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Is the Senate's Border Enforcement Capitulation Based on Sham Numbers?

Chris Rickerd,
Senior Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
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June 21, 2013

This week, Republican senators used a Congressional Budget Office report to bolster their case for more border resources. The principal negotiators of a proposal to put 20,000 more Border Patrol agents in the Southwest, along with billions of dollars in additional technology and fencing, explained:

In its analysis, the CBO said annual illegal immigration numbers would decrease 25 percent upon passage of the bill. [Senators] Hoeven and Corker said Wednesday that number helped drive their talks to beef up the bill’s border security while also not turning off Democrats. ‘With the underlying bill you have 7 million more illegals in 10 years, versus without it you have 10 million more,’ Hoeven said.

But the CBO report says no such thing. In fact, its sole passage addressing future unauthorized residents credits the underlying bill for tighter border enforcement and says that any increase will come from visa overstays:

The enforcement and employment verification requirements in the legislation would probably reduce the size of the U.S. population by restricting the future flow of unauthorized residents. Unauthorized residents would find it harder both to enter the country and to find employment while unauthorized. However, other aspects of the bill would probably increase the number of unauthorized residents—in particular, people overstaying their visas issued under the new programs for temporary workers.

The report continues that “CBO estimates that, under the bill, the net annual flow of unauthorized residents would decrease by about 25 percent relative to what would occur under current law, resulting in a reduction in the U.S. population (including a reduction in the number of children born in the United States) relative to that benchmark of 1.6 million in 2023 and 2.5 million in 2033.”

Shockingly, the Senators appear to have relied on mistaken analyses by the Heritage Foundation and the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies to conclude from this passage that “you have 7 million more illegals in 10 years, versus without it you have 10 million more.” This is wrong for at least three reasons:

  1. The CBO’s population reduction figure cannot be used to project illegal immigration. There are two distinct components to CBO’s analysis: future unauthorized flow will decrease by 25 percent from current levels which are unspecified in the report (but illegal border crossings will decline by more because visa overstays will increase) and U.S. population will decrease as a result. Heritage and CIS absurdly multiplied the population reduction by three to get projected figures of 4.8 million and 7.5 million “new illegal immigrants and their U.S.–born children.” Its analysis attributes this mathematical non sequitur to CBO: “Thus, according to CBO, the total new illegal immigrant population (plus children) would have been 6.4 million by 2023, but will be 4.8 million if S.744 passes, which is 25 percent (1.6 million) smaller than it otherwise would have been. By 2033 the illegal population (plus children) will be 7.5 million which is 25% (2.5 million) smaller than the 10 million it would otherwise have been.”
  2. The Senators omit that the population reduction includes U.S.-born children, so the numbers are even more corrupt.
  3. The unauthorized population discussed by CBO includes not only visa overstays who did not cross any border illegally, but also people who are not “new” but simply did not legalize under the immigration reform bill (out of an estimated undocumented population of 11.5 million, CBO projects that 8 million would legalize). So even accepting the incorrect use of 6.4 and 7.5 million people, these could not possibly be counted as being all new or border-crossers. It is simply false of CIS, and the Senators, to tell the American public that “CBO projections mean that in the first ten years after the passage of S.744, new illegal immigration will add nearly 500,000 illegal residents and their children to the U.S. population each year.” Heritage echoes this, stating that “CBO estimates that by 2033, 7.5 million new illegal immigrants will have entered the U.S. and taken up residence.” Then CIS doubles down on this misleading: “To be clear, the 4.8 million new illegal immigrants and their children in the country by 2023 and the 6.4 million by 2033 are new arrivals, plus the children they will have once here.”

The Senate should stop and reconsider its acquiescence to a border plan built on sham analysis. Public policy should not be made through falsehoods.

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