Fresh off a stinging defeat in a standoff over funding for a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Donald Trump on Sunday released shocking statistics to prove that his proposed barrier is critical to the nation’s economic security.
Nobody has any idea where those numbers came from.
“We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168. Cost Friday was $603,331,392,” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning. “There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country. So ridiculous! DHS.”
The numbers—so specific that they are rounded to the nearest single digit—appear to be credited to the Department of Homeland Security, but the department’s most recent publicly available estimates of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States is less than half the president’s purported minimum.
In other words, President Trump just added 14 million undocumented immigrants to the U.S. population.
“I don’t know where he got the 25 million number, but there’s no credible estimate anywhere near that high, making the entire tweet unsupportable,” said Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute. “All recent credible sources place the total unauthorized population at a fraction the president cited.”
According to a December 2018 release from Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants were living in the United States in January 2015, the most recent year for available data. More recent estimates from the Pew Research Center put the estimate at a slightly lower 10.7 million people in 2016, its lowest number in more than a decade.
In the past, the president has personally estimated that the “real” number of undocumented immigrants in the country may be as high as 30 million people—meaning that one in every ten U.S. residents is here illegally. The source of those numbers has never been identified.
As for the president’s stated $603,331,392 daily cost of undocumented immigration, the number appears to be a back-of-napkin calculation based on two December tweets, in which the president declared that “our Country losses [sic] 250 Billion Dollars a year on illegal immigration,” a number he later rounded down to $200 billion.
At a cabinet meeting one day after the second tweet, Trump declared that he had “heard numbers as high as $275 billion we lose on illegal immigration.” He repeated that number the next day during a signing ceremony, telling reporters that “you hear many different numbers—you can say, ‘billions and billions,’ but the number that I hear most accurate is $275 billion a year—at least.”
The president’s “most accurate” number is more than double the most extreme estimate by the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform, which reported in 2017 that illegal immigration costs the country $135 billion a year—an estimate that itself came under scrutiny by fact checkers.
“It’s frustrating that the president of the United States throws out numbers without any way documenting what he is talking about, and then sends reporters and researchers scrambling to try to second guess what he may be talking about,” David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of immigration research at the Fiscal Policy Institute, told The Daily Beast. “He now seems to be doubling down on this estimate that no one who knows their way around an Excel Sheet can seem to explain.”
“We run the risk of making more sense of it than he does.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment as to where the president might have gotten his numbers.