Trump’s family separation policy at the Mexican border

Caitlin Dickerson’s article about the Trump Administration’s family separation policy appeared yesterday in the Atlantic. Here is her Twitter thread of August 7:

I’ve spent the last 18 months investigating how our government reached the point of taking children away from their parents as a way to discourage migration to the United States. Here’s my story about how and why it happened, and who is responsible.

Beyond the answers to these initial questions, I came away with a new understanding of the government processes and procedures that exist to prevent bad policies from being implemented, systems that in this case were dismantled, disempowered, or ignored. It’s easy to blame family separations on a few hawks in a chaotic administration, but they were cosigned by dozens of high-ranking political appointees and bureaucrats. Some actively supported the idea, but many simply declined to push back, figuring that somebody else would.

The implications cannot be overstated. At present time, the parents of 185 separated children still had not been found. Even those who have been reunified remain in many cases profoundly traumatized. Both parents and children are struggling with severe mental illness.

For years we’ve been told that separations were done humanely and without incident. That’s not true. Neris Gonzalez, a Salvadorian and consulate worker, recalls kids being physically pulled back and forth between the parents and agent. She worried some might get hurt.

She says the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] processing center where she worked was virtually locked down while separations were underway. No one outside the government was allowed in to see what was going on. Gonzalez can still hear the children’s ear-piercing screams. She recalls getting ready to leave the facility at the end of the day. The children hugged and climbed on her, begging her not to leave them in the detention center alone.

When I asked government officials how this could have happened many told me they had no idea how badly awry separations would go. But government records show the opposite. Everything that went wrong was documented in advance warnings. Still the administration forged ahead.

This piece is a continuation of a body of work by many reporters who helped to uncover family separations before they were publicly acknowledged, during the many months when government officials were misleading Congress and the public about what they were doing.

The new Nigerian diaspora

Nigerians have been studying and working in advanced English speaking countries since the early decades of the 20th Century. Long term or permanent migration was first to the U.K. In 2017 seven persons of Nigerian heritage were members of Parliament. More recently, migration to the U.S. grew at a faster rate than to combined U.K + Canada. Note that the graphic is of persons born in Nigeria, and does not include 2nd, 3rd generation Nigerians.

I have posted on Nigeria here, how they may be the highest educated immigrant group in the U.S.


Foreign workers share has been rising

This is old news….I am showing data from a government source (here and here). This source sets the percentage at 15% in 2006, and 18% in 2022. Over this time, foreign workers grew by 26% (about 1.6% annually versus native born workers at 5% (about 0.3% annually).


Big role of U.S. in global work and study migration

The international migrant share of the world’s population is rising, standing at 3.6 percent in 2020, up from 3.2 percent a decade earlier, and 2.6 percent in 1960. (from the Migration Policy Institute, here).

The United States has 4% of the world’s population but 17% of all workers outside their country and 16% of all students outside their country.

The United States is the world’s top migrant destination: The country accounts for 5 percent of the global population but has attracted 18 percent of all migrants. The United States has more global migrants (more than 50.6 million as of 2020) than the next four receiving countries—Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United Kingdom—combined (50.2 million).

The number of international migrant workers stood at 169 million in 2019, or nearly 5 percent of the global workforce. The U.S. is host to about 29 million of them, or 17%

Close to 6.1 million students were studying outside their country of origin in 2019, up from 4.8 million in 2015 and 2 million in 2000. In that year, 1 million or 16% were in the United States. The top five destinations for international students were the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Russian Federation. The top five sending countries of international students in 2019 were China, India, Vietnam, Germany, and France.

Immigration court decisions on asylum

Some asylum cases are disputed and end up in immigration court. Asylum cases involve persons in the United States, rather than applying for refugee status from abroad. There are over 600,000 pending asylum court cases! The number of asylum filings began to surge in about 2014, making the backlog a mockery of justice. Since 2000 until the late 2010s, there were about 20,000 cases decided on each year, and about 40% were granted. (During these years, about 60,000 positive refugee and asylum awards were made each year.) In 2019 the denial rate surged while the total number of decisions went way up. In 2022 the total volume of decisions remained relatively high while the denial rate settled back down.  Below is a recent history of grants and denials. Most but not all court cases involve legal representation. (a


Germany is losing workers

Germany’s workforce, now about, was expected to peak in 2023 and then decline by 5 million by 2030. But COVID caused it to peak in 2019, decline, and come back to 45.6 million in June 2022. A five million loss from that peak means a decline of over 10% in the space of about ten years. Germany needs 400,000 new foreign born workers a year – close to 1% of the total workforce. This agenda is in the ball park of Canada’s target to bringing in the equivalent of 1% of its total population annually.

A chart here shows that Germany has depended since the 1970s on immigrants to keep its population from shrinking.

