Chaos: America’s immigration fiasco

“There’s a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-present of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fiasco, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions.” Elizabethtown -2005

  • Contradicting a common assumption that most of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States came across the US-Mexico border illegally, almost half of all undocumented immigrants in the United States came into the US legally with a visa, often on fiancée, tourist or education visas, and then overstayed their visa time limit. They became what are simply labeled “overstayers”. A 2017 study by the Center for Migration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated visa overstays in 2014 accounted for 42 percent of the total undocumented population, or about 4.5 million people. It also projected that overstays made up about two-thirds of the total number of people who became unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. that year. There’s a strong case that, until the recent upsurge in border crossings, visa overstayers accounted for a larger share of the overall total of unauthorized immigrants. Complicating matters, the government doesn’t even compile information on the millions of overstayers, leaving it to others to piece together a snapshot of who they are and where in the U.S. they live.

So much for homeland security.

  • Contrary to assumptions that asylum applications have been going up, until recently asylum applications received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were actually down, not up, for the third straight year. Approximately 92,800 affirmative asylum applications were received by (USCIS) in FY 2020, the lowest number in five years, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
  • Whether to count undocumented immigrants in the 2020 census matters. About half of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2018 resided in just three states: California (24 percent), Texas (16 percent), and New York (8 percent). If unauthorized immigrants were excluded from the apportionment count, California, Florida and Texas would each end up with one less congressional seat than they would have been awarded based on population change alone.
  • You may think that once an immigrant makes an asylum claim, action is prompt. Not so. Due to the large application volume and limited resources, both the affirmative and defensive asylum systems have extensive backlogs. As of December 2020, according to USCIS, there were 350,000 affirmative cases pending; the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) reported over 570,000 pending asylum cases. EOIR is a sub-agency of the United States Department of Justice whose chief function is to conduct removal proceedings in immigration courts and adjudicate appeals arising from the proceedings.
  • You may assume that when unaccompanied children are allowed to stay in the United States under Biden’s presidency and are placed with sponsor families, at least those families are in the country legally. Not necessarily. According to UPI, The Biden administration announced on March 12 it was terminating a policy of checking the immigration status of caregivers who come forward to sponsor unaccompanied migrant children because it discouraged caregivers from coming forward to sponsor the children. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security signed an agreement to promote “the safe and timely transfer of children” to sponsors, which the administration said was usually a parent or another close relative who crossed the border before their children.
  • Despite common assumptions that Mexicans and Central Americans are the entire illegal immigration problem. MPI has estimated that of all unauthorized immigrants during 2014-18, about 1.5 million (14 percent) were from Asia; 783,000 (7 percent) from South America; 648,000 (6 percent) from Europe, Canada, or Oceania; 406,000 (4 percent) from the Caribbean; and 230,000 (2 percent) from Africa. In one week of Dec. 2019, U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Del Rio Station in Texas apprehended 56 migrants trying to cross into the United States from African countries, including Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. During FY 2019, Del Rio Sector agents apprehended a total of 1,211 people from 19 African nations. Just a few days ago, a man was sentenced in federal court after three Chinese migrants, including a mother and her 15-year-old son, were found dead in the trunk of the man’s BMW in August 2019 after he crossed into the United States through the San Ysidro Port of Entry. On March 21, 2021, the New York Times reported that a center run by the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio had recorded about 1,325 migrants so far in March, more than three times the number in February, said Tiffany Burrow, its director of operations. About 70 percent of them are Haitians, she said, with many others coming from Africa, “from Ghana down to Angola plus the Congo.”
Litter and bedding covers the floor of the hard-top shipping cargo container used to smuggle Chinese nationals to the United States.
  • In his eagerness to roll back President Trump’s immigration policies, President Biden has exacerbated the problems at the U.S.-Mexico border, creating a massive surge of migrants and numerous economic and security risks.  

What a mess.

