Saturday, September 27, 2014

The immigration truth is out. And now it's time for DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to go.

Now we know some key facts in this summer’s immigration crisis that the government has been keeping from us.  But more than that, now we know whose side the government is on. 

This summer, when a human tidal wave of illegal immigration hit our borders, the government’s response was to wave huge numbers of them right on through.  And officials did it on the honor system, putting mothers with children on planes and buses and instructing them to report to immigration authorities when they reached the U.S. destination of their choice.

This led to what would seem to be a pretty obvious and simple question:  how many migrants got this VIP treatment?  And then later, a second, equally obvious question popped up:  How many did report to immigration authorities as they had agreed to do?

I’ve been asking those questions since I joined the staff of Tucson’s Powertalk 1210 in July.  I was not the first and certainly am not the only reporter who sought these facts and who subsequently hasn’t given up in the face of bureaucratic intransigence.  But your government—and yes, I hate to say it but there is a sarcastic smirk on my face as I type the word “your”—has been keeping this information from you.  I don’t know whether these facts have formally received an official “Top Secret” or “Above Top Secret” classification, but the results have been the same.  Across the board, federal officials at every level have stonewalled requests for this data.

Broadly speaking, there are three legitimate reasons to withhold government information from the public.  Such secrecy is warranted when its release would (a) jeopardize U.S. security; (b) harm the integrity of an ongoing criminal or civil investigation, or (c) violate an individual’s right to privacy.  There are some other nuances and ruffles, but mainly that’s it.

The information reporters and others have been seeking does not fall into any of those categories.  But all along it’s been a good bet that it falls into unwritten category (d), cases where the release of the information would tend to embarrass the political party in power or the special interests to which the party is beholden.

As I have stated on my radio program and in this blog, it’s a fairly safe bet that if the facts reporters like me have been seeking tend to put the Obama administration in a good light, there would have been no fight to get them.   Not only would the facts have been out by now, but DHS would have released them without asking.  In fact it would have trumpeted them.  I can see it now.  “See!” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson would have said, “We thought these immigrants were trustworthy, and we were right.  90% of them have reported to immigration authorities just as we thought they would!  The system is working.”

But it’s been obvious all along that this was not the case.  It was obvious for two reasons.  One, as noted DHS has kept the information secret without justification—that alone tells you all you need to know about whether it’s embarrassing to the administration or not.  And two, the illegal immigrants themselves had little motivation to report in, so it therefore followed from the start that most would not.  Any immigrant who did check in with authorities as instructed ran the risk (although recent enforcement history suggests the risk is small) of deportation.  But if they were to hide, like so many others before them have done, and succeed at it long enough, then they could join the ranks of the other 11 million undocumented migrants who’ve gotten away with it and whom no one seriously feels will ever be deported.

Further, the migrants agreed to this arrangement on the “honor” system—you know, the system under which those in authority agree to trust someone who’s shown, or who they have some reason to believe, can be trusted.  These migrants had already demonstrated the degree of their respect for U.S. law when they chose to enter illegally.  It didn’t take an Albert Einstein to figure out what would happen next. 

And when it did, DHS kept the facts from you.  But now those facts are out.  As sometimes happens in a democracy, the information leaked.  The surprise is not that 70% of the migrants who got passes to proceed into the interior blew off their promises and went into hiding.  The surprise is that 30% of them did not.

All of this was going on at a time when your government (there’s that smirk again—sorry) was assuring you that there were “no free passes” for illegal immigrants.  The number of undocumented migrants who went to ground and disappeared before, during, and after your leaders were making those statements--about 41,000-- testifies to a different reality.

DHS and the various agencies that fall beneath it haven’t simply failed to release the facts.  They’ve made a concerted effort to keep them from you.  The Associated Press report from which the 70% figure above is taken details the history:

-- “The AP reported in June that the administration would not say publicly how many immigrant families... reported back to the government after 15 days as directed.”

-- Senior U.S. officials at DHS and the White House “dodged the answer on at least seven occasions over two weeks, alternately saying they did not know the figure or didn’t have it immediately at hand.”

-- “The Homeland Security Department’s public affairs office during the same period did not answer roughly a dozen requests for the figures.”  A dozen!  From no less respected a journalism outfit than the Associated Press.

I’m guessing that my own experience, detailed on this blog and on my PowerTalk 1210 AM radio program, has been typical.  An employee at the DHS Office of Public Affairs (the same one mentioned in the AP article) told me any answers would have to come from the DHS Press Office, but refused to provide the phone number (not only does the DHS Media Contacts web page not list the phone number, it gives no hint that such an office even exists.  Nor is it listed in the phone book.)  He told me to contact the office by email, and provided the address.  I emailed.  A brief exchange resulted in a promise of a callback, which never came, and then subsequent emails from me went unanswered.  I then filed three Freedom of Information Act requests.  Six weeks later, DHS had ignored one, combined the other two into one big one, and then denied the combined big one on the grounds that it was “overly broad.”  (You can't make this stuff up). I then filed 40 narrower FOIA requests.  So far those have not yet been denied.  But the bureaucrats did, without explanation, reject my request for a waiver of fees, while at the same time reminding me they could charge up to $25 a pop.  (You don’t think DHS would try to punish me economically for having filed 40 pesky FOIA requests do you?  Naaaah, not those guys).  And then DHS not only turned down my request for expedited handling, but said it would need more time.  Its explanation:  “As your request seeks numerous documents that will necessitate a thorough and wide-ranging search, ICE will invoke a 10-day extension for your request.”

