The Facts Undercut Conservative Media Efforts To Push GOP Toward Harsh Anti-Immigrant Policies

A report from the Center For Migration Studies (CMS) found that the undocumented immigrant population in the United States has dropped below 11 million for the first time since 2003. CMS officials specifically noted that they “took issue with the characterizations” of immigration by Republican candidates, many of whom contended that immigration is a growing problem. Those characterizations have in fact been encouraged by conservative media, which have pressured Republican presidential candidates into taking hardline anti-immigration policy stances and defended candidates that have been criticized for adopting extreme positions.

Undocumented Immigrant Population Has Been In Decline For Nearly A Decade

Center For Migration Studies: Undocumented Immigrant Population Has Dropped Below 11 Million, Its Lowest Level Since 2003. On January 20, The Washington Post reported on a new study by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), which found that "[t]he total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003" and that "[t]he number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008." CMS described the trend as “a nearly decade-long decline that has the potential to reshape the debate over reforming the nation's immigration system”:

The total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003, says the report from the Center for Migration Studies, a New York think tank. The number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008, the report says, driven primarily by a steady decline in illegal migrants from Mexico. Sharper declines from South America and Europe have contributed to the overall numbers, the report says, even as illegal immigration from Central America -- where families with children have flocked across the southwest border in recent months -- is on the rise.

With its release as voting nears in the 2016 presidential primaries, the 15-page document could impact the fiery debate over immigration unfolding on the campaign trail. Republican candidates, led by Donald Trump, have portrayed the border as overwhelmed by illegal immigrants who must be kept out by a massive wall the New York developer proposes to build. President Obama and Democratic candidates say the border has never been more secure and call for comprehensive immigration reform to naturalize immigrants already here.


In some ways, the new report echoes other research showing that the political debate may have already been overtaken by changing immigration patterns around the nation. Demographers at Pew Research Center, for example, found last year that the number of illegal immigrants -- which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007 -- had since dropped by about 1 million. Pew's preliminary estimate counted the total illegal immigration population at 11.3 million, as of 2014.


Although the new report does not cite specific reasons for the decline, other experts have attributed it to a combination of tighter U.S. border security measures and economic and demographic changes in Mexico, such as women having fewer children. The altered dynamics have changed the makeup of the undocumented population. Until recent years, illegal immigrants tended to be young men streaming across the Southern border in pursuit of work. But demographic data show that the typical illegal immigrant now is much more likely someone who is 35 or older and has lived in the United States for a decade or more. [The Washington Post, 1/20/16]

CMS Officials “Took Issue With The Characterizations” Of Immigration By The Republican Candidates. The Washington Post noted that although the report does not take a political position on immigration, “officials from the center took issue with the characterizations of [immigration by] Republican candidates.” Kevin Appleby, the center's senior director of international migration policy explained, "[t]he facts and data" in the report “tell a different story than what you might hear on the campaign trail on in the halls of Congress”:

While the report -- written by Robert Warren, a former longtime U.S. government demographer -- is an estimate based on 2014 U.S. census data and doesn't take a position on immigration, officials from the center took issue with the characterizations of Republican candidates. “The facts of the report tell a different story than what you might hear on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress, where many send a message that we're being overrun by undocumented immigrants,” Kevin Appleby, the center's senior director of international migration policy, said on a press call after the report's release. “The facts and the data show that's just not true. Hopefully, political discourse will be more fact-based going forward.” [The Washington Post, 1/20/16]

Conservative Media Have Pushed Republicans Toward And Defended Anti-Immigrant Policies And Rhetoric

Ted Cruz Credits Conservative Talk Radio Hosts For “Leading The Fight” Against Comprehensive Immigration Reform. On the January 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz credited Sean Hannity and other right-wing radio talk show hosts with “leading the fight” against comprehensive immigration reform in 2013:

