I needed a break from some complicated volunteer treasurer work so I checked out the online news sites. Perhaps I need a better definition for the word “break.”
Eventually I found myself at Fox News and clicked on a video about the cost of a single undocumented immigrant over the course of his or her lifetime: $82,181. The number came from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which advocates for reduced immigration into the United States, and consequently has an incentive to highlight the negatives.
So, let’s see how they arrived at that number.
The CIS reports – “Can a Wall Pay for Itself?: An Update” from January 8, 2019, and “The Cost of a Border Wall vs. the Cost of Illegal Immigration” from February 15, 2017 – use data from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) as published in The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration (2017).
That NAS consensus study report is full of information on immigration, both authorized and “unauthorized” – their term for what is commonly referred to as illegal immigration. One interesting fact: the unauthorized immigrant population had remained relatively constant each year between 2009 and 2015 as about the same number have moved to the United States as had left the country.
Also, most enter the country legally and overstay their visas rather than come across unprotected areas on the southern border. According to CNBC, less than 1/3 of newly identified unauthorized immigrants in fiscal year 2017 came across from Mexico without documentation.
CIS’s $82,181 per undocumented immigrant number uses the NAS data, but selectively, to come up with a financial reason for building a southern border wall. As best as I can tell, they used assumptions that exaggerated the costs and ignored beneficial data to arrive at their desired result. During the interview on Fox News, for example, CIS’s Steve Camarota provided an impossible fact.
In response to a question from the program’s host about whether there is a crisis at the southern border, he responded, “Well, maybe it’s up to your listeners. Look, half-a-million people try to sneak into the United States right now between the ports of entry. We think several hundred thousand make it every year between the ports of entry.”
Let’s evaluate that. “Several hundred thousand” of the 500,000 who attempt to cross each year make it through. Really? There were 396,579 apprehensions at the Southwest border by the U.S. Border Patrol in Fiscal 2018 and CIS’s own reports put the number of successful border crossings at 160,000 – 200,000.
Those 500,000 attempts are remarkably successful and woefully unsuccessful at the same time.
Need more proof of funny math? The lifetime cost to the U.S. of a single unauthorized immigrant per CIS is now $82,181, up a very round 10.0% from their estimate a little less than two years ago, $74,722. The problem with that: the 2017 to 2019 inflation rate is 2.82%, not 10%, so CIS overly inflated the number to help convince Fox’s viewers of the crisis. After all, in response to the question about whether there is a crisis, Mr. Camarota did say, “Well, maybe it’s up to your listeners.”
Let’s see what is stated in the NAS report.
“The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration finds that the long-term impact of immigration on the wages and employment of native-born workers overall is very small, and that any negative impacts are most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born high school dropouts. First-generation immigrants are more costly to governments than are the native-born, but the second generation are among the strongest fiscal and economic contributors in the U.S. This report concludes that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.” (https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23550/the-economic-and-fiscal-consequences-of-immigration)
So CIS took a well researched, scientific report and used fuzzy math to completely change the conclusions and put disinformation on Fox News to help President Trump manufacture a crisis.
It seems that Fox News no longer feels that it has to make any attempt to verify the information they present, as long as it supports the president’s agenda. This would have been a simple one – just look at the inflation number; that tells you it’s bogus.