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Friday, December 18, 2015

The Five Biggest Immigration Myths of the GOP Debate

Terrorism, deportation, and the joys of refugee camps

At the last Republican debate, the presidential candidates didn’t have many positive things to say about immigrants or refugees. This could be because they believe a lot of very inaccurate things about them. Here are the top five most egregious things that the GOP presidential hopefuls had to say in the last debate.

#1 – Sen. Rand Paul: “Every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been legal immigration.”

This is wildly inaccurate. Since 9/11, according to the New America Foundation’s count, US-born citizens with various “right-wing” ideologies have killed more people and carried out twice as many terrorist attacks as jihadists.

But even focusing on jihadists who have killed people in the United States over the last 14 years, less than half have been immigrants of any kind. The San Bernardino shooter, the Fort Hood shooter, and the Washington State killer were all US-born residents.

Sen. Paul’s claim is baseless.

#2 – Sen. Ted Cruz: “One of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight Bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees without mandating any background checks whatsoever.”

Two claims are made here: 1) that the 2013 immigration bill gave President Obama “blanket authority to admit refugees” and did so 2) “without mandating background checks.”

First, under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president already establishes the refugee limit in consultation with congressional committees. The 2013 bill didn’t affect this authority.

The Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz made a similar claim last month, saying that provisions granting legal status to “stateless people” would “open the floodgates to Islamic refugees.”

But stateless people aren’t refugees. They are people who no nation claims as citizens, through — as the bill specifies — no fault or choice of their own. There’s also nothing particularly Islamic about them: the largest number of stateless people were created after the Soviet Union dissolved.

Moreover, the bill included the stateless in the current caps on immigration, meaning that it may make them eligible for a visa, but would not “open the floodgates.” The bill also specified that they must be in the United States to apply, so very few people would even be eligible. 

Finally, the 2013 bill specifically included requirements for background checks of refugees, for the first time in any statute. Section 3409 stated: “No alien shall be admitted as a refugee until the identity of the applicant … has been checked against all appropriate records or databases … to determine any national security, law enforcement, or other grounds on which the alien may be inadmissible.”

Sen. Cruz’s claim is false.

# 3 – Sen. Rand Paul: “The one thing that might have stopped San Bernardino, might have stopped 9/11, would have been stricter controls on those who came here. And Marco [Rubio] … steadfastly opposed any new border security requirements for refugees or students” in his 2013 immigration bill.

Sen. Paul implies that new security screening for refugees and students may have prevented 9/11 and San Bernardino. But since the San Bernardino attack was carried out by an American citizen and his fiancé, and only one of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers was on a student visa, and none were refugees, it is clear that more security of any kind for refugees and students would not have prevented the attacks.

Sen. Paul did introduce an amendment to the Rubio bill that required that refugees receive a background check, but only after they arrived, and since the underlying bill already required this check before they arrived, it was unnecessary. Since no refugee has ever carried out a terrorist attack in the United States, it would not have prevented any terrorist attacks.

#4 – Sen. Ted Cruz: “Do you know how many aliens Bill Clinton deported? 12 million. Do you know how many illegal aliens, George W. Bush deported? 10 million.”

There are two ways to define “deportation.” One is the legal definition of the “formal removal of an alien from the United States … ordered by an immigration judge.” The other is the lay definition of the removal of an individual from inside the United States.

Sen. Cruz’s claim fails under both definitions.

President Obama has formally removed more immigrants from the United States than any other president in history — more than 2.3 million. The deportationists at the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) dispute this definition, however, because it includes individuals apprehended at the border who are then referred to an immigration judge for a “formal removal.” Under President Obama, about half of all formal removals have come from referrals from Border Patrol.

Immigration restrictionists usually object to the broader legal definition because it includes some people caught at the border. They normally argue that deportation shouldn’t include people who were prevented from entering. For instance, in 2011, CIS’s Jessica Vaughan called the legal definition of deportation “book-cooking” for counting “those caught at the border and returned quickly.”

But even excluding border apprehensions, President Obama has still deported many more immigrants than President Bush, and neither president deported anywhere near 10 million immigrants.

So where did Sen. Cruz get his numbers? Strangely, they are likely from Ms. Vaughan herself. By 2013, she had decided that, since she was tossing out the legal definition, she should include all of the people who are stopped at the border, not just those referred to an immigration judge for formal deportation.

Not coincidentally, the Obama administration does much worse by this standard, from her perspective. Including everyone caught at the border, Bush deported or prevented the entry of 10 million immigrants. For Obama, the number is just about 4.5 million.

But this is not because of any policies of either president, but because the number of immigrants attempting to cross illegally fell precipitously after 2008. During Obama’s presidency, Mexican immigration to the United States actually reversed, with a net loss of about a million unauthorized Mexican immigrants.

The real numbers of legal deportations are 870,000 for Clinton, 2 million for Bush, and 2.3 million for President Obama, who is on pace to pass 3 million. Sen. Cruz is incorrect.

#5 – Ben Carson: Refugee camps are “really quite nice.”

According to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), refugees are fleeing to Europe from their refugee camps due to “horrible living conditions” because “people don’t have proper shelter and are living on 45 cents a day.”

UNHCR lists six reasons for refugees fleeing camps into Europe from countries around Syria: 1) deepening poverty, 2) no opportunity for legal employment or residence, 3) few educational opportunities, 4) a lack of safety, 5) aid shortfalls, and 6) a loss of hope that the civil war will end. Many refugees are actually returning to war zones in Syria because the conditions in Jordan and Lebanon are so bad.

Let’s hope this group gets it right the next time.

A version of this piece appeared at the Niskanen Center.

  • David J. Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.