Over the past week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has twisted the facts on illegal immigration, and the plans of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as he struggled to explain what he would do with the estimated 11 million people who are living in the U.S. illegally.
• Trump was wrong in saying that “using the existing laws, millions of people are deported every year.” The peak for removals based on deportation orders dating to 1892 was 435,498 in fiscal 2013.
• Trump wrongly said “nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants” booked into Texas jails “were responsible for more than half a million criminal offenses.” State data show 130,000 were arrested over a five-year period, and their convictions, over their lifetimes, totaled 157,000.
• Trump said that “nobody even knows” if there are 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, adding that the number could be 30 million or 5 million. But several independent estimates agree on the 11 million number, and experts say it’s impossible for the number to be as high, or as low, as Trump says.
• Trump exaggerated when he said Clinton will “close down detention centers for border crossings, meaning she will have an open southern border that will bring … crime and destruction.” Clinton has said she would replace privately run centers with government-run facilities.
• Trump claimed Clinton’s immigration plan “would functionally end enforcement of visa overstay rules — another open border decree.” But her plan does not address visa overstays. To the contrary, Clinton supported a 2013 Senate bill that included a provision to create a new system to track, locate and remove visa overstays.
• New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump supporter, falsely said that “everybody … whether you’ve been a criminal or not” would become “American citizens” under Clinton’s plan. In fact, Clinton has specifically said she would deport “violent” or “dangerous” criminals, “terrorists” and “anyone who threatens our safety.”
Trump came under criticism even from some of his supporters when he appeared to soften his position on deporting all 11 million or so people who are estimated to be living in the U.S. illegally. Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Aug. 24 (at about the 3:40 mark) that “everyone agrees that we get the bad ones out,” but then he left open the possibility that some who have been living in the U.S. for years without incident would get to stay.
“They’ll pay back taxes, they have to pay taxes. There’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them,” Trump told Hannity, contrary to his earlier position that he would have a “deportation force” to remove all 11 million people. Trump may clear up the confusion in a speech he said he will deliver Aug. 31.
As he dealt with the deportation issue in recent days, Trump gave several speeches and interviews that touched on the topic of immigration. We review some of his claims here.
Wrong on Deportations
Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an Aug. 25 interview that “using the existing laws, millions of people are deported every year.” That’s false, and not even close.
DHS defines a “removal” as “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.” The peak for removals processed by the Customs and Border Protection andImmigration and Customs Enforcement agencies, going back to 1892, was 435,498 in fiscal 2013.
Trump may have been thinking of a time when the total number of “removals” and “returns,” together, approached 2 million. That was more than a decade ago, though.
DHS defines a “return” as “the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.” In other words, a return occurs when an apprehended immigrant leaves the U.S. voluntarily before being ordered to do so through a formal removal proceeding.
The peak for returns was nearly 1.7 million in fiscal 2000, and there were an additional 188,467 removals that year.
But the last time DHS reported more than even 1 million combined removals and returns was fiscal 2008. And DHS conducted a total of just 462,463 removals and returns in fiscal 2015.
Overstating Crime by Illegal Immigrants
At a campaign rally in Austin, Trump took a page out of former Texas governor Rick Perry’s playbook and misrepresented Texas crime data on immigrants. Trump claimedthe numbers pertained to “illegal immigrants,” but they actually pertain to all immigrants, both legal and illegal.
Trump, Aug. 23: "According to the Texas government, nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants were booked into Texas jails between 2011 and 2016. Collectively, those arrested were responsible for more than half a million criminal offenses, including 1,055 homicides, 5,516 sexual assault charges and more than 50,000 charges of either burglary or theft. Not going to happen folks. We’re not going to let it happen to our country. It’s enough."
Trump is citing, incorrectly, figures from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has a webpage on “Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data.” Just as Perry did when he cited such data in 2014, Trump says the statistics are about illegal immigrants. But a “criminal alien,” in the Texas DPS’ wording, is any immigrant who was charged with a crime — and the webpage, which contains all of the numbers Trump used, makes that clear.
Also, the “more than half a million criminal offenses” Trump cites are charges, not convictions, over those immigrants’ lifetimes.
Trump exaggerates when he says that “nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants were booked into Texas jails between 2011 and 2016.” Most, but not all, of the immigrants arrested over those years were identified as being illegally in the country. As the Texas DPS webpage says: “Of the total criminal aliens arrested in that timeframe, over 130,000 or 66% were identified by [the federal Department of Homeland Security] status as being in the US illegally at the time of their last arrest.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety compiled this data through fingerprint submissions to DHS under its “Priority Enforcement Program.” Under PEP, local and state law enforcement submit fingerprints, which are screened by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. DHS says the goal is to “take custody of individuals who pose a danger to public safety before those individuals are released into our communities.”
