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The Source Documents Behind the News (A librarian reads the news...)

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New Immigration Policies: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

Recent actions and policies surrounding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (all housed under the Department of Homeland Security), have caused a flurry of news. This week’s policy memos are dense and make numerous references to published law, some of which is on the obscure side. So for this post I gathered not only the documents themselves but also the sources referred to in those documents.

If this is a topic that matters a lot to you, I recommend going into the source law whenever it’s referenced because many clauses there refer to other clauses in the law, building in clarifications or exceptions. I’ve included one such instance in the detailed sources below, but after initially trying to do this for all the references I realized that a blog post wasn’t the best place to do that kind of multi-level reference in every case. So I’ll just say here that every reference is more complicated than it looks at first, especially if you (like me) aren’t used to reading laws.

First, some context

Round-up of Updates (section added 3/20/2017)

Memorandum: Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement Policies

The full memo from John Kelly, DHS Secretary, dated February 20th, 2017.

Broadly, this memo ends various ICE and CBP policies that Secretary Kelly calls “catch-and-release,” and it emphasizes that, in general, deportation is the law and any exceptions must be made on a case-by-case basis rather than on the basis of “pre-determined categories.”

Here are links to the sources or programs referenced in this memo:

  • This memorandum provides guidance on implementing the Executive Order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” issued by the President on January 25, 2017. In general, the provisions in the memo were all ordered by that executive order.
  • There aren’t enough resources to deport everyone immediately, so “as the Department works to expand detention capabilities […] detention resources should be prioritized based upon potential danger and risk of flight if an individual alien is not detained, and parole determinations will be made in accordance with current regulations and guidance. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 212.5, 235.3.”
  • The memo tells the Director of ICE to enter into 287(g) agreements with all willing and qualified jurisdictions, thereby using local law enforcement to perform the functions of immigration officers. The Executive Order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” says that states not willing to enter into these agreements would lose access to most Federal grants (see paragraph 29)
  • Secretary Kelly directs the Under Secretary for Management to locate sources of funding to build a border wall, saying, “Congress has authorized the construction of physical barriers and roads at the border to prevent illegal immigration in several statutory provisions, including section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 [page 555-556], as amended, 8 U.S.C. § 1103 note.” [Once you get to Section 1103, search for the section “Improvement of Barriers at Border” down in the notes area. And as an aside, this provision was the subject of a Hearing in 2008.]
  • In the “expedited removal” section, citing Section 235(b)(l)(A)(iii)(I), the wording from the law that makes certain removal decisions “unreviewable” is: “(I) In general.-Subject to subclause (III), if the officer determines that an alien does not have a credible fear of persecution, the officer shall order the alien removed from the United States without further hearing or review.” Subclause (III) then says “(III) Review of determination.-The Attorney General shall provide by regulation and upon the alien’s request for prompt review by an immigration judge of a determination under subclause (I) that the alien does not have a credible fear of persecution. Such review shall include an opportunity for the alien to be heard and questioned by the immigration judge, either in person or by telephonic or video connection. Review shall be concluded as expeditiously as possible, to the maximum extent practicable within 24 hours, but in no case later than 7 days after the date of the determination under subclause (I).”
  • Unaccompanied alien children are defined in a different section of the law: 6 U.S.C. § 279(g)(2) [Here’s just the relevant wording]. In making policy about unaccompanied alien children, this memo makes reference to:
  • The Department will publish in the Federal Register a new Notice Designating Aliens Subject to Expedited Removal sometime soon (I’ll link to it when it is published).

You may have heard that Mexico isn’t pleased with the part of this memo that says it will deport anyone crossing the Mexico/U.S. border back to Mexico, regardless of whether the person is a Mexican national. Here’s the section of the memo that says that:  “Section 235(b)(2)(C) of the INA [here are the relevant words] authorizes the Department to return aliens arriving on land from a foreign territory contiguous to the United States, to the territory from which they arrived.” Secretary Kelly emphasizes that this applies to children as well, “subject to the requirements of section 1232, Title 8, United States Code.”

Memorandum: Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest

The full memo from John Kelly, DHS Secretary, dated February 20th, 2017.

Broadly, this memo provides similar guidance to the other memo, emphasizing that deportation is the general rule with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis, laying out near-term priorities, etc. The main difference between the memos is that the first deals directly with border locations and the second deals with the nation’s interior.

Here are links to the sources or programs referenced in this memo:


Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections. If you or someone you know would like to add to my collection of primary sources, please let me know.

Transgender people, bathrooms, and this week’s news: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

If you, like me, were expecting something more rule-like or law-like to be behind the reports of Trump rescinding Obama’s guidance on transgender bathroom use in schools, you (like me) probably went to the wrong places to find the actual documents. As it turns out, these are jointly release “dear colleague” letters sent by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to schools across the nation. Their purpose is to provide guidance interpreting Title IX, sometimes also cited as 20 U.S.C. Chapter 38.

Since the Trump administration has said that this issue is now a States Rights issue, I expect there will be state-by-state actions before long.

