A Reality Check for the Immigration Debate


Illegal immigration and the response to it have become major issues in this year’s presidential campaign.

Donald Trump has “>echoed Trump’s assertions that there is a crisis on our southern border and that, in effect, government officials are sitting idly by as alien, criminal hordes invade the homeland.

Perhaps because there is little percentage politically in appearing to be “soft” on immigration issues, the prevailing wisdom is that immigration remains uncontrolled and that it is a problem of increasing dimensions. As Trump has “>reality is that Mexican illegal immigration to the United States has taken a huge leap downwards in recent years and the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States is about a million less than it was in 2007.

Specifically with regard to immigration from Mexico (they constitute about 52% of illegal immigrants in 2012) their numbers and share of that population have declined appreciably. There were approximately 5.9 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants in 2012, compared to 6.4 million in 2009 and 6.9 million in 2007. This decline probably resulted from a decrease in arrivals from Mexico, as well as an increase in departures to Mexico, likely related to our Great Recession. Not insignificant is the fact that the Obama administration has deported about 2.4 million immigrants since 2009.

In fact, in 2012 the Pew Hispanic Center “>studies suggest that net 0 immigration from Mexico probably continues—at least through 2014, although all the relevant data is not yet in.

Over the period from 2009 to 2012, as Mexican immigration dropped, illegal immigrants from South America, Europe and Canada remained unchanged while unauthorized immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean and Central America grew slightly—so much for the efficacy of a wall on the border.

It’s not quite clear why the issue has become so much the center of attention of late since the situation isn't comparable to what it was just a few years ago;  the flow of unauthorized immigrants is much less than it was and recent studies reveal that Latino immigrants (legal or otherwise) are no different in their adaption to and adoption of American than previous immigrant groups were.

As the Wall Street Journal “>study,The Integration of Immigrants into American Society” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is cited at length by the Journal, and dispelled some of the most common myths about immigrants and how they assimilate.

The national academies found that “increased prevalence of immigrants is associated with lower crime rates—the opposite of what many Americans fear. Among men age 18-39, the foreign-born are incarcerated at a rate that is one-fourth the rate for the native-born. Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence than comparable non-immigrant neighborhoods.”

The notion of immigrants not participating in the work-force is debunked, “immigrant men have higher employment rates than the second and higher generations. This employment advantage is especially dramatic among the least educated immigrants, who are much more likely to be employed than comparably educated native born men, indicating that they are filling an important niche in our economy. For second+ generation men, the trajectories vary by ethnicity and race.”
There is evidence that language integration is happening as rapidly or faster now than it did for the earlier waves of mainly European immigrants in the 20th century.

Foreign-born immigrants have better infant, child, and adult health outcomes than the U.S.-born population in general and better outcomes than U.S.-born members of their ethnic group.

There is much yet to be fixed with regard to our immigration system—but the debate should take place grounded in reality and not hyperbolic and nasty hysteria. It isn’t any more reasonable to argue for de facto “open borders” to try and solve all the world’s problems than it is to ignore facts and vilify and besmirch millions of people who are living and working among and for us.

We run the risk of vilifying and scaring off immigrants with hysterical, unfounded accusations.

It would be well to remember what we owe to today’s immigrants. In science and technology alone it is

+