The anti-immigrant hysteria that became a mainstay of President Trump’s agenda and the hymnal of the GOP rests on the assumption that we are awash with illegal immigrants. It’s illegal immigrants who are responsible for a crime wave. (There isn’t a wave, but stick with this for a moment.) It’s illegal immigrants, they say, who are responsible for the economic suffering in the Rust Belt. (If we just got rid of them, jobs and wages would go up!) Hillary Clinton was going to continue the Obama administration’s policy: open borders!
Well, it’s all fake. There was a dramatic downturn in illegal immigrants under President Barack Obama, who deported record number of people. As many of us argued, the economic recession reversed the flow of immigrants so on net more are now leaving for Mexico than coming from there. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute observes, “President Trump can’t take credit for the unprecedented collapse in illegal immigration since 2007 but the Great Recession, growing Mexican economy, and Mexican demographics can. ”
The Pew Research Center tells us:
There were 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015, a small but statistically significant decline from the Center’s estimate of 11.3 million for 2009, the last year of the Great Recession. The Center’s preliminary estimate of the unauthorized immigrant population in 2016 is 11.3 million, which is statistically no different from the 2009 or 2015 estimates and comes from a different data source with a smaller sample size and a larger margin of error. This more recent preliminary data for 2016 are inconclusive as to whether the total unauthorized immigrant population continued to decrease, held steady or increased.
Oops. You mean getting rid of all those illegal immigrants didn’t create job openings for unemployed factory workers in the heartland or boost wages or prevent Chicago’s crime increase in the past two years? Nope. It seems the anti-immigration crowd will need to find new scapegoats to blame and new ideas for solving our systemic economic problems.
In particular, Trump’s obsession with the Mexican border appears to be entirely misplaced:
Mexicans have long been the largest origin group among unauthorized immigrants – and the majority for at least a decade – but their numbers have been shrinking since peaking at 6.9 million, or 57% of the total, in 2007. In 2014, they numbered 5.8 million (52% of the total). In 2015, according to the Center’s new estimate, they declined to 5.6 million, or 51% of the total. And in 2016, according to the Center’s preliminary estimate, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico was the same, but their share fell to 50% of the total, marking the first time since at least 2005 that Mexicans did not account for a majority of the unauthorized immigrant population.
Why, then, do you suppose the Trump team is so fixated on illegal immigrants and the southern border? Well, immigration exclusionists have been ignoring readily available facts for some time. There is no illegal immigrant crime wave. The border is much more secure.
We’re hard-pressed to come up with any other explanation than the obvious one: As in France, fear and hatred of immigrants are a convenient excuse for voters and policymakers who cannot grapple with messy truths. Trump has no policy agenda to help the working and middle class, so he sells xenophobia. Get rid of illegals and you’ll all have $30-per-hour jobs! You can’t make a middle-class living as a manual laborer? blame the immigrants! Scared of terrorism and don’t want to think about the problem of radicalization of Westerners? Blame the refugees, the most thoroughly vetted immigrants there are.
It’s time to put an end to the nonsense, stop turning our cities and communities upside-down, alienating our ally Mexico over an unneeded wall, wasting money on building a wall and vilifying outsiders. Right-wingers should stop pushing the comforting fantasy to displaced workers that nothing they have done (e.g., not gone to college, not developed computer skills, stayed in locales with no jobs) and nothing they have to do (e.g., go back to school, develop new skills, move to where the jobs are) matter so long as all those illegal immigrants are “stealing” their jobs. That sort of fatalism is wrongheaded and ultimately does a huge disservice to those who need to catch up to the globalized economy. And now we now have plenty of evidence that the immigration scaremongering is fraudulent.