Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart

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Immigration experts on Thursday said that a chart used by two Republican senators during a hearing on migrant interactions misrepresented the number of immigrants detained at the border between the spring of 2020 and early 2021. 

The experts said that the data showed on the lawmakers’ charts exaggerated the magnitude of the surge in apprehensions after President Biden’s inauguration.

The chart used by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and later grabbed by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was used in questioning of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The graphic showed apprehensions of immigrants plummeting shortly after the Trump administration ordered quick expulsions of migrants due to the pandemic, a process known as Title 42.

And while border encounters and apprehensions did plummet at that point, DHS stopped counting Title 42 arrests and expulsions as “apprehensions,” skewing the numbers in comparison to those prior to March 2020.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, first noted the discrepancy on Twitter.

“How deceptive was the chart that @RonJohnsonWI and @SenatorRomney displayed at today’s hearing on migrant children?” wrote Reichlin-Melnick. “I mapped out the missing data to show you what the chart ‘mysteriously’ left out—a trend of rising border encounters that began months before Biden took office.”

Reichlin-Melnick’s annotated chart shows discrepancies ranging between 3,991 uncounted apprehensions in March 2020, to 17,713 in January 2021, a steady incline toward the border apprehension levels seen under the Biden administration.

Without the Border Patrol encounters charted by Reichlin-Melnick, Johnson’s chart shows a much steeper surge.

“I often say the first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one. And it just seemed like we’re an utter state of denial,” Johnson said, pointing to the chart, adding that “it’s galling quite honestly to hear that this is a crisis inherited by this administration.”

“Let’s go back to my chart here, what the Trump administration did is they ended the incentives,” he said, referencing Trump’s remain in Mexico policy, which barred immigrants from entering the U.S. to apply for asylum and Title 42.

“That’s that line right there. You can see, it worked,” he said. “Add to that the imposition of Title 42 and it really worked. We pretty well stopped a robust surge of illegal immigration at the border.”

Johnson’s chart also pinpointed Biden’s inauguration, at which point the other types of apprehensions at the border leaves are left out, and the data appears to soar.

“There’s the surge, and it is undeniable and yet you are denying it,” Johnson said.

With the March-January Title 42 encounters charted in, the surge takes on a smoother shape that still trends upward.

Mayorkas earlier in the hearing criticized the Trump administration for undercutting programs that could have helped the U.S. prepare for migration that often ticks up in the spring.

But he also criticized the Trump policies that Johnson said were an effective deterrent.

“One of the things the Trump administration did was separate children from their parents, and they ripped sons and daughters out of the hands of fathers and mothers and said they would never see each other again. That’s one of the things and maybe that worked. Maybe it didn’t. But I’ll tell you what it didn’t work for is the values and principles of this country,” Mayorkas said.

Romney also relied on Johnson’s chart during the hearing.

“I look at this chart that was prepared by Sen. Johnson, and I see an extraordinary crisis,” he said.

Neither Johnson nor Romney returned requests for comment on the corrected numbers.

Although the chart presented at the hearing was misleading, it did reflect information passed on by DHS to congressional offices.

Reichlin-Melnick produced an example of the information sent to Capitol Hill by Trump administration officials in December, which did not include the Title 42 encounters.

“So what do you get? A massive screwup with a chart which is insanely deceptive being splashed across C-Span and social media, based on a staffer’s incomplete understanding of border metrics that was used by senators who didn’t have the background of knowledge to spot the error,” wrote Reichlin-Melnick.

Still, other immigration experts were not as generous.

“When the data too closely matches what you want, you should reexamine it again. This is just a mistake that’s only possible if you already knew that obviously crossings exploded after Biden was elected,” wrote David Bier, an immigration researcher at the Cato Institute.

A spokesperson for Johnson told The Hill that his office was not made aware of changes to data calculations by DHS. 
“The office was not made aware of any changes in data calculations from DHS. We can only use what DHS provides us, and will update if any data is revised,” the spokesperson said. 
“Over the last couple of months, we have been apprehending on average almost 6,000 people per day. This is a crisis at our southern border that is a direct result of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ policies,” the spokesperson added. “They know the human depredations, the inhumanity, that their policies are creating. They are facilitating the multibillion dollar business model of the most evil people on the planet.”
Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Joe Biden Mitt Romney Ron Johnson

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