Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Trump is dead wrong on undocumented immigrants

Felix Cano, 48, of Colombia, holds an American flag as he recites the Pledge of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony Jan. 22 in Hialeah, Fla.
Felix Cano, 48, of Colombia, holds an American flag as he recites the Pledge of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony Jan. 22 in Hialeah, Fla. Associated Press

Donald Trump hasn’t let the facts get in the way of anything he decides to say, ever since he kicked off his presidential campaign by painting the image of hordes of illegal immigrants coming across the Mexican border. He’s kept flogging the issue all the way to the front of the Republican pack.

But a study out this month shows that Trump is flat wrong.

In truth, the number of undocumented immigrants declined every year between 2008 and 2014. That year, the undocumented population dropped below 11 million for the first time since 2004 and was 1 million less than in 2008.

In California, home to the most undocumented immigrants of any state by far, the number dropped by 11 percent from 2010 to 2014 – from more than 2.9 million to about 2.6 million, says the nonpartisan Center for Migration Studies in New York.

Immigrants from Mexico account for the vast majority of the decline. Nationally between 2010 and 2014, their numbers dropped by 9 percent, or 612,000, including 252,000 fewer in California, according to the study. As Mexico’s economy improved, many returned home.

At the same time, the number of legal immigrants from Mexico and other countries is increasing.

Between 1980 and 2014, the legal population from Mexico grew faster than the undocumented population. Over those 34 years, the number of legal residents grew by 5 million to nearly 6.1 million, while the illegal population increased by 4.5 million to 5.6 million.

“These trends should be applauded by partisans on all sides of the immigration debate,” the center’s executive director, Donald Kerwin, said in a statement.

Good luck with that. Due in part to fear-mongering by Trump and other candidates, many Americans believe that the numbers of undocumented are ever rising – a false understanding that is another obstacle to fixing our broken immigration system.

This trend happened during the recession and housing crash, when jobs dried up in construction and other industries popular with immigrants, and also as deportations increased significantly under President Barack Obama to more than 2 million. Fellow Democrats have assailed recent raids targeted at people fleeing violence in Central America.

Last year, however, Obama issued an executive order suspending deportations for as many as 4 million parents of U.S. citizens. But 26 Republican-led states sued, saying that Obama had overstepped his authority. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The undocumented decline isn’t nationwide. In 2014, the population peaked in 11 states, notably in Texas, which is second behind California with 1.7 million, up 19,000 from 2010.

The researchers also say that with the exception of Alabama and possibly Georgia, restrictive immigration laws passed by states in 2010 and 2011 had little impact. While some predicted Arizona’s laws would drive down the undocumented population by 200,000 people, the study found a more modest 20,000 drop from 2010 to 2014.

This study is the latest to suggest that what many candidates say they support – legal immigration as long as people go through the citizenship process – is actually happening more often. It makes Trump’s idea of building a wall at the Mexico border even more ludicrous.

But I’m sure that just as climate change deniers dispute clear science, Trump’s legions will ignore the facts. And our immigration system will stay broken.

By the numbers

California’s population of undocumented immigrants dropped from 2.9 million in 2010 to 2.6 million in 2014. The 2014 populations and decrease from 2010 in the home countries with the biggest declines:

  • Mexico: 1,763,000, down 252,000
  • El Salvador: 150,000, down 15,000
  • Korea: 54,000, down 15,000
  • Guatemala: 113,000, down 14,000
  • Philippines: 100,000, down 10,000
  • Vietnam: 25,000, down 3,000
  • All other: 392,000, down 10,000

Source: Center for Migration Studies