Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Real Fraud in Immigration Fraud

The Wall StreetJournal reported this week that the brave officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have arrested 21 people who are accused of committing immigration fraud. Allegedly, the individuals involved helped foreigners enter the country on a student visa by signing them up for fictitious university programs in the US. According to the Journal, the foreigners were willing participants in the scheme, and were more than happy to stay in the US for other purposes, thereby violating the terms of their visa.

This wrongdoing was uncovered after a 3 ½ year federal investigation, during which agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit established a fake university of their own to catch the perpetrators in the act. And according to the US attorney’s official statement, the defendants “fully acknowledged that none of their foreign national clients would attend any actual courses, earn actual credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study.” In other words, the defendants were deliberately and knowingly violating the law. The article further reveals that the fraud spanned multiple states, suggesting serious holes in the nation’s immigration system. Fortunately, the investigation managed to uncover these flaws and should hopefully protect the US from future incursions.

The only question remaining is, What exactly did these foreigners plan to do in the United States? What did the noble agents at ICE just spend 3 years investigating? Were the illegal immigrants plotting a terrorist attack on our country? Or maybe they were drug smugglers, trying to get product into the US? Or maybe they were part of a human trafficking network? Or maybe they just came here because they heard we had a (terrible) public education system that they inexplicably wanted their families to eventually join?

No, it turns out it was none of the above; it was something even worse. In reality, after these foreign nationals got past the checks in the US immigration system, they did the unthinkable—they got a job. And not just any job, mind you, they got a solid high-paying tech job for a respectable company. And this comes at a time when, per the article, “more U.S. tech workers report being displaced by foreign workers, and as tech companies compete for limited pool of foreign worker visas.” You got that? These foreigners were taking US jobs. And if it weren’t for the special agents in the Homeland Security Investigations squad at ICE, we might never have known that many people were coming to contribute to the US economy and have a better life.

What would we ever do without the government to protect us from these threats?

Okay, it was tough to keep that up for so long. But hopefully the overwhelming silliness of all this came through loud and clear. I honestly don’t know how the reporter of the article cited above managed to keep it together for the whole piece, but, you know, credit where it’s due.

Immigration fraud, of the kind presented above, is a quintessential victimless crime. Based on the facts cited, no one was harmed by the arrangement. The immigrants got to come to the United States and earn a much better living. Firms in the US got access to high-quality workers that they apparently struggled to find among US applicants (since they were willing to take a chance on a foreign employee that was not obviously eligible for work). And since they were employed, the US taxpayer didn’t even suffer the cost of supporting them. On the contrary, they were almost certainly net contributors of taxes, which means the average US taxpayer actually benefited in some sense.

And yet in spite of all this, it’s illegal. The immigrants uncovered in the scheme now stand to be arrested and deported. And the 21 people identified as helping arrange for their stay, are being charged with visa fraud, money laundering, and other immigration violations.
Given that ICE spent 3 ½ years on this investigation and the defendants were trying to help illegal immigrants, there seems to be little doubt that they’ll be found guilty. And given how elaborate this scheme sounds, they probably did knowingly violate the law. But it's worth asking, Why is any of this against the law in the first place? If a company wants to hire a foreign worker to work in the US, why should there be any restrictions on that? There are no welfare implications since, after all, the immigrants will be employed. And the chances are that most companies that are desperate enough to consider recruiting from other countries, are also going to pay pretty high salaries. So the question remains, Where is the national interest in preventing such arrangements? Both parties are engaged in a mutually beneficial exchange. And as an ancillary benefit, the US government gets additional tax revenues.

As mentioned above, the likely counterargument is that “they’re taking US jobs”. But this is nonsense. First of all, they are only “US” jobs in the sense that they happen to be located in the US; no American has any greater claim on these jobs than anyone else. If these really were “our” jobs, then that would have to imply that we all somehow collectively own the company offering such jobs. Fortunately, that’s not how our system works, nor how it should work.

Thus, the only way we can be honestly be upset if a foreigner takes a job in the US is if we have an arbitrary preference for American people over people of other nationalities. And that’s fine if that’s how you feel, but you need to understand that it makes exactly as much sense as a categorical preference for white people or Asian people or Jewish people or any other random classification of people. Ethically, nationalism is no better than racism; it just happens to be more acceptable in polite circles.

Yes, it’s clear no part of the voluntary immigrant work arrangement was harmful to the average US citizen. But you know what is harmful? A US agency just wasted 3 ½ years and untold financial resources on an elaborate sting operation that uncovered literally nothing of significance. And now they’re about to spend even more time and resources deporting and prosecuting the people involved, all for trying to get around onerous immigration regulations that should not even exist.

The only legitimate immigration concern should be related to security. If there is actual evidence that a would-be immigrant is trying to commit a terrorist attack against the United States, that’s a real issue. Similarly, it would be an issue if an immigrant had a highly contagious and deadly disease. But neither of those issues were at stake here. Indeed, now’s a good time to be thankful that the real terrorist threat against the United States is so negligible.* Because if there really were a lot of people trying to infiltrate the United States to commit atrocities, we should rest unassured, knowing that the government officials charged with ensuring national security are probably busy trying to get somebody fired from a tech support job instead.

*thanks primarily to the exceptional work done by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans


  1. I completely disagree with your statements. I could be one of the people displaced by an H1-B Visa. If China has a dis-proportionate number of engineers who will work for less money, I would be out of work. Also, to say that nationalism is no better than racism is an idiotic statement. I am an American first and would not be willing to emigrate from America for no reason. I still believe the US Constitution with the Bill of Rights is the best way to govern a country. I think that is why my ancestors decided to stay here when the country was founded. To immigrate to America is an honor and privilege and the sooner people like you understand what that means you will stop making idiotic statements mentioned above.

  2. I also admire the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights and lament how far we've strayed from them. But my admiration of those documents, the Founding Fathers, etc. rightly has no bearing on my opinion of other Americans relative to other people. How could it? Neither of us had anything to do with them. If we understand nationalism to mean, a preference for one country over another based on its governing system, history, economic model, etc., that's entirely reasonable and acceptable. Under that definition, I would suppose I would probably define myself as a nationalist as well.

    But that's not how I'm using the term in the article above; there I'm referring to a preference for Americans over people with a different national origin. Since the overwhelming majority of Americans are not 1st-generation immigrants, it follows that being American is not an indication of any particular virtue or worldview, it's just a product of where we were born. This is the way in which it is similar to other prejudices that people tend to be more sensitive to (racism, religious discrimination, etc.).

    Incidentally, I'm sorry to hear your job is threatened by immigration; I'm sure that is personally stressful. And if your opposition to immigration is predicated on that concern, it would be inappropriate to lump it in with nationalism. Philosophically, however, it's still very difficult to defend why you or I ought to be given preferential treatment (by blocking out foreign competition for our jobs), based solely on the fact that we were born here. I personally can't justify it. I've done nothing to earn such a benefit

    I agree with you that immigrating to the US is a great opportunity; I just wish it were afforded to more people

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