Dispelling myths about immigration and the border

President Trump made his case for a border wall during a live, prime-time address and Democratic leaders continued to argue that a wall is unneeded. So what's the truth about immigration, the border, and a wall?

Host Kerri Miller talked with Laura Collins, director of the Economic Growth Program for the Bush Center, and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, author of "Humanitarianism and Mass Migration," about immigration.

Here are some highlights:

Are President Trump's numbers about crimes by undocumented immigrants generally correct?

Suarez-Orozco: "No they aren't...Immigrants are arriving in our country today, like they did 150 years ago when the Swedes settled in Minnesota, are not here to commit crimes...Studies by the national research council, this is a nonpartisan research arm of the US Congress, concluded recently that overall immigrants are less likely to commit crime...This is true both of legal immigrants as well as those immigrants who have no papers."

What about crime rates in sanctuary cities?

Collins: "The president's speech should be taken as a political speech and less as a policy speech...Immigrants overall have lower crime rates and communities where there are large numbers of immigrants happen to be very safe...One of the things that we do find is that if you do have a sanctuary policy there is a community there that is more willing to report crimes that are happening; because they don't have a fear that they're going to be caught up in any sort of law enforcement activity, just because they had the courage to report a criminal that is within their midst."

How does the current population of undocumented immigrants compare to past numbers?

Suarez-Orozco: "The actual number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States is now at its lowest level in more than a decade...From 2007 to 2017 the unauthorized immigration population shrunk by 13 percent. Today there is net zero, meaning more folks are leaving than are coming into our country."

Is it fair to characterize immigrants coming from Central America seeking asylum as undocumented immigrants?

Collins: "No and the simple reason for that is that they are not trying to evade law enforcement. They are presenting themselves, they're declaring asylum, and they're seeking a legal path in. It's not a traditional path, in the sense where most people are seeking to come in or seeking to work or to join a family member, but these people are fleeing what is essentially dysfunctional states. So, they are seeking a legal path, rather than just seek in."

Would a wall stop more political asylum seekers and other immigrants from trying to come to the United States?

Collins: "[President Trump's wall proposal is] a solution that's not going to address the root causes of why people are coming. What we saw with the family separation policy in 2018, which is very Draconian, that didn't stop people from coming from Central America. Physical barriers aren't going to stop them from coming as well. In terms of potential bad actors that might be sneaking through points of entry talking about drug smugglers, the vast majority of drugs smuggled into this country from Mexico that are coming through points of entry, custom agents are seizing them. They are not coming through points of entry anymore."

If drugs are still coming through the country, are there alternative solutions?

Collins: "If you're going to invest in border security that cuts down on drug smuggling, what you really want to do is not invest in a wall, but invest in better technology and custom agents, and programs that allow us to inspect shipments south of the border before they even get to the border and try to make sure that that is an efficient process, so we can seize the drugs there."


Laura Collins, Director of the Economic Growth Program for the Bush Center

Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Wasserman Dean at UCLA and the author of the book "Humanitarianism and Mass Migration"

Correction (Jan. 10, 2019): An earlier version of this story misidentified Laura Collins' title.

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