Does America Actually Even Have an Immigrant Problem?

There’s no question that Donald Trump has said some disgusting things about undocumented immigrants. His campaign opened with a declaration that included denouncing Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and over the months he's repeatedly called for a border wall and demeaned hispanic-americans, all of which has rightfully drawn fire from the media. One thing he's said that hasn’t drawn as much scrutiny, however, is the assertion underlying all of his rhetoric: that America has a huge problem with illegal immigration. Is this true, though? Does America really have an immigration problem? Let’s look at the numbers to find out.

First off, are people really pouring over the border, as Trump Claims? Well, the United States Department of Homeland Security estimates that about 11.4 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States. This is a pretty large number, and since in 2014 that number was an estimated 11.1 million according to PEW research center, it’s tempting to see growth by 300,000 over two years as a rather large surge. However, in 2009 there were also 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in America, in 2011 there were 11.5 million, and in 2007 that number peaked at 12.2 million. The stats are clear: the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has barely changed since 20011, and has actually dropped by more than a half a million since 2007. We don’t have a problem with people illegally flooding over our border.

Are current undocumented immigrants causing trouble, then? While some people argue that since undocumented immigrants account for a disproportionately high number of federal sentences for violent crimes they must be more crime-prone than the average American, far too few violent crimes are handled in federal courts for this statistic to be meaningful. Let’s take murders as an example. Out of the FBI-estimated 14,196 committed in 2013, undocumented immigrants served federal prison sentences for exactly 8, a number far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions from. On the other hand, a report by the American immigration council studied several different sets of data and concluded that undocumented immigrants are actually less prone to criminal behavior on average than native-born Americans.

Furthermore, according to a study released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants currently pay about 8.0% of their total income in taxes on average. The top 1% of American earners? They pay around 5.4%. In other words, undocumented immigrants, who have substantially less access to resources or aid than the vast majority of Americans, are continuously contributing a greater proportion of their own money to the United States than the country's wealthiest citizens. Which, then, is really the detriment to America?

In short, then, I find myself searching in vain for America’s undocumented immigrant “problem.” They commit fewer crimes than most Americans, pay more taxes than some Americans, and they aren’t even coming to America at an alarming rate. Every single myth perpetuated about them is wrong, designed to create a hysteria that a political party can seize on as their crusade. All we can do in response is look for the truth, and hope that eventually, we will stop being scared of people looking for a better life and concern ourselves with the actual problems facing our country. 

With Excitement and Optimism,

Alex