The Associated Press distributed a story today that was carried on the front page of the East Valley Tribune, a large-circulation daily in the booming suburbs east of Phoenix. It was printed under the title “12% in U.S. born outside borders”. It tells of a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies. No mention is made of the stance of this Center. Only when the reader gets to page A7, in a separate article, does one find that “The center advocates tougher policies on illegal immigration.” While it doesn’t state a bias, the article lays out the numbers in such a way as to paint the “immigrants” as dangerous. I want to look closely at what the numbers say and interpret them with a more lenient, and less provocative slant.
Illegal “immigrants” are a hot, hot topic in Arizona, a border state, and their illegal entry is spoken of with the same contempt as is had for rape and drug dealing. The article couches the report in the context of the ongoing congressional consideration of immigration reform and border security. There is a mental association to hint that the numbers in the article are cause for concern. It helps fuel the fire. I can’t understand why the AP or the Tribune would want to present the article in this way. Even if they favor immigration reform, as I do, I don’t think that they should do so by increasing xenophobia and animosity.
The Center for Immigration Studies reported “that 12.1% of the current U.S. population was born in another country, the highest percentage since 1920.” Shocking? Not hardly. Significant? Yes. It tells that more immigrants are coming in and staying. It is estimated [separately] that 10 -13 million are illegal immigrants who have come in across the border with Mexico. With the U.S. population near 300 million, that accounts for only about 3%. Let’s fudge and say 4% are illegals. The remaining 8% are here legally and are the result of normal, congressionally-approved immigration over the last 90 or so years. In fact, some of thosef oreign-born Americans of 1920 are still here.
More impressive to me is the figure of 851,000 immigrants in Arizona as of March 2005, according to “a report based on new U.S. Census Bureau data.” The article doesn’t say who wrote that report, but adds that an estimated 46% of that number are here illegally. That’s over 400,000 illegals in Arizona alone! And there aren’t that very many people in Arizona! Wow! Sound the alarm! Take up your gun! With a total Arizona population near 5.5 million, that’s…oops…less than the national average. And it also means that most of the foreign-born inhabitants of Arizona are here legally.
Read on to see how other statistics in the article promote an unhealthy bias.
The article goes on to say, under the subtitle “Criminal Factor” and citing U.S. Border Patrol officials as the source, that “Of the 1.2 million illegal immigrants apprehended nationwide while entering the United States over the past year, fingerprint checks revealed that more than 26,000 were linked to major crimes and were fleeing to the United States to escape apprehension back home.” Let’s see, 26,000 out of 1.2 million. Hmmm. That’s about 2%. Stated from the opposite view, 98% of all the immigrants apprehended nationwide over the past year were shown by fingerprint checks to be unrelated to major crimes. And that’s nationwide, not just along the border with Mexico. I have no sources to back this up, but I would guess that America wins in the balance–that more than 26,000 American criminals have left the control to escape justice.
Another statistic issued by the Center was that the number of immigrants living in the U.S. at present [32.5 million] is “two-and-a-half times the 13.5 million during the peak of the last great immigration wave in 1910.” That quote is attributed to Steve Camarota, research director at the Center, and probably the grandson of poor Italians who came to the U.S in about 1910 to escape poverty. A quick check of population figures issued by the U.S. Census Bureau on their own site shows that the total population of the United States in 1910 was 91,972,266 and that the foreign-born part of that number was 13,515,886. By my math, that’s 14.7%–considerably higher than the12.1% that so alarms this Center at this time. Ask your middle schooler to do this one: the population is three times larger, but the number of foreign-born residents is only 2.5 times larger. Is the percentage of foreign-born inhabitants in the United States larger or smaller than it was in 1910? [Hint: It’s smaller.]
Don’t get me wrong. These are troubled and troubling times. We face serious threats we haven’t imagined before, from people who would like to kill Americans in large numbers. The borders need to be sealed. Nobody should get in without identifying themselves, and where they’re headed, and how long they intend to be there. And all intending immigrants should have to report their whereabouts periodically or face penalties, until they become naturalized. Or at least that’s what I think.