to illegal aliens game.

I have been unable to find, so far, any site that provides the worksite arrest numbers for ‘98 through ‘02. Except for this one lone AP report from December of ‘05 which presents numbers for ‘99 and ‘03:

A Government Accountability Office report in August found worksite arrests were down from 2,849 in 1999 to 445 in 2003. In 1999, 417 civil notices of intent to fine employers for hiring illegal workers were issued, not counting civil settlements; in 2003, there were just four.

Well, now, just hang a minute there Johnny O! The drop in worksite arrests from ‘97 to ‘99 is already on the order of 80+%! It would seem Dubya's numbers weren't in freefall from the heady Clintonian numbers of '97 but that, rather, the worksite arrest numbers were in pretty significant freefall by '99. Why did worksite arrests of illegal alien workers fall of the cliff like that?

There are a some hints. One is that the Big Boys were out of the game. INS couldn’t do 1,000-1,500 raids and net 12,000-18,000 illegals anymore. Have a look at the chart at the top of the AP report I pointed to above. Also have a look at the DoJ report I linked to - it ends with this little tidbit:

Even if the illegal alien work force in the U.S. were to remain static at 2 million and INS were to meet its removal targets, INS worksite removals would equal less then 0.1 percent of the illegal alien work force and could be expected to have a statistically insignificant effect on the remaining work force. Consequently, we believe that a large illegal immigrant work force is likely to continue to be available to sweatshop operators for the foreseeable future.

INS seems be saying, as far back as that late ‘96 report, that they felt the worksite arrests program was leading nowhere fast.

I apologize for losing track of the link but somewhere in the DoJ/INS website I noticed, but didn’t capture and cannot find again, some report (I’m nearly certain it was from the late ’90s) recommending that they switch from an “inspection” methodology (dropping in on worksites and looking for illegals) to a “leads” methodology (acting upon tips about worksites with illegals).

That would make some sense. The old fishing grounds (the Big Boys) were no longer producing and they were probably spinning their wheels trying to run around inspecting the little guys who, even when busted, weren’t paying the fines - they just go belly up, disappear, and re-emerge somewhere else a few months later and they believed it was all for naught anyway. The little employers, the “sweatshops” in INS parlance, was where the illegals were.

O'Sullivan would have us believe that it was a “dramatic relaxation in enforcement” and seems to want to pin it on the Bush administration. What seems to be more likely as an explanation is that, by ‘98 the big fishing grounds were fished out and nobody was giving the INS more boats and fishermen to go searching out new fishing grounds and they switched to a policy of sending their resources out based on calls telling them where the fishing might be hot at the moment.

But why a continuing drop and even though the “Bush Drop” was not the 97% Sullivan would have us believe, it still seems it might be rather large. After all, we were getting nearly 3,000 in ‘99 but not even 500 by ‘03. I haven’t yet found numbers for ‘00-’02, but given the drop off the cliff between ‘97 and ‘99 we might reasonably speculate that the numbers didn’t rise in ‘00 and, since the INS seems to have lost the good fishing spots and, therefore, didn’t find fishing nearly as profitable, the numbers probably fell ‘99 - ‘00 at least a little.

But what happened between ‘01 and ‘03? Sullivan seems to want us to believe that the government, under the Bush administration, stopped enforcing the immigration laws "even though 9/11 occurred in the meantime".

Maybe I'm way too duped or forgiving but it seems to me that since 9/11/01 federal resources have had some jobs to do that were arguably higher priority than tracking down insulation installers, roofers, and motel cleaning ladies. It seems pretty clear that, under the Bush administration, not enough has been done to either secure the border or to deal with the rapidly rising number of illegal aliens. I believe O'Sullivan was being disingenuous when he chose thenumber of "worksite arrests" as the tool with which to flog Dubya. It seems that worksite arrests may have fallen off the cliff long before Dubya stepped up to bat and, perhaps, there was understandable reasons for that. I have not doubt he knows full well he was disingenous.

To pretend that this immigration mess all happened on Bush’s watch and that nothing else of arguably higher priority has happened on Bush’s watch is disappointing coming from Sullivan. Hillary… Kerry… Krugman… Dowd… Ivins… that ilk one can understand.

O'Sullivan I expect more from.


Rick Ballard said...

O'Sullivan is pulling his numbers from this PDF (pg 4). One might wonder why he did not choose to focus on the total numbers for expedited removals (see pg 6) which show an increase of 80% since '97 or of total removals, which show an increase of almost 300%. It's true that the total taken at the border fluctuates but that seems to overlap the state of the economy rather than being a function of "easier" or "tougher" enforcement.

It's an agenda piece - and a pretty stupid agenda to boot. Monday is not going to be a happy day.

madawaskan said...


Well that's strange I was able to read the article in full but when I went back to grap some quotes-it is now only showing about the first paragraph and demanding registration.

But at the beginning when he claims the agents "swooped" in -like the operation was sudden-that is delusory because the operation was planned for over a year. Cripes I can't remember where I read that -an earlier post by Terrye?

Also he ends the article by saying something to the effect that everytime the unpopular bill comes up t a vote in Congress Rove will have to get on the phone in the style of Casablanca and say "round up the usual suspects.

Ya people can play with statistics so easily that I almost am wary of them.

