What to Know when Debating Immigration Reform

by Christopher Petrella, Ph.D.

In a political climate dominated by xenophobic and nativist stereotypes, it becomes difficult to engage in evidence-based discourse on issues of national concern. Political debate over the contours of immigration reform is one such area where false knowledge proliferates.

In order to challenge such fact-free and fear-centered immigration narratives, please consider the following studies conducted and published by non-partisan think-tanks and research centers.

1) According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 11 million people without up-to-date legal documentation live in the United States, a figure that accounts for 25.5 percentof the foreign-born U.S. population. Stated differently, immigrants with up-to-date legal documentation account for 74.5 percent of the foreign-born U.S. population.

2) Today, longtime residents (10 years or more) without up-to-date legal documentation vastly outnumber new arrivals. According to Pew Research, 65.7 percent of those without up-to-date legal documentation have lived in the United States for ten years or more. Moreover, less than 5 percent of “unauthorized immigrants” have arrived within the past five years.

3) The U.S. Border Patrol reports that though “Mexico is the leading nation of origin for U.S. unauthorized immigrants,” the share of immigrants from Mexico is steadily declining. Whereas undocumented immigrants arriving from Mexico numbered 404,365 in 2010, the same index plummeted to 192,969 by 2016.

4) Pew Research finds that “hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants entered with valid visas.” A recent student by the Center for Migration Studies estimates that “two-thirds of those who joined the unauthorized immigrant population in 2014 were visa overstayers.”

5) According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the country of Canada produced the most visa overstays in 2015.

6) Contrary to popular belief, most migrants without up-to-date legal documentation work in the service and construction industries. According to Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends division, “32 percent of unauthorized immigrants work in the service industry” alone.

7) Migrants without up-to-date legal documentation contribute billions of dollars a year to Social Security but may never benefit from retirement distributions. The Social Security administration estimates that “unauthorized immigrants…contribute roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the [Social Security] program for 2010.”

8) Despite the fact that President Donald Trump plans to “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens,” twenty-years worth of research demonstrates that “unauthorized immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than the American population at large.”