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The GOP doesn’t want you to know the true number of undocumented immigrants

There's what the GOP says about the trend in undocumented migration, and then there's the truth.
Donald Trump
Then-President Donald Trump tours a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Alamo, Texas, in 2021.Alex Brandon / AP file

Republicans (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Democrats) have given Americans the impression that we’ve been experiencing an “invasion” at our borders. But a new Pew Research Center report released Thursday not only shatters that myth but also reveals that the opposite is true. According to the report, the country’s unauthorized immigrant population peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, that is, when George W. Bush was president, and that population has been steadily decreasing since then. The Pew report found that the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States stood at 10.5 million in 2021, a 14% decrease from what it was in 2007.

The country’s unauthorized immigrant population peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, that is, when George W. Bush was president.

If those numbers shock you, then there’s a reason for it. Not a week goes by without somebody in the Republican Party promising mass deportations of unauthorized migrants. They can’t talk about the U.S. border with Mexico without falsely describing it as “open.”

Once proudly described as a nation of immigrants, the United States has become a nation of immigration enforcers thanks to Republicans making immigration a wedge issue that too many Democrats are afraid to challenge.

Republicans say that they don’t mind immigrants entering the country legally; they want to decrease the number coming in illegally. Well, that’s exactly what’s been happening.


Pew noted that at the same time the United States’ population of unauthorized immigrants dropped 14%, there was a 29% increase in what it calls the lawful immigrant population, and the number of naturalized U.S. citizens grew 49%. Of the 47 million foreign-born individuals living in the United States in 2021, the Pew report found, 23.1 million, slightly less than half, were naturalized citizens.

Those population estimates, according to Pew, “do not reflect changes that have occurred since apprehensions and expulsions of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border started increasing in March 2021.”

Despite the data showing a steady decrease in the number of unauthorized migrants living in the U.S., Republicans continue to hysterically cast unauthorized migrants as a national security issue and argue that their presence changes the very substance of who and what America is.

But as the numbers from Pew show, to the extent that the demographics in this country are changing because of people coming to the U.S., it’s being driven by people coming here through official channels, not those illegally crossing our southern border. And it should be noted that even the demographics of those in the unauthorized migrant population are misunderstood. “Almost every region in the world had a notable increase in the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. from 2007 to 2021,” the Pew report says. Behind Mexico and El Salvador, the report says, the country of origin with the next largest unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. is India.

Changing demographics are not a reason to panic, but with former President Donald Trump as their leader, Republicans have chosen panic, and they have plenty of voters who support them in their overreaction.

Despite the Republican Party pushing us toward extremism, the U.S. still has mostly favorable views about immigration.

An October American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution found that 73% of Republicans believe that “American culture and way of life” has “mostly changed for the worse” since the 1950s. Only 34% of Democrats feel the same way. This is the same survey that found a third of Republicans “believe that true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country.” Such views align with a 2021 Pew poll showing clear partisan lines between conservative Republicans (38%) who see the decrease in a white majority to be bad for the country and liberal Democrats (32%) who see it as a good thing.

Despite the Republican Party pushing us toward extremism, the U.S. still has mostly favorable views about immigration, with a recent Gallup poll finding that “68% of Americans say immigration is good for the country today.” When asked about levels of immigration, 57% either want it to remain at or above its present levels, while 41% favor a decrease in our immigration levels. Constant news of a so-called “invasion” coming almost exclusively from Republican politicians and their right-wing allies may contribute to the views of that 41%.

Even though that percentage of Americans supporting a decrease in immigration levels is the highest it’s been since 2014, the majority of Americans are far more reasonable on this issue than extremist Republican politicians.

A majority of likely voters (56%) and Latino likely voters (73%) favor the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to a new poll from Data for Progress. September battleground state polling from immigrant rights group noted that 66% of likely voters and 72% of Latino voters favor the Temporary Protected Status program, which the Biden administration extended to Venezuelans who’ve lived here since July.

This week, hundreds rallied near the White House in hopes of getting the Biden administration to expand work permits not just for eligible Venezuelans, but also for those who have been here for years. Some of those who attended the rally were unauthorized immigrants who have long lived in this country and wanted their voices heard.

Distorting statistical reality for GOP political expediency is now the standard.

Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., said at the rally, “We recognize that immigration reform has eluded Congress for 36 years.” He also said, “People want to continue to work in peace. They want to be able to go to work without fear of deportation or being apprehended. Those are the asks that we make of President Biden and this White House.”

The roughly 10.5 million undocumented people in the United States are not faceless, and there is enough political support out there to make sure they are seen as the human beings they are. Republicans might be excoriating them, which is dangerous and terrifying, especially for immigrant communities, but those same immigrants help form the fabric of American society. Distorting statistical reality for GOP political expediency is now the standard. But Thursday’s Pew report gives Democrats the opportunity to radically change the conversation.