Why Voters Care About Immigration and the Disaster at the Border

They adversely affect so many other major concerns

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 17, 2022

Reviewing polls released in the run-up to next month’s congressional midterm elections on October 5, I explained that “Immigration’s a Key Issue for Voters and a Big Liability for Biden”. That’s the “what”, but it begs the question of “why” voters care about an issue that seemingly has few impacts on most of the electorate. The answer: Illegal immigration and the disaster at the Southwest border adversely affect many other of their core concerns, from crime to the economy, and from public health to education.

Crime. Crime weighs heavily on the minds of voters, and for good reason. On September 12, the New York Post reported: “Major crimes such as robberies and aggravated assaults rose in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period last year, with 236,962 incidents reported versus 226,967”. Between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate in the United States rose 30 percent, which according to the Pew Research Center (PRC) was “the largest single-year increase in more than a century”.

It's not just major crimes. A February report by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) — which runs public transit in and around the Nation’s Capital — reported that the “fare evasion rate” on its buses is running at 34 percent. WMATA claims that just 2 percent of the passengers on its Metro trains don’t pay, but on my last four rides, all in recent weeks, I saw at least one “turnstile jumper” every trip.

Americans know where to point the finger.

“Soft on crime” stances by liberal prosecutors have stirred a backlash, even in the bluest of cities. Baltimore City DA Marilyn Mosby, who experimented with “progressive prosecution” in that crime-wracked city, lost her reelection primary in July. San Francisco’s DA, Chesa Boudin, refused to prosecute drug dealers to protect aliens from removal, even as the city’s overdose rate spiked; he was recalled in June.

Then there is the “defund the police” movement, which gained traction after the killing of George Floyd during an arrest in May 2020. As ABC News explained, advocates for the plan argued that “reallocating funds from police departments to community policing and organizations like public health centers and schools would serve as investments in underserved communities and could address systemic racism”.

Voters didn’t like the results. According to February polling, 49 percent of respondents said that “the defunding of police departments” was a “major reason” for the rise in violent crime, while 26 percent described it as a “minor reason” — 75 percent in total. By the way, those WMATA fare evaders may have been encouraged by D.C.’s decriminalization of the offense in 2018.

The president has had to run from the cause, declaring in August, “When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not ‘defund the police.’ It’s ‘fund the police.’” Oh, and WMATA promises to start issuing $50 tickets to turnstile jumpers — in November.

The damage to Democrats has likely already been done. One September poll shows that 47 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of crime, compared to just 35 percent who approve.

Despite the president’s contentions that America’s cities need more law enforcement, he’s not singing the same tune when it comes to immigration.

Immigration enforcement “guidelines” issued by Biden’s DHS secretary last September were little more than a “defund ICE” effort, and the results were inevitable. Alien removals — including those of serious criminals — have plummeted under the president’s watch. It’s no wonder a federal judge vacated those guidelines, in an order the Supreme Court refused to stay but will consider this term.

Worse, in a break from all of his predecessors, Biden’s not trying to deter migrants from entering illegally — despite the fact that DHS is under an obligation to secure the U.S.-Mexico line from all illegal entrants. Americans may fear murder and robbery, but they loathe turnstile jumpers, and those migrants are the biggest turnstile jumpers of them all.

The Economy. Americans are seeing their real wages fall as inflation surges. The annual inflation rate in September was 8.2 percent, meaning that rising prices’ have eaten a full month of workers’ yearly paychecks.

More than 1.3 million illegal entrants at the Southwest border have been released since Biden took office, a figure that doesn’t include nearly 900,000 others who successfully evaded apprehension at the border and made their way illegally into the interior (“got-aways”). While hundreds of thousands of those 2.2 million aliens are children, the vast majority are working-age adults, most of whom have little education and few job skills.

They are, or will be, in direct competition with the most disadvantaged American workers (citizens and legal immigrants) for jobs. So even though inflation will likely create a rise in wages for working Americans, the influx of new workers will be a drag on any increase, all while added inflation will eat away at any gains.

One study from October explained: “Just 2 in 5 workers (or 39%) who received a pay raise or found a better-paying job say their income has either kept pace or risen faster than consumer prices. Half of these same workers say their income fell behind.” The only way that lower-class American workers will get ahead is if the labor pool stays constant or shrinks, but thanks to the border, that’s not happening.

Then, there are the fiscal costs to the federal government and states and municipalities. A recent Substack piece from Kat Jones explained:

The net present value cost of supporting an immigrant without a high school level of education ranges from [$]117,000 to [$]295,000, depending on whether or not welfare benefits are reduced in the future and whether immigrants bear costs for public goods.


Using the range specified above, the net present value cost of supporting Central American immigrants who lack a high school education is $209 billion to $528 billion.

With inflation running hot, Americans likely have little appetite for any more taxes, let alone the kind of taxes required to support hundreds of thousands of migrants who have not had the benefit of a good education back home. We’re a generous country, but we prefer to be generous on our own terms.

Public Health. When asked their single most important issue in a September Economist/YouGov poll, respondents listed “healthcare” as their fourth leading choice, beating out even abortion as an issue. It’s an area that is significantly impacted by illegal immigration.

Most illegal migrants do not come with Aetna or Blue Cross cards and have little access to private health insurance. Consequently, most do not have primary care providers and thus will seek their medical treatment — whatever the ailment — from either local emergency rooms that accept Medicare (which are obligated to “screen and stabilize” patients regardless of ability to pay) or community health centers.

That puts a strain on the healthcare system, and as the undocumented population increases, those burdens increase — as do the costs to taxpayers and to those who pay for private health care, which must also subsidize the nation’s healthcare system.

Education. CBP has encountered nearly 267,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) at the Southwest border since February 2021, the president’s first full month in office.

Pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), DHS has 72 hours to transfer all UACs it encounters from “non-contiguous” countries (i.e., every country other than Canada and Mexico) over to the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly all are placed with “sponsors” in the United States — even if they have not been trafficked and do not have asylum claims.

Of those nearly 267,000 UACs encountered at the Southwest border under Biden, more than 226,000 are nationals of non-contiguous countries, meaning that most if not all have been — or soon will be — released to sponsors in the United States.

Nearly all will be enrolled in schools in this country, and if they were grouped in the same school district, it would be the nation’s seventh largest, well ahead of enrollments in the Dallas (2017: 156,832), Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) (2017: 147,631), and Boston (2017 enrollment: 52,664) school districts.

Note that this total doesn’t include migrant children who entered illegally with adults in “family units” (FMUs). CBP has encountered more than 906,000 FMU aliens, of whom just over 100,000 were expelled under CDC orders issued pursuant to Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic; the rest were processed for removal. That adds at least 200,000 children to the total of migrant releases.

Not only is there a huge population of migrant children entering U.S. schools, but it is reasonable to expect that those kids will have a lot of catching up to do once they do start school, not least because few speak English at even a basic level. That will both swell school costs and impede the learning rate of the other pupils.

While poll respondents don’t put education high on their list of concerns, it was a “top voter priority” in 2021 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, and could well be a sleeper issue in the midterms.

In Toto. The larger the number of aliens entering illegally, the greater the costs to the U.S. economy and more significant the effects on society. Under the Biden administration, Border Patrol agents have set new apprehension records in FY 2021 and FY 2022, and with 2.2 million (and rising) new illegal migrants now residing in the United States, those costs and effects are significant.

Voters may not think about all the costs and effects when they rate immigration and the border high on their lists of concerns, but intuitively, they know they will be the ones to pay the price.