“There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country,” he wrote in the second of five Sunday-morning tweets on the subject. While it’s impossible to precisely count unauthorized immigrants, informed estimates have consistently placed the level at less than half of Trump’s figure. Just last month, the DHS’s Office of Immigration Statistics released its latest appraisal based on Census Bureau data: “DHS estimates that 12.0 million illegal aliens were living in the United States in January 2015.” Unless the undocumented population somehow increased by more than 100 percent in three years, Trump’s figure isn’t close to being accurate.
Read: How immigration became so controversial
Outside government, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center estimated there were 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants in 2016. Even FAIR, the hard-line immigration group that supports Trump’s agenda, pegged the number at “approximately 12.5 million” in 2017. Date-restricted internet searches did not turn up earlier references to the president’s specific figure. He also claimed that illegal immigration thus far in 2019 has cost the country “$18,959,495,168.” Trump wildly inflates even the largest estimates of such costs, but his use of supposedly exact figures prompted The Washington Post’s chief fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, to write, “Nothing screams fake numbers [louder] than false precision.”
The president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, nonetheless defended his boss’s claim on Face the Nation. “I’m not exactly sure where the president got that number this morning,” he said, but he argued that the total may have grown because people kept entering the country illegally in recent years. However, this ignores the net decline over that same period as more unauthorized immigrants depart than arrive, especially among Mexicans.
Mulvaney also said he has “seen ranges as high, I think, as 30 or 40 million.” While reputable estimates based on census data consistently put the number at about 11 million, a demographic simulation last year by Yale University business-school professors came up with a theoretically predicted range of 16 million to 29 million. That study drew extensive coverage in conservative media but widespread rejection among subject-matter experts; the nonpartisan Immigration Policy Institute called it a “thought experiment … based on seriously flawed assumptions,” such as applying border-crossing trends from one period to other periods that did not have comparable data.
Hard-liners argue that illegal immigration poses a threat not just to the country’s economy and culture but also to its democratic process. Trump fed that concern with another Sunday-morning tweet that mischaracterized Texas voter data reported Friday: “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote,” he tweeted an hour after the topic appeared on Fox & Friends, the chummy morning talk show he often watches.