California Democrats are worried: Counting illegal immigrants

immigrantsWall

California could lose a seat in the House of Representatives and some Congressional districts could lose population if the millions of illegal immigrants living in the state, which has the largest number of illegal immigrants by far, aren’t counted in the 2020 census.

Oddly enough, California could improve its chances of holding onto that seat if more illegal immigrants come to the state and are counted in the census. Maybe that plays a part in California’s decision to be a Sanctuary State.

The U.S. Census Bureau attempts to count all persons in the U.S. living in residential structures, including prisons, dormitories and similar “group quarters” in the official decennial census. People counted must include citizens, legal immigrants, non-citizen long-term visitors and illegal (or undocumented) immigrants.

This approach was endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2016 in EVENWEL ET AL. v. ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS, ET AL, where the Court rejected counting just eligible voters in determining legislative districts.

Efforts in Congress to change this approach have failed to date.

Accordingly, a low number of illegal immigrants counted by the Census in one state may result in that state losing some representation in Congress while high illegal immigration into another state that is counted in the Census can enlarge that state’s representation.

A research report by Election Data Services released Dec. 26, 2017, concluded, “…California is very close to actually losing a congressional seat in 2020, the first time that state will have lost a seat in its nearly 160-year history.” It could lose the seat because “for the last several decades California’s population growth has been relatively flat when compared to other states.”

That makes it even more important to Democrats that everybody is counted. Democrats are worried that if foreign immigration into California slows under Trump, and legal and illegal immigrants don’t step up in the 2020 census, that could hold down the state’s total population count and the count in individual Congressional districts.

Oregon could gain a seat

The Election Data Services report also concluded that, based on new Census Bureau population estimates for 2017 released on Dec. 26, 2017, 12 states clearly will be affected by changes in their congressional delegation if the new numbers were used for apportionment today.

New York, West Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are projected to lose a seat in Congress using the new data.

On the other hand, Oregon is projected to gain a House seat, as well as Colorado, Florida and North Carolina. Texas will gain two seats based on the new data.

Since 1941, by law the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives has been capped at 435, so if a given state gains a House seat then another state must lose one.

 

NOTE: For more discussion on counting illegal immigrants in the U.S. Census, see Constitutionality of Excluding Aliens from the Census for Apportionment and Redistricting Purposes, Congressional Research Service Report.

 

 

 

Medicaid: the beast that’s devouring Oregon’s budget

medicaid-cartoon

An increasing number of Oregonians and their elected representatives appear to believe that affordable medical care is a right.

But fewer Oregonians seem to worry about paying for it.

Take Medicaid.

Like “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” Medicaid is gnawing away at Oregon’s budget.

Medicaid was created as a Federal-State funded program by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 as part of his “Great Society” initiative. It was originally intended to be a fairly limited government program to subsidize health care for the poor.

But like so many initially modest government programs, Medicaid has metastasized into what one commentator has called “a budget-gobbling fiscal disaster.” Medicaid is now the third largest domestic program in the federal budget after Medicare and Social Security and, as Pew Charitable Trusts noted in a recent report, Medicaid is now most states’ biggest expense after K-12 education.

Spiraling enrollment is the major reason for the cost jumps.

In the beginning, federal and state Medicaid money allowed states to provide medical care only for single parents and children on welfare. Over time the universe of people eligible for benefits grew to include two-parent families, children with speech and development impediments, people who could be cared for at home rather than in an institution, children up to age 5, 8 and then 18, individuals with mental retardation, pregnant women and so on.

Just since 2000, the number of enrollees nationally has more than doubled, going from 34.5 million to 73.5 million. And because Medicaid is an entitlement program, states have to provide required benefits to eligible enrollees, with the state paying part of the cost. In other words, as more people join the program, it costs more.

Medicaid went into effect on July 1, 1966. Just a few million people enrolled the first year and about $850 million of public money was spent on the program, partly because only 28 states implemented it immediately.