The explanation for that delay is shaky at best—and utter hogwash at worst.  Each of my 40 requests targets correspondence authored by or received by a specific individual over the span of a single month.  In the past I have had to respond to such requests myself that were much more broad in scope.  When I was a working news director, every now and then, for whatever reason, a “litigation hold” notice would come down from the corporate office directing me to identify and preserve all records on thus-and-so topic written by or received by any employee and at any time.  With electronic search capability, the task seldom took more than 45 minutes, even though one such directive netted several thousand pages of documents.

But if all this doesn’t rile you up, consider this.  DHS didn’t leak this information to just anyone.  Care to guess the nature of the forum at which this information came out?  Would it surprise you to learn that, according to the Associated Press, a DHS official let it slip during a meeting of “immigration advocates?”

Journalists, most of whom are neutral on the issues, were not allowed to have the facts.  Opponents of illegal immigration certainly couldn’t have them.  But immigration advocates could.  Well, now at least you know whose side DHS is on.  Hint:  if you favor (a) the enforcement of existing immigration laws, (b) the securing of our national borders; or (c) the free flow of news and information that allows a free and democratic people to self-govern—the side they’re on ain’t yours.

The stonewalling and selective release of information is especially galling given President Obama’s promise to lead the most transparent administration in history.  On the White House website, under a posting entitled “Transparency and Open Government,” Mr. Obama writes:  “Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.  Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”

Interestingly, that language is eerily similar to language in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.  It reads:  “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.  Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.”

That is the professional code that I and other journalists are ethically bound to uphold, which is why I and others like me have been fighting for this information.  In striving to block us and keep you in the dark despite its promises to the contrary, what code do you think President Obama, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, and their minions are upholding?

I would guess the answer is:  they’re following the age-old Political Code, which says:  “Citizens are like mushrooms.  They’re happiest when you keep’em in the dark and feed ‘em bullsh*t.”

Think I’m wrong?

Let’s add up the untruths we’ve heard so far in this one issue alone.

“No permissos.”
“This journey is a dangerous one, and at the end of it there is no free pass.”  That was DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, speaking in Nogales, Arizona, in late June.  To be fair, he was talking about unaccompanied children, but many of those were already in the process of being released to sponsors.  And then just days later, CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said this:  “There are no ‘permisos’ for those crossing the border illegally.”  Given the facts now on the table, we know those statements were false.  Further, both men had to have known it at the time.  Recall that the immigrants getting passes to go into the interior were under orders to report within 15 days.  The crisis had been underway since May.  There is no way Johnson and Kerlikowske could have failed to know how the response rate was shaping up, even as they were handing out more passes while publicly claiming there were none to be had.

“We don’t know”
See above to read the excuses the government was ladling out for why it was not providing the information to reporters and the public.  They knew.  They just didn’t want you to know.

(It’s worth noting at this point that in trying to verify the facts that had been leaked at that pro-immigration workshop, even the mighty Associated Press wasn’t able to get a DHS spokesperson on the phone.  According to the AP, the confirmation came in by email.  Follow this link to enjoy a little fun we poked at DHS on my program concerning this issue. )

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”  Those words are taken from the White House website.  In February, President Obama repeated the assertion, declaring:  “This is the most transparent administration in history.”  That’s the claim.  Here are the facts.  President Obama’s administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than any in history—including Richard Nixon’s.  He’s pursued more journalists than any president including Nixon.  The Society of Professional Journalists has criticized him for muzzling scientists.  Journalists who’ve tested his promise of openness and collaboration in the pursuit of FOIA requests have received treatment similar to mine, if not worse.  The Committee to Protect Journalists says that this “most transparent” administration actually is the most hostile to journalism at least since Nixon.

I, for one, have hard a time calling the President of the United States a liar.  There is something about those words when strung together that just sound too disrespectful to utter aloud.  So instead, I will simply invoke the motto of PowerTalk 1210 and say that I have presented you the facts, and now I invite you to think for yourself.

This I do say, however.  This summer DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and his subordinates threw open our borders and then withheld the facts from you while making public statements that were contrary to the truth.  It is time for him to step down.

Some of our callers to PowerTalk 1210 have said that journalists such as I should state their personal beliefs when covering the news, so that news consumers can know where they come from.  Here are mine.  My politics, for the most part, are slightly right of center.  I believe we are a nation of immigrants and I believe in both the value of an immigrant population and the necessity of having one.  I also believe in the rule of law.  Until such time as the American people, through the nation’s democratic processes, see fit to change the laws, they should be enforced.  So I do not support the efforts of anyone—and that most emphatically includes government agencies and officials—to subvert the law or its enforcement.  Further, as a journalist who is ethically bound to keep the public informed and to act as a watchdog over government, it galls me when public officials withhold facts from the public that the public has every right to know while at the same time making misleading statements.  Jeh Johnson’s DHS administration has done both.  Such actions run contrary to the spirit of our democracy.  In a word, they are a betrayal—a betrayal of the public trust.  They also happen to be undemocratic, and therefore unpatriotic.  It’s time for him to go—and for a successor to step in and set things right.


Regardless of where you stand on immigration, if you believe in democracy, then efforts by officials of government to keep you in the dark should concern you.  This is something we should all think about.  Toward that end, I urge you to share this blog entry with a friend or relative.  Cut and paste this url into their Facebook timeline, tweet it, or send it by email.

©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

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