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Be careful of these six narratives that spread misinformation about immigration in the U.S.

Actualizado: 1 mar

By Rafael Olavarría | March 01, 2024



In the history of the U.S., mis- and disinformation about immigrants is not new. But as the presidential elections approach, political speeches and ads using false or unsupported narratives about immigration to gain votes will become more common.


That's why we've identified six mis- and disinformation narratives about immigration in the U.S. and provided related data and context so you won't be deceived.




Narrative 1: Migration increases the crime rate


This narrative often gains strength when a crime occurs in which the suspect is an immigrant. Of course, there are immigrants who have committed crimes within the United States.


However, beyond specific cases, is there any data that demonstrates that the arrival of migrants in the U.S. statistically translates into an increase in the crime rate? So far, no. In fact, as detailed in this article, research on the topic does not support this narrative. Several experts consulted by Factchequeado agree that there is no data or studies showing a causal relationship between immigration and an increase in the crime rate.


Example: There’s a narrative that claims that the recent arrival of migrants in New York has caused an increase in crime. However, an analysis by The New York Times of crime statistics from the New York Police Department showed that the crime rate from April 2022 to January 2024 remained unchanged. During this period, more than 170,000 migrants arrived. 


Specifically, the statistics for rapes, homicides, and shootings decreased in the city during that period, while the number of robberies and thefts fluctuated (rising some months and decreasing others), according to the Times' analysis.


When you see a politician or campaign ad using an individual case of a crime committed by an immigrant as an "example" that the arrival of immigrants represents an increase in the crime rate, remember: there is no statistical data or studies supporting that claim.


Narrative 2: There is currently an "open borders" policy


It is a fact that during the administration of Joe Biden, record numbers of border encounters have been documented, but that does not mean the border is "open."


Individuals who cross irregularly are detained and processed by authorities under Title 8 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the law that allows authorities to classify  those who enter irregularly as "inadmissible". It also allows them to issue formal deportation orders and file criminal charges against those who re-enter the country illegally.


In the 2023 fiscal year (between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023), the Biden administration deported 142,580 individuals. This figure shows that deportations nearly doubled from the previous fiscal year, as shown in the latest annual report from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).


Some of those who cross the U.S. border without authorization end up in ICE detention centers. Others are released on parole (and monitored by ICE) while they continue their immigration process. ICE indicates that, as it has limited capacity in detention centers, it must prioritize which migrants stay in its detention centers and which qualify to be released and monitored.


According to the 2023 report, ICE has more than 6.2 million people on its non-detained (and monitored) docket who are in deportation proceedings, while more than 36,800 migrants are detained and in deportation proceedings.


At the same time, it is also true that not all migrants who cross the border surrender to authorities. CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) defines this group as "got aways." You can read more about this term and how the “got aways” statistics are estimated here.


At Factchequeado, we have fact-checked photos and videos circulating on social media (such as here and here) that promote this "open borders" narrative.


Narrative 3: The arrival of migrants at the border is an "invasion," and the Federal Government should use the Constitution to declare it as such


The Texas government has formally declared the arrival of migrants in that state as an invasion. Some Republican legislators have also urged President Biden to use the Constitution to formally declare the arrival of migrants as an "invasion."


However, the United States Constitution defines what is considered an invasion. According to experts and federal court rulings, the arrival of migrants, no matter how numerous, cannot be legally considered an invasion of the United States.


"Metaphorically, you can refer to many things as an 'invasion'... but from a constitutional perspective, an invasion refers to a hostile incursion into U.S. territory," said Frank Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri, during a phone interview with Factchequeado.


The use of the "invasion" narrative against migrant groups is not new; it has been used since the 19th century, primarily against immigrants from China and countries in southern and eastern Europe.


You can read in detail here why courts and experts agree that the arrival of migrants at the border cannot be constitutionally considered an "invasion".


At Factchequeado, we have fact-checked misleading content that seeks to promote the narrative about a migrant invasion. You can see three examples here.




Narrative 4: The number of border encounters equals the number of migrants who have crossed the border


We have seen conservative spokespeople and Republican politicians use the figures of border encounters published by CBP to claim that the data reveals the number of individuals who have crossed the border.


Be cautious: The number of border encounters does not equate to the exact number of migrants who have crossed the border. If a migrant crosses the border, is expelled, then crosses again and is arrested again, authorities consider that as two different border encounters, even though it is the same individual. Therefore, "encounters" are not the same as "individuals."


Additionally, in "encounters," CBP also includes those who cross through legal ports of entry but are deemed "inadmissible" to enter the United States.


Example: Nikki Haley stated in January 2024 that 8 million migrants had "entered" the U.S. during the Biden administration. Haley was citing the number of border encounters as if one encounter equaled one migrant. But, as we've already explained, "border encounters" do not equate to the number of individuals crossing, and also include people who crossed through legal ports of entry and were not allowed to enter the country.


You can read in detail how to interpret these figures and where they come from here.


Narrative 5: migrants are coming as part of a plan to displace Republican voters


This narrative is part of the old conspiracy theory known as “The Great Replacement," which posits a plot to replace the political and cultural power of the white population in the West with migrants from other ethnic backgrounds.


In the U.S. electoral context, it is used to assert that Democrats are seeking to bring in more undocumented immigrants to vote for them in elections, thereby displacing Republican voters. For example, in February 2024, Elon Musk claimed on X that President Biden's "strategy" was to bring in "illegals," "legalize" them, and thus create a "permanent majority."


However, immigrants who are not U.S. citizens cannot vote in federal elections.Only some of these immigrants get a path to citizenship, a process that also takes around a decade to complete. Moreover, there is no guarantee that a new U.S. citizen will vote for a specific party.


At Factchequeado, we have fact-checked claims where this theory of supposed immigrant voting has been promoted. You can see two examples here and here.



Narrative 6: Those crossing the border and seeking asylum are "illegal" immigrants


An asylum seeker is not an "illegal" or undocumented migrant. The U.S. federal code states that any foreigner "who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (...) irrespective of such alien’s status (...) may apply for asylum."


Experts told Factchequeado that according to this law, migrants applying for asylum are legally present in U.S. territory and do not accumulate illegal presence in the country.


These experts explained that those who apply for asylum have a temporary authorization to be in the United States while their immigration case unfolds, so they are not here illegally, nor are they undocumented.


You can read in detail why asylum seekers are not "illegal" here.



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