America has lost control of its borders

Migrants will not change their behavior until the administration ends the incentives

By Steven A. Camarota on June 6, 2022

Washington Times, June 6, 2022

There is an ongoing crisis at the southern border. In the first 7 months of this fiscal year alone, the Border Patrol “encountered” 1.3 million people trying to enter illegally, up nearly 440,000 over last year’s near record-setting pace over the same time period.

Unsurprisingly, the total number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. has risen dramatically as well. My colleague at the Center for Immigration Studies Karen Zeigler and I estimate that the number of illegal immigrants living in the country has grown by 1.4 million since President Joe Biden took office to 11.6 million in April of this year, after having fallen substantially during COVID-19. The recent growth is almost certainly the largest 16-month increase in American history. In a very real sense, America has lost control of its borders.

Our estimate is based on the Current Population Survey, which is collected each month by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total number of immigrants (legal and illegal together) in the April CPS hit 47 million — the largest number ever recorded in U.S. history. This represents an increase of 2 million immigrants since January of 2021 when Mr. Biden took office. Two-thirds of this growth appears to be due to illegal immigration.

The 1.4 million increase in illegal immigrants in just 16 months is even more striking when one considers that it is a net figure — newly arrived illegal immigrants minus all those who “leave” the illegal population. Those who leave include voluntary emigration and deportations, although both fell in the last 16 months. There is also natural mortality (death) which continued unabated at roughly 70,000 since last January. Something like 130,000 illegals also “left” the illegal population by gaining legal status (e.g. granted asylum or marrying an American) in the last 16 months. The bottom line is that the number of new illegal immigrants settling in the country was much higher than 1.4 million. Keep in mind as well that children born to illegal immigrants are all awarded U.S. citizenship and do not add to the illegal population.

But how do we even know illegal immigrants respond to the CPS? The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics are clear that illegal immigrants are included in the survey, although there is some undercount which has to be accounted for. Pew Research, DHS and the Center for Migration Studies all use Census Bureau surveys to estimate the illegal population. It is possible to estimate illegal immigrants because we have a good idea of how many legal immigrants there are in the country, which we can then subtract from the total immigrant population in the CPS.

The huge increase was not an uncontrollable event like the weather. It was a policy choice. Mr. Biden’s campaign promises created the perception he would curtail immigration enforcement, causing the initial surge at the southern border. The administration’s subsequent decision to end the Remain in Mexico policy for many asylum applicants, to scale back and then try to end altogether the Title 42 expulsions — which allows the quick return to Mexico of illegal crossers as a public health measure — and a dramatic reduction in deportations all further encouraged illegal immigration.

Under Mr. Biden’s system, migrants approach the border knowing they stand a good chance of getting in and a good chance of never being required to go home once they are here. Migrants will not change their behavior until the administration ends the incentives.

To address this problem we should again seek the cooperation of Mexico and Central American countries to stem migration, which Mr. Biden abandoned. We should adopt a third-country safe haven policy, which would automatically reject asylum applications if they pass through other countries where they could have applied for asylum, such as Mexico. We should return to deporting more people from within the U.S. We should prosecute employers who knowingly hire illegals — something successive administrations have failed to do even though it has been the law since 1986. The IRS and Social Security Administration should stop accepting bogus and fraudulent Social Security numbers. The list of enforcement measures is as long as it is obvious.

If we choose instead to encourage illegal immigration rather than enforcing the law, then the illegal immigrant population will continue to grow, with negative implications for the rule of law, national security, taxpayers, schools, hospitals and low-skilled Americans who compete with illegals at the bottom of the labor market.