O'Reilly made dubious immigration claims on radio, TV


On the October 19 editions of both Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and the nationally syndicated The Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "3 million," then "4 or 5 million," illegal immigrants crossed the border last year into the United States. But these claims contradict three recent academic studies that have all put the number of new illegal immigrants arriving in the country each year at around 500,000.

O'Reilly said on The O'Reilly Factor that the Border Patrol estimates it apprehends one out of every "three or four" illegal immigrants; on The Radio Factor, he claimed that the Border Patrol apprehends one out of every "four or five." Using the Border Patrol's estimate of 1 million illegal immigrants detained and the one-to-three estimated ratio, he calculated on The O'Reilly Factor that 3 million crossed the border each year.

O'Reilly's "one out of three or four" apprehension rate claim appears to originate from what United Press International (UPI) reported on September 2, 2001, as a Border Patrol "guess." The UPI article stated: "There are no figures on how many illegal immigrants slip through, but one 'guess' by the Border Patrol is that they detain one in three." Several news organizations, such as The Washington Times (03/10/05, 09/27/02, and 09/16/94) and The Weekly Standard (8/29/05), report this statistic as fact, whereas others, like the Associated Press (07/11/93, 07/11/93) and United Press International (09/02/01), reported this as speculation.*

Regardless of the origin of the estimate, the statistical data do not back up O'Reilly's calculation. Several research organizations have conducted studies seeking to determine the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States each year, and their results have been fairly consistent. For instance, using various data obtained from the 2000 U.S. Census, the March Current Population Surveys, and the American Community Surveys 2000-2004, two different studies conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center put the range of immigrants entering the country illegally in 2004 at 485,000 to 565,000 people. Similarly, the Center on Immigration Studies -- a conservative group that identifies itself as "the nation's only think tank devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States" -- estimated that an average of 500,000 undocumented immigrants entered the United States last year.

From the October 19 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor with guest Rep. Peter King (R-NY):

OREILLY: The folks are absolutely crazed about this, except for the far left that want -- they want open borders. Anybody moderate or conservative is just crazed about it, and here's why. Last year, the Border Patrol, the Border Patrol, seized 1 million people trying to get into this country. Now, its estimated that they only get one out of three or four. So, that means that 3 million people probably got in. Now, when you have those kinds of numbers, number one, President Bush can't hold that many people; you don't have anywhere to put them. And number two, he says, well, we're going to find them and send them back. Well, what happens next Tuesday, congressman? What happens next Tuesday? You find them and send them back, what happens next Tuesday?

KING: OK, several changes. One, the bill we signed yesterday -- and I was down there for the bill signing - we're going to have many more detention centers around the border so that people other than Mexicans - there were about 160,000 of them last year. And this is where the real terror threat comes from, people other than Mexicans coming across the border. In the past, they'd be locked up and you'd give them a slip and tell them to come back to court in a month; you never saw them again. They are going to be held in large numbers in detention centers along the border. The Mexicans will actually be put in large military transports and not just put back beyond the border, but flown back to the cities or the towns they come from, which could mean hundreds and hundreds of miles within Mexico. Make it tougher for them to come back.

From the October 19 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: All right now, it sounds good, but it's five years too late. And it's no specifics, you see? This is what all of them do. All the politicians do the same thing. They talk in very general terms: "Well, I'm going to work with Congress." Number one, Mr. President, with all due respect, you don't have to work with Congress. And if you're going to work with Congress, that's gonna take two years. You can sign the executive order tomorrow.

Number two, you're going to beef up security -- how? Hire more Border Patrol? That's nice. It's not going to do it. Not when you have - do you realize, ladies and gentlemen, that last year 1 million people, human beings, were apprehended on the southern border -- one million? And they figure they get one out of every four or five. OK? So 4 or 5 million got through; they got 1 million. I mean, come on. With those kinds of numbers, the Border Patrol can't -- there's not enough trucks in the world. You know what I'm talking about? Where are they going to put them? So let's stop with all this Border Patrol, bop-ba-bo-babop; put the Guard down there, then it'll all cease. Drug dealers are not going to walk across the border facing the National Guard, they're not going to do it. And neither are illegal aliens, 'cause they pay a grand to get across. They're not going to waste a grand when they see the military standing over there.

* A Lexis-Nexis search of "border patrol" w/20 "1 in 3" or "1 in 4" yielded these results.

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