Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Donald Trump’s political rise is unlike anything the country has ever seen. After dominating almost all the primaries and caucuses that have taken place, his ascent to the Republican nomination seems inevitable and unstoppable. Many believe that the selection of Trump as the presidential nominee would destroy the Republican Party, driving voters out in droves to prevent the election of an obvious demagogue, bigot, and bully. Yet Trump is in the position he is for a reason, because he has managed to capture the mood of the electorate and channel it. The incendiary remarks he made about immigrants at the launch of his campaign seemed ridiculous and offensive, yet at the same time tapped into broad economic anxieties among Americans—that they had been left behind and cheated by the system. Trump has since made immigration a central tenet of his platform. As his rhetoric continues to catapult him into the lead, it’s worth pointing out all the inaccuracies present in his plan for immigration reform.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Despite the outrage that followed these comments, Trump doubled down on them. Pew Research Center, however, reports that the crime rate among first generation immigrants is much lower than the overall crime rate. In addition, among every ethnic group, the incarceration rate among young men is lowest for immigrants, even when controlling for education. Furthermore, what little specifics Trump has released about his plans for immigration reform include this statement: “In 2011, the Government Accountability Office found that there were a shocking 3 million arrests attached to the incarcerated alien population, including tens of thousands of violent beatings, rapes, and murders.” First, this 3 million figure includes crimes that go all the way to 1955. In addition, the figure is not separate individual arrests, but rather includes counts committed by the same person. More importantly, this figure includes immigration related offenses, which understandably account for 65% of the charges, with violent crime being less than 10% of these offenses. Thus Trump’s assertion that immigrants are bringing in violent crime is not only extremely offensive, but also wholly untrue.
“I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great, wall on our southern border.”
Trump claims that the cost of a wall would be inexpensive. Yet a 2009 analysis by the Government Accountability Office found that fencing cost an average of $4 million per mile. Depending on the terrain the costs could be even more than that, with the Customs and Border Protection setting aside $58 million to build merely a 3.5 mile stretch of fence along an area in San Diego. Trump proposes building 700 miles of wall. In addition, the building costs don’t include the maintenance costs of the wall. Yet the billions of dollars that would cost doesn’t even begin to rival the cost of deporting every undocumented immigrant, as Trump plans to do as well.
There are currently around 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. American Action Forum, a right-leaning policy group, estimated in a report that deportation would take 20 years and cost the government between $400-600 billion. The impact on the economy could amount to real GDP dropping by nearly $1.6 trillion, which makes sense given that undocumented immigrants are estimated to contribute about $11.64 billion in state and local taxes. Trump is silent on how to pay for deportation costs, and in terms of building the wall, the recommendations he makes, such as impounding all remittance payments derived from illegal wages, doesn’t even begin to cover costs. As a businessman, Trump should know that money does not just appear out of thin air, yet that’s exactly what needs to happen if Trump is serious about actually pursuing these tenets of his plan. In addition, Trump wants to deport all undocumented immigrants in two years. That means about 458,000 deportations a month. That’s more than any administration has ever deported in a year. In addition, to implement a deportation plan of that scale could have broader effects as well. It would require racial profiling and a violation of privacy rights, as well as creating a sense of paranoia. Building a wall and deporting immigrants is not just bad policy contrary to the core of American principles, but it’s bad economics as well.
“Mexico’s leaders have been taking advantage of the United States…They have even published pamphlets on how to illegally immigrate to the United States.”
Trump’s fixation on Mexico and Latin America in general shows how out of touch he is with the actual demographics of those immigrating to the United States. First, Pew Research Center shows that the amount of undocumented immigrants is currently at 11.2 million, and this number has remained unchanged for the past 6 years. Therefore, there has been no net undocumented immigration since 2009, with the number of people entering being offset by those leaving. In addition, the amount of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has actually been declining since 2007. Since 2008, there has been more immigration from Asia than Latin America, with China and India having the highest amount of immigration—not Mexico. Yet Trump makes no mention of these countries while talking about immigration, except to compare his wall to the Great Wall of China. In addition, Trump’s belief that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are entering the United States through the southern border is not entirely correct either. Half of the undocumented immigrants currently in the United States entered the country legally, and then overstayed their visas. In addition, despite the economy improving, there has been a decrease in the amount of people taken into custody at the border despite heightened security.
Trump has spent a large portion of his life building a brand that is known for its reliance and quality. Yet the quality of his immigration plan is as horrible as his penchant for bullying and offensive remarks unbecoming of anybody, much less somebody seeking the presidential office. While his statements speak to a very real economic fear, the economics of his own plan don’t add up, and the assertions that are the foundation of his plan don’t add up either. If Trump truly wants to make America great again, he should pursue comprehensive immigration reform that actually addresses the broken system we have.