In the article he says that illegal immigrants increased in a particular year of Bush's watch-can't remember which- by one million, but he doesn't state were he is getting that number.

madawaskan said...


I've been thinking the same thing- Monday-hang on fellas it's going to be bumpy....

Darn rick the PDF link isn't working.

Knuckle I'm going to try and find what you lost a link to....

madawaskan said...

Knuck- I think this might be the article you are referring to-

Link at DOJ

terrye said...

These people are like vultures on road kill.

Bush has increased the number of border patrol people and you know what? INS has a job to do. They do not just work when one party is in office and another one is not.

That is like saying that if fewer shop lifters were arrested when Bush was in office then it means that Bush supports shop lifters.

It could be that so many people were getting nabbed there for a couple of years that people changed their MO.

I know I am getting sick of this.

terrye said...


What has Monday got to do with it?

Knucklehead said...


I think your PDF link is screwy. I don't think comments can be edited so if you could try a repost I'd very much like to see that data.

Totals taken at the borders is a tough number to qualify. As you mention it can be sensitve to the overall economic situation. If their buddies up north are telling them there ain't no jobs at the moment they aren't likely to hire the coyote.

It also seems to me a "reactionary" sort of number. If you apprehend half at the border and the number who try to cross goes from 1 to 2 million you apprehend twice as many but miss twice as many. Plus, you can count how many you apprehend but you have to estimate how many you missed.

I found the fact that that late '96 INS report seemed to indicate that they were ready to just toss their hands in the air and scream "Uncle!" pretty telling. They did something like a 30+% increase year over year but it was a drop in the bucket and would never put a dent in the illegal numbers.

Raiding and arresting is a tough way to go about things. The Great Pallet Raid was supposedly a year in the investigation and planning, netted 1100 and some odd illegals only 250 or so of whom could be shipped out immediately, the rest had to be released, and netted a half-dozen or so guys who ran a illegal alien important ring. Drops in the ocean.

I was reading just this AM about a local law-enforcement action to round up a bunch of folks who had warrants out on them for stuff like "failure to appear" and parole violations and whatnot. Something like 28 officers in small teams left at midnight with 64 warrants, following weeks of planning and investigation, and netted a dozen people by the time they packed it up at 8:30AM. That's less than 20% success rate.

If the INS was ready to throw in the towel in '97 it might not be the right thing to do but it sure seems like the sentiment was understandable.

Madawaskan - if you can find that memo I'd be grapeful.

Knucklehead said...


What I saw was not that report. It is entirely possible it was a summary memo 'caused by that report. The report basically outlines the huge difficulties of an inspection regime when trying to deal with the "sweatshops" and bemoans the lack of an intelligence capability to generate "leads" about the sweatshops.

What I saw was a memo that was sorta requesting a switch from inspection to "leads" but I didn't think enough about it to realize it might be meaningful. I was looking for numbers and it didn't have any that seemed useful.

Rick Ballard said...

My apologies> Here is the link.

Terrye - Monday is the day the Commies chose for the illegals to conduct mass demonstrations and strikes to shut down cities.

The intent is to cause a noisy and angry backlash among Republicans in order to generate some nice quotes to be used during the election to split off Hispanics.

May 1st has always been the Commies big celebration day - it's fun to watch the brain dead working with their chosen party.

Kinda fun, anyway.

Knucklehead said...


If you jump down to the crecommendations on that report, the memo I saw was essentially requesting that stuff.

Essentially they're saying the problem is sweatshops and you can't "inspect" sweatshops unless you know where they are and, in the case of INS, have some proof they are employing illegals 'cause, after all, INS has no jurisdiction of sweatshops that don't emply illegals.

Thanks for the find. It illustrates what I was getting at.

Knucklehead said...


Gotta love MayDay! The clock radio this AM woke me up as they were interviewing some hispanic accented guy who was saying that he was asking the owner of the restaurant he worked in to please not fire him if he went to the demonstration on Monday. At least I got to wake up with a chuckle.

There are clearly some people running around who want this whole thing to escalate into something that draws blood. We'll see. I'm guessing more fizzle than sizzle. if they get a million nationwide they won't be talking about the 11 million who didn't join.

terrye said...

Oh yeah, I forgot. The big walkout. How stupid is that?

Most of these people like to keep a low profile, my guess is they wish a lot of these folks would just shut the hell up and stop pissing people off.

Speaking of pissing people off, one of the guys at powerline got an email from some fellow who was feeling all betrayed by everyone, including Bush, over the amnesty business. He said there was some Rasmussen poll which stated that 40% supported forcible deportation.

Well, for one thing, Bush never promised mass deportation, ever at any time.... and so if anyone has a right to feel betrayed I would say it was more likely to be Bush because he is being punished for not doing something he made plain from the beginning he did not intend to do.

And....if 40% support it, then I guess that means that 60% do not, and that is a majority, last time I looked. In fact AJ had a poll not long ago that said 2/3rds of the people polled supported giving some kind of legal status to workers who were working and paying taxes.

I really dislike being bullied and this nonsense of threatening to vote Democrat [when they know full well what the Democrats do not support mass deportation] just out of spite tells me everything I need to know about some of these people.

I hope they don't let the door hit them in the ass on their way out.