Editorial: The broader context of immigration and accountability

Evaluating CWRU’s partnership with McKinsey & Company

McKinsey & Company helped reorganize ICE under the Obama administration, which deported a record 2.5 million people. Their proposals to save the agency money led to housing immigrants in jails and other unsafe environments. CWRU partners with McKinsey to host a consulting competition.

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McKinsey & Company helped reorganize ICE under the Obama administration, which deported a record 2.5 million people. Their proposals to save the agency money led to housing immigrants in jails and other unsafe environments. CWRU partners with McKinsey to host a consulting competition.

Editorial Board

America’s immigration history is cloudy at best. Especially for a country which purports the American dream, our history, and present, is crowed with xenophobic immigration policies, imperialist initiatives and racist internment camps. 

While some leaders do better than others in authentically advocating for just immigration policies, what most of us overlook is how immigration issues are closely integrated with other disciplines. Our actions as a nation reverberate for generations, and someone will always pay the cost of our missteps. 

Specifically, the use of private consulting firms and the reliance on systems which seek to profit off of imprisonment or detainment contribute to our manmade immigration problem. McKinsey & Company is among the consulting firms that have shaped recent immigration in the United States. They are also a company with whom Case Western Reserve University partners to host a business competition. While we should not offhandedly discredit a partner, we must demand transparency and a commitment to honor fundamental human rights. 

CWRU partners with McKinsey in order to offer business and networking opportunities to interested students of any discipline. According to Drew Poppleton, the Director of Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education, the McKinsey Undergraduate Case Competition started in 2018 to offer students “greater insight into the work of a consultant,” and the winners are subsequently invited to a networking luncheon. The competition, as well as other networking with McKinsey at CWRU, is primarily spearheaded by alumni. 

However, first, to understand where we are today with immigration, as well as with the CWRU-McKinsey partnership, we must understand that our inept immigration policies extend back decades. For this history is critical when we look at the nature of all justice issues in the U.S.

The late 20th century was inundated with American interventionism around the world, especially in Latin America and the Middle East. The CIA supported the overthrow of democratically-elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala and Chile, to name a few. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Homeland Security policies expanded to legally provide for “appearance-based” surveillance—especially targeting people who are Muslim or of Middle Eastern decent. Under the George W. Bush administration, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies were established. The latter is responsible for actively patrolling borders, while the former tends to arresting and detaining immigrants, be them documented or otherwise. 

The Obama administration, in some ways, worked to improve conditions for immigrants in the U.S. through policies such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which seeks to help people who arrived to the U.S. undocumented at a very young age. However, colloquially known as the Deporter-in-Chief, Obama also deported over 2.5 million people, the most of any American president in history. 

Thus, while Trump is not the cause of our immigration problems, he has certainly exacerbated them through xenophobic rhetoric, white nationalist tendencies and vehement cries to “build the wall.” He has tried to dismantle DACA, limit all immigration—except for Norwegians—and promote policies that strip rights from detainees and separate children from their families.

Enter McKinsey & Company, a consulting company that claims to counsel the “world’s most influential business and institutions.” While they have recently made the news for employing presidential candidate Pete Buttigeig, McKinsey has experience working for authoritarian governments around the world, from Saudi Arabia to China and Turkey. 

In 2016, McKinsey was brought in by the Obama administration to help reorganize ICE, however most of the changes were implemented under the Trump administration. The company’s involvement was largely unknown, until a release in 2018 disclosed that McKinsey had done over $20 million of consulting. They promptly stopped their engagement with ICE.

At the end of last year, a more expansive investigation was released by the New York Times (NYT) and ProPublica. In this, they detailed how McKinsey had helped promote “detention savings opportunities.” These suggestions, according to interviews with ICE workers, endangered the safety, health and well-being of detainees. In efforts to save money, McKinsey proposals resulted in housing immigrants in jails and other unsafe environments. Though McKinsey has stopped working with ICE, the NYT investigation remarked that they are now working with CBP. 

McKinsey responded to the investigation, suggesting it grossly misrepresented their work. They maintain that their proposals did not endanger any immigrants, rather their consulting work focused on ICE hiring processes and operational effectiveness. 

This distinct difference might provoke sentiments of a “he said, she said” situation. Under these particular circumstances, McKinsey’s history of other questionable consulting should be taken into consideration. 

We should not outright discredit McKinsey because of flaws—alleged or substantiated—in their record. However, as an academic institution, we should require transparency of our partners. We do need to think carefully about who, whether it be an institution or individual, we choose to partner with. While Poppleton mirrored the importance of individuals considering “whether an employer’s values align with theirs” before interviewing or accepting a job, he did not reiterate the need for the university to do the same. It is not necessary for CWRU to sever its relationship with alumni and McKinsey. Rather, we should push for accountability and transparency for anyone with whom we work. While the university was aware of the NYT/ProPublica investigation, they did not make an effort to contact McKinsey about their involvement with immigration policies. Nor did they make a significant response regarding the specific—and problematic—suggestions outlined by the investigation. Rather, they just emphasized, “We take our role as career consultants and connectors very seriously.”

McKinsey is, of course, not the only consulting group or corporation which has promoted or supported detrimental measures. To understand McKinsey’s role in modern immigration policy is to simultaneously understand how other companies, institutions or even a country—like ours—may fail to hold themselves to just and moral standards. For injustices can be perpetuated by anyone. 

As a country, we need to take responsibility for our actions and how they have reverberated to cause immigration problems today. Further, we must demand transparency of our national and local government, as well as of institutions and corporations. For the interplay of all of these organizations shapes our lives and the world around us; however, without proper accountability, it can do so negatively. As students, our role is to challenge institutions to be better and require the same standard from ourselves, including in choosing for whom we will work. In this country of “great opportunity” and the American Dream, we must be sure our individual and collective actions actually strive for these goals to be achievable.