Illegal Immigration: Fact vs Fiction
Most Americans believe that undocumented immigrants are Latino, mostly Mexicans, who crossed our southwestern border under the cover of night.
According to immigration hardliners, they are considered criminals who threaten American neighborhoods, steal American jobs, and exhaust our resources while exploiting our generosity. As the president has stated repeatedly, they are people who should be, and will be, expelled.
According to immigrant rights advocates, these are families and workers, doing the work nobody else wants, keeping a low profile, staying out of trouble, here only to earn better, safer lives for themselves and their families.
Undocumented immigrants can be many of these things, and more. A group of eleven million allows for considerable range and countless contradictions.
There is no more powerful symbol of how our society associates undocumented immigration with Mexico than the border wall President Trump has proposed building. The facts however, show that an increasing number of undocumented immigrants are not Mexican; and almost one out of four are not even Hispanic.
According to the Pew Research Center, adult unauthorized immigrants tend to skew younger and slightly more male than American-born adults. On the whole, our undocumented population is a full decade younger than the native-born.
Roughly 60% of our undocumented population has been living in the United States for ten or more years. Better than 30% are homeowners and a third of them over the age of 15 lives with at least one child who is a native-born US citizen. Only a small fraction has been convicted of felonies or serious misdemeanors.
A narrative that ran throughout President Trump’s presidential campaign was that of the illegal immigrant thug; the “rapists” and “killers” from Mexico, who threaten our safety. While such figures do exist in a population of eleven million, statistics prove that they commit crime at a much lower percentage than the native-born. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that 820,000 have been convicted of a crime. About 300,000, or less than 3 percent of the eleven million undocumented, have committed felonies. The proportion of felons among the general population was an estimated 6 percent in 2010, according to a study presented by the Population Association of America.
Since 2009, asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America have attempted to cross our border in growing numbers. Most are fleeing violence and extreme poverty. A great many unaccompanied minors are young women traveling with small children. Approximately 409,000 asylum seekers were stopped at the border in 2016. According to government statistics, this represents an increase of 23 percent over the previous year. While most ask for asylum, very few are actually granted permission to stay.
While the Trump administration has stated that it will prioritize deporting serious criminals, their latest policy also takes aim at immigrants whose offenses are limited to living in the US without permission. Even minor offenses like driving without a license or using a fake Social Security number may now lead to deportation. The Social Security Administration estimated as recently as 2010, that 1.8 million undocumented immigrants were employed under a Social Security number that did not match their name.
Since 2007, an increasing number of undocumented immigrants arrived in the country legally. This group simply stayed in the US after their temporary visitors permit expired, rather than crossing our southern border, according to a report by the researchers at the Center for Migration Studies. An estimated 416,500 people who were granted business or tourist visas that expired in 2015 were still living in the US in 2016. This number does not include those who have overstayed their student visas or temporary worker permits. These figures lead one to question the efficacy of a multibillion dollar wall across our southern border.