Doing the Math: Long-Term Population Consequence of Border Asylum Seekers

The immediacy of the U.S.-Mexico border emergency is shocking, almost unfathomable, as we appear to be on track to see as many as 1 million migrants including Mexicans during the current fiscal year, as former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said before her recent departure.

But after a decades-long history of inadequate border and interior enforcement, many Americans aren’t surprised that border patrol agents in March apprehended about 100,000 illegal aliens, up from 76,000 in February, that had crossed through Mexico, and voluntarily presented themselves to immigration officials. Over a longer timeframe, the totals will be even more dramatic. So when looking at the U.S. border crisis, driven mostly by Central American asylum seekers, the long view is more important than the short-term perspective.

Once migrants’ feet touch U.S. soil, the odds are prohibitively high that they’ll be released into the general population and remain forever. Nearly 100 percent of children and families detained at the border last year are still present. Before 2013, only 1 percent of migrants that arrived at the border sought asylum. The migrants simply have to utter the magic words, “credible fear,” and they’re given the keys to the kingdom.

Although Congress has long been aware of this specific loophole, it has done nothing to eliminate it.

Here’s what today’s congressional inaction on Central American migration could mean. Since 1970 when the Central American population in the U.S. was 118,000, an estimated 3.3 million Central Americans, legal and illegal, now live in the U.S., a 28-fold surge in less than 50 years. This is a rate that’s six-times faster than overall immigrant population growth.

Factor in fertility rates for those coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and a relatively young median age when migrants enter the U.S., and Central Americans will be significant contributors to growing the U.S. population for years to come. The Census Bureau identified immigration and births to immigrants as the major population driver that will swell U.S. residency by 75 million in 2060. More than 90 percent of the increase will be immigration-related.

Once migrants attain lawful permanent residency, they can petition certain family members. The average number of sponsored immigrants is 3.5 per family, according to a Princeton University analysis. The data isn’t necessarily precise, but it provides ballpark estimates, and the population projections are frightening.

Newcomers will require roads, housing, schools and hospitals – infrastructure that’s currently in various stages of disrepair or dysfunction. Just as Congress has failed to meaningfully address the Central American border surge, so also has it done too little to update U.S. infrastructure. Coincidental to border news, President Trump met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss infrastructure, and the budget for the necessary improvements. The White House and Democratic leadership agreed that the overhaul would require $2 trillion. But $2 trillion is catch-up money. By 2060, when the huge projected population increases are a reality, another round of trillion-dollar funding will be needed.

Congress’ border security failures represent a complete abdication of the members’ sworn duty to defend the U.S. and its citizens. The Senate and the House have the RAISE Act before them that would, among other immigration improvements, eliminate extended family migration. Congress also could at any time introduce and pass other legislation to restore sanity to the nation’s reckless and destructive immigration laws. Whether Congress will act, however, is a completely different matter.