Daily Dispatch 5/13/2019

Net immigration is down…so why all the fuss?

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InAlienable
Daily Dispatch

May 13, 2019


While the Donald and others preen about a crisis of “illegal” immigration, the reality is that immigration numbers are down – across the board. The recent spike in arrests at the border might seem like an exception – but two months is not yet a trend – and despite the panic exhibited by the GOP, even this spike is not that high by historical standards. Indeed, far from exceptional, it tracks with historical seasonal patterns where border crossing is higher in the spring. The crisis at the border is the disgraceful way people are being treated – not the number coming in.

That said, the U.S. Census Bureau released a detailed, county by county, map documenting migration patterns across the United States. The map breaks down “net immigration,” i.e. the number of immigrants who move into the United States, minus the number of people leaving the United States to move abroad. For the nation as a whole, net international immigration is down for last year: 978,826 people for 2017-2018 compared to 1,111,283 people in 2016-2017.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the country is unaffected. Geographically, 90% of the U.S. has seen either negative net immigration, no change, or an increase of 0-2 people per 1,000 residents. The parts of the country that have seen an increase tend to be larger cities; the state with the biggest growth rate being Florida.

There are exceptions. One is Beadle County, South Dakota which has the highest rate of growth at 26.8 net new immigrants per 1,000 residents (though the total number of new folk was just 499). The driving force there is meat packing. Dakota Provisions packs 200 million pounds of turkey a year in the county seat of Huron. Beadle County has also developed a reputation for being (relatively) welcoming of new folk, especially Karen refugees from Myanmar. According to an estimate from a few years ago, Karen immigrants held 1 out of 9 jobs in Huron, and the county was looking for ways to encourage more immigration while making their transition within the community easier.

Another outlier is Colifax County in Nebraska with a growth rate of 16.9 net new immigrants per 1,000 residents (193 total). Unlike Beadle County, however, Colifax is less officially welcoming. Nearby Fremont, for example, passed a city ordinance in 2016 banning the “harboring” or employing of undocumented immigrants. Last year, the city of Scribner in Colifax also considered an ordinance to ban the renting of housing to undocumented immigrants. Like Beadle County, the draw is meat packing. Costco is building a huge chicken processing facility in the area, and both the construction and the long-term employment are expected to bring immigrants into the community. Some of the nervousness from city officials is thus driven in part by anticipated impacts of new development. Nebraska overall has relatively low levels of net immigration. In some parts of the state net immigration is negative.

Donald Trump stands with Border Patrol agents and others after his visit to a U.S. Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, on January 10, 2019. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump stands with Border Patrol agents and others after his visit to a U.S. Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, on January 10, 2019. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) 

One lesson, or at least reasonable hypothesis, is that Trump’s rhetoric seems to have the most impact in places the least touched by actual immigration. Communities that have seen large influxes of immigration in recent years, even small towns, have responded in different ways. In Jefferson County, Iowa, for example, net immigration has grown 11.9 per 1,000 residents – also placing it in the top ten. Jefferson County responded to the increase by becoming a Sanctuary County. So, as much as it is tempting to read Trump’s immigration policy through the red-blue line, the social impact of immigration is far more nuanced. Communities where immigration is increasing are, by and large, more welcoming even in “red states.” Of course, there are exceptions. However, this does suggest that there is ample room for Democrats and others to craft a far more nuanced message regarding immigration, one that is positive and seeks a humane response.

For more information, check out:
5 Facts about Illegal Immigration in the U.S. (Pew Research Center)
What Immigration Crisis? The U.S. Isn’t Being Swamped (Bloomberg)
Falling Illegal Immigration Numbers Confirm No Border Crisis (Forbes)

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