Immigration has been a contentious issue ever since Donald Trump first set out on the campaign trail in a bid for the United States presidency. He promised to build a wall between the US and Mexico, constantly reminds Americans that illegal immigrants are allegedly stealing their jobs, and has increased enforcement of anti-immigration laws along the country’s southern border.
Initially, Trump insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall. More recently, his demand for funding to the tune of $5.6 billion to build the wall was a major reason for the US government shutdown that began on 22 December 2018 and, at the time of writing, continues. The man obviously thinks illegal immigration is a problem, but is it really as bad as he keeps insisting it is?
Immigrants vs Refugees
Before 2017, the majority of illegal immigrants crossing the southwestern border came from Mexico. However, in 2017, the numbers changed dramatically.
The non-Mexicans stopped at the border outnumbered Mexicans by 50 000. Most of them had come from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; countries that are violent and poor. That year also saw 75 622 families stopped at the border; a huge number compared to the 14 855 families apprehended in 2013. 27 % of those stopped were under the age of 18, compared to 7% in 2011, and 26% were female, compared to 13% in 2011.
Figures like these were enough to prompt University of California, Davis, economist Giovanni Peri to remark that the illegal immigrants were more like refugees.
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Authorities Not Convinced
Not everyone is as convinced as Peri that the majority of illegal immigrants are refugees. Centre of Immigration Studies director Steven Camarota is one of those.
He explained that a refugee is someone who fled their home country in fear of their life. He also said that those who travelled into Mexico could have applied for asylum in that country. That they chose instead to travel 1500 miles and then tried to cross into the US implied that they were immigrating in the hopes of a more comfortable life.
The Numbers Are Decreasing
Whatever their reasons for trying to get into the US, the numbers of those doing it are decreasing. According to the US Border Patrol, approximately 1 million illegal immigrants were apprehended every year between 1983 and 2006.
In 2009, that number dropped to roughly 800 000. In 2016, the number of those apprehended decreased to 408 000. In 2017, the number of illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol decreased to 304 000. The number of people apprehended per month increased by 20 000 a few months into 2018, but even so, was nothing like the numbers seen in previous decades.
Illegal immigration is a problem faced by many countries, not just the US. However, looking at the facts and figures, it seems that Trump is making a mountain out of a molehill, and trying to build an expensive wall around it.