A debunked right-wing media talking point appears to have made its way to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who recently repeated the dubious claim that as many as 34 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. In fact, the real number is likely more than 20 million less -- the 34 million figure seems to originate from right-wing media misrepresenting a federal contracting bid.
Right-Wing Media Claim Government Request To Print Green Cards And Work Permits As Evidence That 34 Million Undocumented Immigrants Live In The US
Breitbart.com Used A Request For Cardstock Bids To Suggest “The Implementation Of A Large-Scale Executive Amnesty May Have Already Begun.” A request for proposal (RFP) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to print a maximum of 34 million green cards and work authorization cards over a five year period was misrepresented by Breitbart.com in an Oct. 19. 2014 article, which claimed it provided “additional credence to the possibility the move is in preparation for an executive amnesty by Obama” :
The RFP “seems to indicate that the president is contemplating an enormous executive action that is even more expansive than the plan that Congress rejected in the 'Gang of Eight' bill,” Vaughan said.
Last year, Vaughan reviewed the Gang of Eight's provisions to estimate that it would have roughly doubled legal immigration. In the “surge” scenario of this RFP, even the relatively high four million cards per year would be more than doubled, meaning that even on its own terms, the agency is preparing for a huge uptick of 125 percent its normal annual output.
It's not unheard of for federal agencies to plan for contingencies, but the request specifically explains that the surge is related to potential changes in immigration policy.
“The Contractor shall demonstrate the capability to support potential 'surge' in PRC and EAD card demand for up to 9M cards during the initial period of performance to support possible future immigration reform initiative requirements,” the document says.
A year ago, such a plan might have been attributed to a forthcoming immigration bill. Now, following the summer's border crisis, the chances of such a new law are extremely low, giving additional credence to the possibility the move is in preparation for an executive amnesty by Obama. [Breitbart.com, 10/19/14]
Daily Mail Repeats Breitbart Claim: Obama Administration Could Issue “Up To 34 MILLION Blank 'Green Cards' And Work Permits.” A day after Breitbart.com published its misleading story, Britain's Daily Mail wrote that “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services plans to seek a vendor to produce as many as 34 million blank work permits and 'green cards'...as the White House prepares to issue an executive order after the Nov. 4 midterm elections.” [Daily Mail, 10/20/14]
CS Monitor: “Is Obama Secretly Planning An Immigrant Amnesty By Ordering 34 Million Work Permits And Green Cards?” On October 21, the CS Monitor cited “rumors first reported by Breitbart.com” and asked, “Is the White House quietly preparing to issue an executive order after the November midterm elections that would provide amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants - including work permits and green cards for up to 34 million immigrants?” [CS Monitor, 10/21/14]
Lou Dobbs: Government Contracting Request Means President Will Extend Work Permits And Green Cards To “34 Million” People. During the October 21, 2014 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox News host Bill Hemmer reported that a government contracting request for up to 34 million work permits and green cards “suggests plans for an executive action on mass amnesty.” Fox Business host Lou Dobbs then claimed this meant the president was considering extending “executive amnesty” to “34 million over what time period, is entirely obviously at the will of the president.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 10/21/14]
Echoing The Right-Wing Media Talking Point, Donald Trump Vastly Overstated The Number Of Undocumented Immigrants In A Recent Interview
COOPER: Can you guarantee that you don't have illegal or undocumented workers working for you in hotel projects or various projects?
TRUMP: I can't guarantee it. How can anyone? We have 34 million in the country. I used to hear 11, now I hear 34 million. I can't guarantee anything. But I can say this: we work very hard to make sure that everybody is legal as opposed to illegal. [CNN, The Lead, 07/08/15]
The Basis For Breitbart.com's False Report, Which Misinformed Trump, Was Debunked In 2014
USCIS Posted A Five-Year Contracting Bid For Card Stock. On Oct. 3, 2014, USCIS posted a five-year contracting bid for card stock that would be used to produce Permanent Resident Cards (PRC) and Employment Authorization Documentation (EAD) cards, neither of which are specific to undocumented immigrants. The listing called for the following wide range: “The requirement is for an estimated 4 million cards annually with the potential to buy as many as 34 million cards total.” [FBO.gov, 10/06/14]
The Hill: "Many Stories On The Procurement Request Have Overstated How Many Individuals Could Access The Identification Cards." As The Hill explained, not only is such a contracting bid “typical,” these cards are for use by immigrants who have been legally granted permanent residency and “a single recipient could receive up to five work permits over the life of the contract.” Because this is not, in fact, an estimate of the undocumented population, both the White House and USCIS called suggestions that the RFP was a “precursor” to the president's executive action on immigration “crazy” and “too clever” (emphasis added):
“The fact of the matter is, there are still decisions to be made about what that policy will entail, and when we're ready to announce that policy, we will announce it,” press secretary Josh Earnest said. “What I would caution you against doing is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security.”
USCIS said in a statement that asking contractors to prepare for contingencies was not unusual, and noted that similar provisions were baked into other contracts bid by the agency.
“Solicitations of this nature are frequent practice for all USCIS contracts and allow the agency to be prepared for fluctuations in the number of immigration applications received, which can arise for any number of reasons,” USCIS spokesman Chris Bently said in a statement.
The federal government typically uses such provisions to keep costs down in case of unforeseen circumstances. In recent months, “surge” provisions have been included in USCIS solicitations for contractors to provide security at facilities across the country or administrative support for the agency's file management systems.
And many stories on the procurement request have overstated how many individuals could access the identification cards, even if the president did take sweeping action.
Work permits, which cover nonresidents who are granted permission to work in the United States on temporary visas, like those for high-tech or skilled workers, are issued annually.
That means a single recipient could receive up to five work permits over the life of the contract. And the USCIS already processed 862,000 such cards over the first six months of the year.
The contract also covers green cards, which are offered to immigrants who have been legally granted permanent residency. The U.S. issues a maximum of 480,000 immediate relative visas per year. [The Hill, 10/23/14]
Experts Confirm There Are 11 Million, Not 34 Million, Undocumented Immigrants In The United States
Washington Post: There Is “No Evidence” That There Are 34 Million Undocumented Immigrants In The U.S. According to a 2015 Washington Post analysis, which compared Census, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Pew Research Center data to confirm its findings, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. hovers around 11 million. [Washington Post, 7/8/15]