Trump goes on to say that the immigrants arrested between 2011 and 2016 “were responsible for more than half a million criminal offenses,” including homicides and sexual assaults — but these are arrests, not convictions. Also, the Texas DPS notes these arrests occurred “[d]uring their criminal careers.” So the number of offenses goes beyond the 2011-2016 time frame.
The DPS doesn’t give a breakdown for the number of those charges for illegal and legal immigrants, and DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told us that information wasn’t readily available and would require a public information request. We have submitted that request and will update this article if we obtain those numbers.
This means the numbers that Trump gives for homicide, sexual assault and burglary/theft charges don’t all pertain to immigrants living in the country illegally, as he claims.
These charges or arrests of immigrants are more than double the number of convictions. The Texas DPS webpage says that while there have been 526,000 arrests, over the “criminal careers” of these individuals, there have been “over 236,000 convictions” resulting from those charges. DPS does have a breakdown for how many convictions pertain to immigrants in the country illegally: 157,000.
So, the 130,000 individuals arrested between 2011 and 2016 in Texas — who were identified by fingerprints by the Department of Homeland Security as being illegally present in the country — were convicted of 157,000 crimes over their lifetimes in Texas.
We also have requested a breakdown on the types of convictions for illegal and legal immigrants. The Texas DPS notes: “Texas arrestees who have not had interaction with the DHS which resulted in the collection of fingerprints are not included as their identity cannot be biometrically verified by DHS.” So there may be more immigrants, of varying legal status, who were arrested in Texas but not included in these figures.How Many Are Here Illegally?
Trump told Cooper that there could be as many as 30 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. But immigration experts say that it is impossible for the number to be that high.
Trump: "You know it’s a process. You can’t take 11 million at one time and just say boom, you’re gone. We have to find where these people are. Most people don’t even know — nobody even knows if it’s 11 [million]. It could be 30 [million] and it could be 5 [million]. Nobody knows what the number is."
There were 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2012, according to the most recent estimate from the Department of Homeland Security. DHS says that “most unauthorized residents either entered the United States without inspection or were admitted temporarily and stayed past the date they were required to leave.”
However, the old federal number is in line with more recent estimates from independent immigration groups.
The Center for Migration Studies, a think tank that studies international migration, estimated that the illegal population was about 10.9 million as of 2014. Similarly, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, based on preliminary figures, estimated that there were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. that year.
Both CMS and Pew, as well as the federal government, estimated the size of the unauthorized population by subtracting the number of legal immigrants in the U.S from the total foreign-born population in the U.S., and then adding the estimated number of foreign-born individuals missed by the Census Bureau’s population survey.
“Several nongovernmental organizations and the federal government, each using their own methodologies to estimate the unauthorized population in the United States and taking into account the fact that there is an undercount of unauthorized immigrants inU.S. Census Bureau data, have developed very similar numbers,” wrote Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications and public affairs at the Migration Policy Institute, in an email to FactCheck.org.
“So, we believe that these estimates are largely accurate, even as there are differences of up to a few hundred thousand people among these estimates,” Mittelstadt said.
Therefore, immigration experts said, it’s not possible that there could be as many as 30 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., as Trump suggested.
In an email, Passel told us that the number of unauthorized immigrants could be “a million or so higher” than 11 million. But, he said, it is “virtually impossible” for that population to be as low as 5 million and “simply no way” that it could be as high as 30 million.
Passel, Aug. 30: "Based on data collected in our surveys, US government surveys and many others, it is virtually impossible for there to be as few as 5 million unauthorized immigrants in the country.
"On the high side, there could be more than 11 million, but it’s extremely unlikely that the number could be more than a million or so higher. We base this assessment on a number of factors including: the number of housing units in the country (there’s simply no place for an additional 20 million folks to live); the population of Mexico and Central America (based on their own censuses and surveys, there could not be another 5+ million people missing); and data on visa admissions & departures (virtually all who arrive are known to depart). There’s simply no way for an additional 20 million people (30 million less the 11 estimated) to be in the country and have escaped detection."
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors fewer legal immigration admissions to the U.S., estimated the population of illegal immigrants to be 11.5 million in 2015 and 11.7 million in 2016. That’s in the range of 10 million to 12 million that “most people believe,” Camarota said in an interview.
“There is not good evidence” that the number is a lot higher, he said.
Robert Warren, a senior visiting fellow with the Center for Migration Studies, agrees. In a report explaining the methodology behind the estimate of 11 million unauthorized immigrants, Warren, also a former director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s statistics division, said that “claims of much higher numbers are not credible.”
“Although the estimate of 11 million unauthorized residents has a range of uncertainty (possibly plus or minus one million), the estimate is firmly supported by the available evidence,” Warren wrote. “It is unlikely that the current population is larger than 11 or 12 million; nearly inconceivable that it is 15 to 20 million; and ludicrous to claim that it could be as high as 30 million.”
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