The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Ariz., March 29, 2013.
Samantha Sais/Reuters

Data on undocumented immigrants shreds Trump’s talking points


Ask Republican voters whether the deficit got bigger or smaller during Barack Obama’s presidency, and they’ll say it grew. Ask them if the unemployment rate was lower or higher when Obama left office compared to when he started, and they’ll again point to the worse result. And ask them if illegal border crossings went up or down during Obama’s tenure, and Republicans would no doubt say the number went up.

In reality, after eight years of Obama’s presidency, the deficit shrank, the jobless rate vastly improved, and the number of undocumented immigrants fell to its lowest point in over a decade.

The number of people living in the United States without legal permission fell to 10.7 million in 2016, the lowest number in more than a decade, according to the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

The drop from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 is almost entirely attributable to a sharp drop in the number of Mexicans entering the country without legal authorization, according to Pew’s report released Tuesday.

The last time the number of people in the country illegally was that low was 2004.

The full report from the Pew Research Center is online here. It covers data through 2016, which is the most recent year for which all of the figures are available.

Given that 2016 was two years ago, some might suggest that reports like these are of limited political utility during a debate over immigration policy. I disagree.

What this evidence shows is that Donald Trump’s messaging on the issue has been largely based on fraudulent assumptions. He spent his campaign, for example, telling Americans that there’s a “crisis” of undocumented immigrants pouring into the United States thanks to Obama’s weak open-border policies. We need Trump, the Republican argued, to help turn things around.

In reality, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States dropped nearly every year of Obama’s presidency, and he left office with the total at a 12-year low. Trump’s racially charged pitch was a scam.

In fairness, I should note that the Pew Research Center’s report added a related note about immigrants who overstayed their visas: “Among unauthorized immigrants in the Center’s estimates who arrived in the previous five years, the share who are likely to be people who overstayed their visas probably grew substantially between 2007 and 2016 – to the point where they probably constituted most of the recent unauthorized immigrant arrivals in 2016.”

Whether one considers this a major problem or not is a matter of perspective, but let’s not forget that visa violations won’t be addressed by building a giant border wall.