Did Obama Confuse Illegal Alien CROSSINGS With ARRESTS In Debate Claim?

Craig Bannister
By Craig Bannister | October 17, 2012 | 11:57 AM EDT

In last night’s debate, Pres. Obama repeated the claim that the number of illegal aliens entering the U.S. is at a 40 year low, apparently citing a DHS report of the number of arrests. But, saying arrests equal crimes is like saying people didn’t drink during Prohibition because the cops looked the other way.

“Number two, we do have to deal with our border. So we've put more Border Patrol on than anytime in history, and the flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years,” Obama said during last night's presidential debate.

The “40 year low” claim has been widely reported sourcing a DHS report on the number of arrests actually made – not the number of illegal border crossings.

Pres. Obama made a similar claim on June 15 of the year when he announced a plan to use “discretion” to stop prosecuting some illegal aliens and to grant them waivers to avoid deportation:

“Today, there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past 40 years.”

But, using the number of arrests as a proxy for the number of crimes committed is dubious:

  • If a football referee misses or ignores a foul and neglects to throw a flag, that doesn’t mean the player didn’t commit an infraction – just that he wasn’t caught and punished for it,
  • Arrests only equal illegal border crossings if 100% of the people illegally crossing the border are all arrested. Obviously, this is not the case.
  • Decriminalizing something may decrease the number of arrests for doing something, but that doesn’t mean fewer people are doing it.

Take the case of Prohibition. If a local law officer liked to enjoy a cold, frosty beer now and again, he’d probably look the other way regarding the other "Speakeasy" patrons doing the same. Failing to arrest drinkers doesn’t mean fewer people are drinking.

Likewise, when Prohibition was repealed, drinking became legal. Did the decline in the number of Average Joes arrested for buying a beer mean there was a drop in the number of beer drinkers? Of course not.

Besides, even the Government Accountability Office reports that the border patrol lacks actual “outcome-oriented measures” and, thus, must rely on arrest data:

“In the interim the Border Patrol is using the number of apprehensions on the southwest border as its primary performance measure, which is being reported out in the department’s annual performance report.”

And, Rand says no reliable methods of measurement even exist:

“Commonly reported border control measures, such as numbers of illegal migrants apprehended or miles of border under effective control, bear only an indirect and uncertain relationship to the border control mission, making them unreliable management tools. Fundamental to the question of border control effectiveness is the proportion of illicit border crossings that are prevented through either deterrence or apprehension. Estimating these proportions requires knowing the total flow of illicit goods or border crossings, but compelling methods for producing such estimates do not yet exist.”

So, claiming that illegal border crossing are at a 40 year low because arrests are at the low is a little dicey, especially when the federal government is fighting tough state immigration laws and eschewing prosecutions.

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