President Trump has made immigration a cornerstone of his presidency, pushing the limits of both political rhetoric and legality (some would say exceeding each). While the politicization of immigration is nothing new, the extent to which an American president has gone to implement an agenda is new.
Trump has on numerous occasions made inflammatory statements about the "border problem," referencing how immigrants are "flooding" the border (thus the need for an 'impenetrable' border wall). But are immigrants flooding our southern border? If we examine historical data and trends then the answer is a definitive no.
There are two dynamics occurring right now (actually, there are several, but I'm only going to address two in this post).
1. Undocumented economic migrants (typically from Mexico, but also from Central America) who come across the border without documentation to work (often having been recruited by a U.S. company), and
2. Political asylum seekers, primarily from Central America, who are seeking protection from persecution in their home country.
Most of the recent news about family separations at the border relates to the second issue—involving political asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. But this blog post is for the most part about the first issue—undocumented economic migrants, and whether they are presenting a significant threat for our country, and if so, whether that justifies building a wall (and by the way, we all know drug smugglers and human traffickers use tunnels, right?).
Here are some basic facts about undocumented economic migrants (meaning, immigrants who cross the border illegally to work):
First, as stated above, we do not have a flood of Mexicans coming across the border, in fact we've been experiencing a net loss of undocumented immigration since 2007.
According to the Pew Research Center (2015): "Mexicans made up 52% of all unauthorized immigrants in 2014, [and] their numbers have been declining in recent years. There were 5.8 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. that year, down from 6.4 million in 2009, according to the latest Pew Research Center estimates. Meanwhile, the number of unauthorized immigrants from nations [Asia and sub-Saharan Africa]...grew by 325,000 since 2009, to an estimated 5.3 million in 2014."
In other words, more undocumented immigrants are leaving than arriving.
That doesn’t mean that some border communities aren’t being impacted by undocumented immigration, but overall, the numbers are declining, which is why our agricultural sectors are struggling.
How long have undocumented Mexican immigrants lived in the US if they haven’t just arrived?
Most undocumented Mexican immigrants came to the United States about 15 to 20 years ago during what’s called the “Chicken Boom”—a time when people cut back on eating red meat and started eating more chicken.
Meat processing plants could not keep up with demand, so started recruiting south of the border. In fact, there is ample evidence that the majority of Mexican migrants had jobs before they arrived in the United States.
According to the Pew Research Center, close to 70% of undocumented Mexican immigrants have lived in the U.S. for over a decade (~13.6 years), while only 7% of undocumented Mexicans have been in the U.S. for less than five years.
So, more Mexican migrants are leaving rather than arriving, which leaves us with #2 to explore: Is it legal for migrants to cross our borders without documentation and request political asylum? Yes. Does this make them criminals? No. Is there a vetting process to ensure that they aren't "taking advantage of the system (by claiming to be victims of persecution when they aren't)? Yes. How many show up for their asylum hearings a few years down the road? According to State Department reports, nearly all of them.
You can also find this post on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MIchelle.Martin15/posts/1860156477379409
Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.