The DoJ has also sent a letter to the Supreme Court alerting them to this chance, since there’s a case before them right now that hinges on transgender status under Title IX. [Update 3/6/2017: The Supreme Court has sent the case back to the lower courts in light of the new guidance on transgender status under Title IX.)


Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections. If you or someone you know would like to add to my collection of primary sources, please let me know.

Presidents Running for a Second Term: The source documents behind the news

This was actually the first set of primary sources that I pulled together, but it was before I realized that I should post these things here on my blog rather than in comments on other people’s Facebook posts. Anyway, you may have forgotten all about this uproar by now, but…

In late January there was a popular tweet storm (several of which have since been deleted) that lamented the constrictions that Trump’s perpetual candidacy puts on non-profits. It made two assertions: 1) filing for re-election on inauguration day is not normal, and 2) this would restrict non-profit speech about the President, since they are prohibited from “campaigning.”

Is this normal?

No. President Trump filed a “statement of candidacy” (Form 2) for the election in 2020 on the afternoon of his inauguration day, 1/20/2017. The letter does say that he is not formally announcing candidacy as of yet, but this opens the door for election fundraising.

Previous 2-term presidents that I could find files for have waited until just over one year before the election to file Form 2: Barack Obama filed Form 2 on 4/4/2011, George W Bush filed Form 2 on 5/16/2003, Bill Clinton filed Form 2 on 4/14/1995, and Ronald Reagan filed Form 2 on 10/17/1983.

Just as an aside, I did find an 2015 FEC “statement of candidacy” for Ronal Reagan’s Ghost, so there’s that.

Would this muzzle non-profits?

Probably not. While there is a Restriction on “Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations,” tax lawyers have weighed in and said that this only restricts what non-profits can say specifically about Trump’s candidacy in 2020. Snopes (liberal bastion though it may be) quotes the opinions of tax lawyers on this topic for us.

Presidential security and travel costs: the source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

How much does it cost to have Melania and Barron Trump live in New York rather than at the White House? How much do the President’s weekend trips to Florida cost?

Sadly, this is one of those questions that cannot be fully answered using officially published information, not least because the details of the budget for protecting the President and First Family are classified (as pointed out by Politico in paragraph 7). Not only that, but there are lots of judgements to make about what costs to include in these estimates since multiple parts of multiple departments are involved in multiple ways. This is one issue where we’ll probably have to wait for next year’s budgets and reports come out before we have a very clear picture of a) what the actual costs are, and b) how they compare to previous administrations.

Currently, news sources are relying on a combination of interviews with sources in the know and estimates based on past budgets and reports. Even Congress and the Government Accountability Office rely on commissioned reports that, themselves, rely on information that doesn’t seem to be publicly available. So with all of my usual caveats for this series* plus all the above as additional caveats, here are some of the past budgets and reports that I’ve been able to dig up…


The most recent estimates of domestic presidential travel are found in an October 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office. (I believe this is the report mentioned in the recent Washington Post article estimating costs of current presidential travel.) If this report, which focuses on a single trip, offers anything like an average estimate of costs per day for presidential travel, over and above typical security costs, we’re looking at about $901,000 per day when looking at only the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense (not local police departments or other local services).

Meanwhile, local police departments also contribute to protection. Since no official numbers seem to be available for key numbers floating around on this topic, here are some that get quoted often, and where they come from. Quite a few news outlets are quoting the ballpark estimates of about $500,000 per day (provided by several anonymous sources to CBS in NYC and then quoted by other news outlets) as the local police force costs when all members of the First Family are in town for a day — it costs less President is not there with the rest of  the First Family. Politico took a different tack, using NYPD overtime costs to estimate local costs for Obama visits to New York City. They reported this at somewhere around $8000 per hour during Obama’s recent 4- and 6-hour visits to New York City (paragraph 13). They also acknowledge that this is a blunt instrument when estimating costs on this issue since it only includes overtime and not straight salaries or infrastructure.

Back to government reports, a 2012 Congressional Research report on presidential travel talks mostly about international travel costs, but it mentions one trip to Hawaii in 1990, saying that it cost the Air Force “$1 million to $1.5 million.” (I haven’t yet been able to put my hands on the full text of that report, H. Rept. 102-985 from October 1992, and without that it’s unclear how long that Hawaii trip was or whether the 2012 report is using 1990 or 2012 dollars, but here’s an inflation calculator to play with if you like.) Without further information, this isn’t a very useful number.

Another way to build context for current reports on presidential travel is to look at the Department of Homeland Security’s Budget Justification Book for FY2017, volume 3 (dealing with the Secret Service). Useful information in this 1,189-page volume includes:

  • Since the Secret Service protects presidential candidates in addition to the President, Vice President, First and Second Families, and visiting dignitaries, FY2016 was an expensive year costing $753,012,000 for protections operations and support. $100,853,000 was for the presidential campaign alone (page 7 of the section on Operations and Support).
  • They have requested $734,547,000 for FY2017 (page 1 of the section on Operations and Support).
  • Numbers of trips Obama went on per year, durations not listed (page 14 of the section on Operations and Support):

If anyone else has found more or better primary sources for this, please let me know!


* Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections. If you or someone you know would like to add to my collection of primary sources, please let me know.