Tucker Carlson’s breathtakingly dishonest claim that refugees are behind the housing crisis

Tucker Carlson

It often seems besides the point to fact-check Fox News star Tucker Carlson -- he’s a wildly dishonest demagogue whose effortless lying demonstrates abject contempt for his viewers. But I have a masochist streak, so let’s unpack Wednesday night’s whopper that the United States has a “housing crisis” in part because “we are now living through the biggest influx of refugees in American history.”

Carlson’s premise is wrong. We are actually living through the lowest ebb of refugees admitted to the United States since the establishment of the refugee resettlement program in 1980, according to data compiled by the Migration Policy Institute. 

That fiscal year, the U.S. admitted 207,116 refugees; while resettlement ceilings were lowered in later years, between 50,000 and 75,000 refugees regularly arrived during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, with a recent peak of more than 85,000 in fiscal year 2016. But President Donald Trump drastically slashed both the cap on refugees and the program’s capacity, resulting in plummeting resettlements. 

When President Joe Biden lifted the fiscal 2021 cap to 62,500 refugees in May, he said that it was unlikely that figure could be reached due to the Trump administration’s sabotage, and indeed, fewer than 5,000 refugees have been admitted thus far.

So what is Carlson talking about? He appears to be deceptively conflating refugee resettlement numbers with the projected figure for U.S. encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We are on pace for at least 2 million illegal immigrants arriving in America this year alone,” he said, fearmongering that this is “far more than the number of asylum applicants who arrived in Europe in 2015.”

But that’s apples and oranges. It’s true that internal government documents estimated the U.S. was on track to encounter more than 2 million migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a March CNN report. But more than six in 10 of those encounters this year through July have resulted in the migrants’ immediate expulsion, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. 

The remainder don’t instantly become permanent U.S. residents -- they are apprehended and processed under normal immigration law, which in many cases results in their eventual deportation. A sizable percentage is unaccompanied children who are held in government facilities and placed with sponsors elsewhere in the country, thus having minimal impact on housing demand.

Carlson is correct that there’s a housing affordability crisis, with insufficient supply of homes relative to demand creating price spikes for both renters and owners. But that’s the result of an extreme housing shortage driven by underbuilding by millions of units. In too much of the country -- particularly in urban and suburban areas where demand for housing is highest -- land use regulations make it effectively or actually illegal to increase housing supply

The solution to a housing crisis requires making it legal to build more housing. But Carlson doesn’t want to build more housing -- he frequently goes on diatribes accusing those who would support additional construction of seeking to “abolish the suburbs.” 

Rather than supporting policies that would lower housing costs, Carlson has lashed his audience’s reasonable concern to his regular warnings that invading hordes of brown people are making the country poorer and dirtier and endangering his viewers. All week long, he’s been campaigning against the prospect of the U.S. accepting Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of that country amid a U.S. military withdrawal Carlson supported under Trump.

“We will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in coming months, probably in your neighborhood. And over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions,” he said on Monday. “So, first we invade, and then we're invaded. It is always the same.”

In Carlson’s telling, Afghans will move to your neighborhood and drive up your rent. But for Carlson, the solution to housing costs must be decreasing demand rather than increasing supply. That’s the only way for him to secure the existence of his people and a future for white children.