Oregon introduced Medicaid in July 1967. By the end of that year, 37 other states had also implemented their Medicaid programs. In 1982, Arizona became the last state in the nation to implement a Medicaid program.

That same year, the first hints of federal cost concerns surfaced when Congress passed legislation limiting Medicaid eligibility to the “medically needy” whose income was at most 133 1/3 percent of the AFDC income eligibility level in a state. But the program’s explosive growth continued.

By 1973, national enrollment had reached 17 million and total Medicaid spending $9.4 billion. By 2013, Medicaid enrollment was 52.3 million and spending totaled $460 billion. In 2016, Medicaid enrollment reached 72.2 million and Medicaid spending totaled $553.5 billion.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Office of the Actuary projects national enrollment will reach 77.5 million in 2024.

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, the run-up in Medicaid costs meant that Medicaid spending accounted for 28.2 percent of total state spending in fiscal 2015, the single largest component of total state expenditures, and 19.7 percent of general fund expenditures. The Association projected that in fiscal 2016, Medicaid spending will come out at 29 percent of total state spending and 20.3 percent of general fund expenditures.

Oregon’s Medicaid spending has also seen explosive budget-busting growth, posing fiscal challenges for the entire government.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) called for states to expand Medicaid to low income adults and provides federal funds to cover 100 percent of the costs of the newly eligible people from 2014 through 2016. The federal matching rate was then set to decrease over the next four years to 90 percent in 2020.

When Oregon made the well-intended but ill-conceived commitment to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, a report commissioned by the state estimated that the Medicaid expansion would cost the state $217 million in the 2017-2019 biennium, the first full two-year budget cycle in which the state would begin shouldering some of the costs. The Oregon Health Authority later revised that to $369 million, about 70 percent more.

In June of this year, the Legislature sent to Gov. Kate Brown a plan to raise $550 million in health care taxes to fund Oregon’s Medicaid program in the 2017-2019 biennium.

The Legislature even went so far as to extend Medicaid to children brought to the United States illegally. Coverage will begin in January 2018, with total enrollment of about 15,000 anticipated.

The Oregon Health Authority has calculated that the fiscal impact of this expansion will be about $36 million during the 2017-19 biennium. Under federal law, illegal immigrants can only receive Medicaid for emergency conditions, including pregnancy-related costs. To get around that, Oregon will pay 100 percent of Medicaid costs for illegal immigrants.

Some people breathed a sigh of relief at the enactment of the Medicaid package, but the solution is temporary and elected officials know it. Escalating costs are only going to get worse, partly because of the scheduled decrease in the percentage of the bill to be covered by the federal government.

Newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries were fully financed by the federal government for 2014 through 2016, but the federal share will decline until the federal government funds just 90 percent of the costs and the states pick up 10 percent starting in 2020.

That’s going to have a bad enough impact on the state budget, but what happens after that could be even worse. Oregon’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility was considered a no-brainer by supporters because of the 90 percent commitment, but government can be fickle. From a fiscal perspective, it is unrealistic to expect the federal government to continue to pay 90 percent.

Congress could change the state/federal shares at its discretion, a possibility John Kasich, Ohio’s Republican governor, raised on July 19. “…states cannot expect the federal government to continue paying 90 percent of Medicaid expansion costs given our nation’s historic debt; they must accept a gradual return to traditional cost-sharing levels,” Kasich wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

The federal government has historically provided states with Medicaid funding on a sliding scale based on their per capita income, with more affluent states getting a 50 percent match and poorer states getting up to 83 percent.

If efforts to constrain burdensome Medicaid costs are made again, you can be sure they will be met with overwrought cries of despair. There will also be new accusations like the claim by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that the House GOP’s plan to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act “…will devastate Americans’ healthcare. Families will go bankrupt. People will die.”

But not tackling the escalating costs of Medicaid will be medical malpractice.

So hold on to your hats, folks. This isn’t over.

medicaidtable

Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

Donald-Trump-Caricature

He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”