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I've spent my whole life fighting to defend the rule of law, fighting to defend the Constitution. When it comes to immigration, 2013 was really, as Reagan would say, a time for choosing. It's when a line was drawn in the sand. On one side, you had Barack Obama and you had Chuck Schumer, and you had a whole lot of establishment Republicans in Washington lining up behind a massive amnesty plan. On the other side of the line were people like Steve Sessions, were people like Iowa's own Steve King, and I stood with Jeff Sessions and Steve King. And we led the fight to defeat the Gang of Eight amnesty plan, to preserve the rule of law and to fight to secure our borders. And you know, it's interesting. A lot of presidential candidates suddenly have discovered illegal immigration is an issue. I'll point out, Sean, you remember that 2013 fight. You were standing there leading the fight, Mark Levin was leading the fight, Rush was leading the fight. You look at the men and women standing on that debate stage, in 2013 when Obama was on the verge of getting his amnesty win, most of the other men and women on that debate stage were nowhere to be found. [Fox News, Hannity, 1/4/16]

Marco Rubio Shifted Against Immigration Reform After Push From Conservative Media. In early November 2015, media outlets called out Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio for making a “notable shift on immigration” after he announced that he would eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) as president, even in the absence of immigration reform. A November 5, 2015 article from The Hill described Rubio's “conservative media problem,” explaining that “Rubio's past support for immigration reform infuriated some of the big-name conservative media personalities who backed his upstart Tea Party bid in 2010”:

Rubio's past support for immigration reform infuriated some of the big-name conservative media personalities who backed his upstart Tea Party bid in 2010, and they're taking retribution now that he's rising in the presidential polls.

Immigration hawks such as Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter appear unlikely to ever give Rubio a second chance.

Others, such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck, appear enthused by Rubio's political skills and ready to reconsider him.

It makes for a complicated media landscape for Rubio in the highly influential land of conservative talk radio and TV as he seeks to capitalize on momentum from his strong debate performances and subsequent rise in the polls. [The Hill, 11/5/15; Media Matters, 11/5/15]

Conservative Media Praised Donald Trump's Speech Labeling Mexican Immigrants As “Rapists” For “Chang[ing] The Debate.” After Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump made his presidential announcement speech in June 2015 in which he described Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals, and “rapists,” and pledged to “build a great, great wall on our southern border,” Fox News and right-wing talk radio hosts credited his speech for igniting discussion about immigration in the 2016 presidential election cycle. Fox prime-time host Bill O'Reilly justified Trump's vitriol, claiming he was inartfully “highlighting a problem ... that is harming the nation.” Fox morning host Steve Doocy said that Fox was talking about “sanctuary city laws ... because Donald Trump brought this up as a campaign issue.” Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh observed that he and Trump say “similar things” about immigrants and praised him for having “changed the entire debate.” [Media Matters, 7/9/15]

Conservative Media Hailed Trump's Plan To End Birthright Citizenship For Children Of Undocumented Immigrants Born In The U.S. Conservative media personalities applauded Trump's August 2015 policy paper announcing that he wanted to deny automatic citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. Fox's Doocy called the paper a “remarkable political document on immigration,” and commentator Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter that the plan was "[t]he greatest political document since the Magna Carta." Limbaugh said Trump's plan to end birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants “has people standing up and cheering.” [Media Matters, 8/17/15]

Fox Hosts Defended Trump's “Deportation Force” Plan To Forcibly Remove All Undocumented Immigrants. After Trump advocated during a Republican presidential debate for a 1950s-era deportation plan to forcibly remove undocumented immigrants, several Fox News hosts defended Trump from criticisms that his plan was “unabashedly racist” and “inhumane.” America's Newsroom anchor Martha MacCallum applauded the idea, calling it “one of the most thought-provoking exchanges of the evening.” The Five co-host Eric Bolling said his plan “has so many good aspects” and is “good for Latinos.” Prime-time host Sean Hannity downplayed the massive suffering from President Eisenhower's “Operation Wetback” -- the program on which Trump's plan was based -- saying, “I saw the pictures and people didn't look like they were all that upset as they were walking back into Mexico.” [Media Matters, 11/11/15; 11/11/15; 11/12/15; 11/13/15]