Go here, here, here, and here.

A farm worker immigration bill?

The House is reportedly close to agreement on passing a new temporary farm worker bill. Here are some background facts, some drawn from earlier postings.

International migraiton of farm workers boomed in the 2010s in response to demand for workers. (Go here.)  The U.S. is just one of many countries importing workers.

The majority of the 1.25 million hired farm workers today are foreign born. A tiny share are naturalized citizens, 20% are green-card holders, 10% are H-2A workers, and 50% are unauthorized. (Go here and  here.) This shows that any serious attempt to increase legal farm worker immigration needs to replace unauthorized with legal workers.

H2-A farm workers are paid on average about $14 per hour. This is roughly similar to the average wage of a worker without a high school degree. in California and Washington, farm wages (all workers) were over $17. (Go here.)

The existing primary temporary farm worker visa, H-2A, was created in 1952. The H-2A workforce grew between 2010 and 2021 from 50,000 to 250,000. The leading states in which they work are California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Washington. (Go here and here.)

The last 30 years showed a sharp rise, and more gradual decline in the number of unauthorized farm workers, and a rise in the number of citizen and green card workers. (Go here.)

In 2017, half of corporate farmers reported a shortage of labor, less than 5% were using H-2A. This is due in part to employer objection so the processing and other burdens of the program. (Go here.)

Go here for an extensive amount of info about farm employment. Also go here.

One million talented immigration program


Graham Allison, professor of government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Eric Schmidt is a former CEO and executive chairman of Google, describe a strategy to import many talented technical workers.  One of their arguments I’ve posted on – the reality that our artificial intelligence workforce is heavily immigrant-based.

Here are a few passages from their article In Foreign Policy

To leverage the United States’ greatest advantage, Biden should immediately announce a commitment to recruit 1 million of the world’s most technically talented individuals by the end of his first term in January 2025. To this end, the U.S. Congress should streamline the country’s immigration rules and establish programs to recruit and retain established tech superstars and the world’s best students researching advanced technologies. And if Congress will not act, then Biden should use his ample executive authority to create a million talents program and promote the United States’ leadership in the technology of the future.


China naturalizes fewer than 100 citizens each year, while the United States naturalizes nearly 1 million people annually. Barriers to China competing in this arena include an insular culture, engrained habits of being unwelcoming to foreigners, and a difficult-to-learn language spoken by few people outside of China.


Washington should grant an additional 250,000 green cards each year. The current backlog of green cards—which entitle their holders to permanent residency and unrestricted work—is well over 1 million for high-skilled immigrants and is projected to grow to nearly 2.5 million by 2030. Right now, the U.S. government is hopelessly behind, approving two applications for every green card it actually issues.


Next, the United States should recruit more geniuses. Granting 100,000 additional visas each year to extraordinary tech talents would go a long way toward strengthening the U.S. technology workforce.


The United States can also boost retention of tech talent by granting immediate permanent residency to every foreign-born doctoral graduate in the STEM subjects. The majority of recent graduates from AI Ph.D. programs in the United States who left the country have cited the cumbersome immigration process as a critical factor in their decision to leave.


Academic studies of negative effects of immigration

In “A Compendium of Recent Academic Work Showing Negative Impacts of Immigration,” the Center for Immigration Studies summarizes 32 research articles with address some negative effect of immigration.

I see two major features of this compendium. First, the most studied issue is a negative impact on native born persons with low formal education / low skills by immigration of people suitable for the same jobs.

Second, a key issue of immigration impact is completely missing: the impact of increased immigration on social and political tension. This issue has been acknowledged even by researchers who are pro-immigration, such as Robert Putnam (here).

Low skilled native born workers lose out: “This review paper is similar in content to the National Academies’ chapters, but it takes a more international perspective. After considering over 50 studies of immigration in developed countries, the author concludes that “immigration can create winners and losers among the native-born workers.” Because low-skill immigration tends to make low-skill natives the “losers” and high-skill natives the “winners”, rising inequality is a natural consequence.” (From here.) 

Restrictions lead to more mobility: “1920s immigration restrictions benefited rural Americans who migrated into cities to replace lost labor. In contrast, farmers mechanized rather than attempting to recruit new workers.” (From here.)

Farm mechanization: Some articles on the positive effect of reduced immigration on farm mechanization, and visa-versa. CIS addressed this in its own 2007 report, here.

Impact of refugee influx: “Resettling refugees may be a humanitarian good, but the argument that refugees are somehow an economic boon to their host nations is dubious. This paper reviews the evidence that refugees struggle to integrate into the economies of high-income host nations. In the U.S. specifically, refugees perform unusually well in finding jobs. However, in line with their counterparts in other rich nations, U.S. refugees earn low wages even after 10 years of residency. (From here.)