FACT CHECK: Has The Illegal Immigrant Population More Than Doubled Since 2006?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

Al Cardenas, a Republican strategist and former head of the American Conservative Union, said the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2006.

“What’s happened is there are 5 million illegal people here in America in 2006. Now it’s 12 to 14 million. We failed to act, and as a result of failed to act, failure to act was worse than passing a law. And so we haven’t learned our lesson in 2018,” Cardenas said on “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Verdict: False

Most estimates have found that there were between 11 million and 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2006 and that the illegal immigrant population has remained fairly consistent since then, with 11 million to 13 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today.

Fact Check:

Cardenas under-reports the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2006 and over-represents the population increase since then. The Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) found that the illegal immigrant population has remained between roughly 10 million and 13 million since the mid-2000s. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that advocates for lower levels of immigration, estimated that there were about 12.5 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2017, and Pew estimated that there were 11.3 million in 2016.

Cardenas directed The Daily Caller News Foundation to former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for official data. But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated that there were 11.6 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2006, and last estimated that there were 11.4 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2012.

“Bottom line is that no one thought the population was 5-6 million in 2006,” Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), told TheDCNF in an email. CIS advocates for lower levels of immigration. “It may have peaked in 2007 and then declined some. However, there is some evidence that it may have rebound (sic) in 2015 and 2016. But it is still under 12 million.”

The CMS even reported that there was a slight decline in the illegal immigrant population from 2008 to 2015. “The population stopped growing because of increased scrutiny of air travel after 9/11, a decade and a half of accelerating efforts to reduce illegal entries across the southern border, long-term increases in the numbers leaving the population each year, and improved economic and demographic conditions in Mexico,” said the study.

Cardenas noted that millions of illegal immigrants remain in the country despite millions of deportations since 2006, and said failure to pass legislation to improve security means that more continue to enter the country illegally. “Result: things are worse, taxpayers have spent a fortune in deportation and millions of families have suffered,” Cardenas told TheDCNF in an email.

While the population of illegal immigrants from Mexico has declined, the population of immigrants from Central America has increased. A surge of unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossing into the U.S. in 2014 was deemed a humanitarian crisis.

Studies show that the illegal immigrant population increased in the 1990s and early 2000s. Pew and DHS say the population doubled from 3.5 million in 1990 to 7 million to 8.6 million in 2000.

Some say consensus estimates of the illegal immigrant population are too low. A paper in progress from three Yale professors estimates the current illegal immigrant population to be between 17 million and 23 million. The paper is not yet public, but the professors use different sources and methods than current estimates.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said there are around 30 million illegal immigrants in her 2015 book “Adios, America,” citing a 2005 study from the financial firm Bear Stearns that estimated an illegal immigrant population of 20 million.

Popular estimates are based on census data of foreign nationals and then checked against estimates of the number of lawful immigrants. One of the Bear Stearns study authors said it is unlikely illegal immigrants would fill out a census form.

But the Bear Sterns estimate is widely criticized. “There is simply no indication based on births, deaths and school enrollment that we are missing that many people in Census data,” said Camarota.

Even if Coulter’s illegal immigrant population figures are correct, an increase from 20 million in 2005 to 30 million in 2015 would still mean the illegal immigrant population did not double. One of the authors of the Bear Stearns study told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that he thought the number had decreased since he made his estimate.

Chertoff was not available to confirm or dispute Cardenas’ figures.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter