Eric Ruark's picture


  by  Eric Ruark
Dr. Steven Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, published a report last week on net migration (the difference between the number of people entering and the number leaving the U.S. in a given year) since 2010. He found that the "immigrant population (legal and illegal) has grown much more slowly since 2017, reflecting a likely 'Trump Effect.'"

Source: Center for Immigration Studies analysis of date from American Community Survey

Camarota used data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) to show that in the first two years of President Trump's term (2017-2019), the foreign-born population grew by about 200,000 a year, compared to 650,000 a year from 2010 to 2017. It is difficult to gauge whether this slow-down will continue going forward, but it is noticeable and noteworthy.

The decline in the growth of the foreign-born population is in part due to the arrival of fewer immigrants but is mostly the result of there being an increase in out-migration.

Camarota calculates that between 2010 to 2017, 470,000 foreign-born left the United States every year on average. This includes legal permanent residents, guest workers, temporary visitors, illegal aliens, etc. From 2017 to 2019, that number jumped to 975,000. Again, there is no way of knowing if this will turn into a trend, but it is worth noting.

Writing about the report at the National Review Camarota says, "It may be hard to believe, but it appears that out-migration doubled in the first half of the Trump administration."

So who is leaving? The ACS shows that all of the decline is among non-citizens...not naturalized citizens. It does not appear that it is well-established, long-time legal immigrants or naturalized citizens who are heading home in larger numbers. Rather it seems that more illegal immigrants left and fewer arrived, primarily from Mexico. It may also be the case that more long-term visitors, primarily foreign students and guestworkers, went home instead of overstaying their visas and joining the illegal population.

There are several explanations for why this is occurring, as Camarota points out. The Trump Administration tightened rules for asylum seekers, most notably the "Remain in Mexico" policy. Border fencing and more vigorous enforcement at the border, along with ending "catch and release" contributed to fewer illegal crossings. And, while the President's rhetoric on DACA and follow through on his promise to end the program have not been consistent, the administration did stop accepting new applications. There has also been a substantial reduction in refugee admissions, 30,000 in 2019 compared to 85,000 in the last year of Obama's Presidency. COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions and suspension of some visas are not causes of the decline, since these occurred after 2019.

In a second, related piece at National Review, Camarota points to a positive outcome that has coincided with the slowdown in immigration.

There is no question that the number of new arrivals fell and growth slowed in the immigrant population after 2016. This falloff has been accompanied by a significant improvement in labor-force participation among native-born Americans — particularly among the less-educated. To be sure, many factors impact labor-force participation, which is the share of working-age people holding a job or looking for one. But it is clear that in last few years, the share of Americans in the labor force has improved, after declining steadily for decades.

We have written a lot about how the labor force participation rate -- the percentage of those in the labor force who are working or looking for work -- is one of the most important measures of how well the economy is performing for the American people. The official unemployment rate is what gets most of the attention in media reports, but this measure doesn't count those who have dropped out of the labor force, i.e., aren't participating. The declining participation rate has long worried economists, especially after its precipitous fall during the Great Recession. To see improvement here is a hopeful sign.

There are several factors that affect employment levels for Americans, including immigration. Camarota makes a salient point regarding this.

Immigration is not like the weather — it is possible to control it, even when the economy is strong. It seems likely that American workers have benefited from the reduction in immigration. Lower levels of immigration may also facilitate the assimilation of immigrant families already here. Less immigration can help reduce the strain immigrants can create on public services, such as education and health care. Of course, for these positive things to continue, current policies and lower levels of immigration would have to be sustained.

ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA

Updated: Thu, Nov 12th 2020 @ 7:35pm EST

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