President Donald Trump gave a broad speech today on immigration and U.S. immigration and asylum policy. Below, I review a few statements from the speech that are based on common immigration myths:
Myth #1: Immigrants cost the U.S. “billions and billions” of dollars each year.
Immigration puts much more money into U.S. public coffers via taxes than it takes out via benefits, as determined last year by a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission of leading immigration economists, across the political spectrum, convened by the National Academy of Sciences. It found that the average immigrant to the U.S., reflecting the country-and-skill composition of recent U.S. immigrants, makes a net positive fiscal contribution of $259,000 in net present value across all levels of government: federal, state, and local (see page 434 at the link).
What will cost (at least) millions of dollars is housing migrants indefinitely in the U.S. in tent cities, as the president proposed. Apprehensions and holding immigrants indefinitely is a huge cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
Myth #2: The U.S. is being “violently overrun” by immigrants.
Immigrants to the United States, whether or not they have legal authorization, commit violent crimes at much lower rates than U.S. natives do. That is why violent crime is way down in the places where unauthorized immigrants go. For example, since 1990 the population of unauthorized immigrants in New York City has roughly tripled, from about 400,000 to 1.2 million, while during the same period the number of homicides in New York City collapsed from 2,262 (in 1990) to 292 (in 2017).
Myth #3: The U.S. has the “most expansive immigration program anywhere on the planet.”
In both Canada and Australia, some of the most prosperous and secure countries in the world and in all of history, immigrants are more than 20% of the population. That is far higher than the United States, where immigrants are 14% of the population.
Myth #4: Immigrants are moving to the U.S. because it has the “hottest economy anywhere in the world.”
Violence is a massive driver of undocumented immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Data provided to us by the Department of Homeland Security showed that from 2011 to 2016, unaccompanied child migrants apprehended at the U.S. border moved from Central America due to a roughly equal mix of economic conditions and violence in their communities. The violence is significant. Every 10 additional homicides in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras caused more than six additional unaccompanied child minor apprehensions.
Myth #5: A “strong border” will cause immigrants to “turn away and they won’t bother” trying to migrate.
Enforcement alone is not an effective migration deterrent. To be effective, it must be paired with enhanced legal pathways for migration. People will move if they have to and because of dire situations in their origin communities, they will be more willing to accept the risks of apprehension. There are interrelated migration pressures that drive people to move---including violence in the home country, economic conditions at home, and demographic realities. In Central America, these factors are interacting in complex ways and are driving much of the migration we see at the U.S. border. More protection at the border isn’t a deterrent without addressing the push factors that drive migration and providing sufficient legal channels for migration.