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Migrants wait along a border wall on Aug. 23, 2022, after crossing from Mexico near Yuma, Ariz. (AP) Migrants wait along a border wall on Aug. 23, 2022, after crossing from Mexico near Yuma, Ariz. (AP)

Migrants wait along a border wall on Aug. 23, 2022, after crossing from Mexico near Yuma, Ariz. (AP)

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe October 11, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • To fairly compare the number of immigrants entering the U.S. with the number of births in the country, someone would need the number of unique individuals who are encountered by border authorities and are allowed to proceed into the U.S. But that’s not available.

  • Immigration encounters data counts the number of stops made, not the number of unique people who cross the border. 

  • Not every immigrant who reaches the border is allowed to remain in the U.S. 

U.S. immigration officials recorded more than 2 million encounters with immigrants at the southwest border in the fiscal year that ended in September.

Some people have used this data to spread the white supremacist "great replacement theory" — a conspiracy theory holding that Democrats and Western elites are deliberately using immigration to "replace" white people of European descent in the U.S. with nonwhite populations. 

"There are 3 migrants entering the United States for every 4 US citizens being born. Welcome to Joe Biden’s America," Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit group, said Sept. 24 on Instagram using a screenshot of a post he made on Truth Social, former President Donald Trump’s social media platform. 

"Wait, I thought it was a conspiracy theory?" he added in the caption.

When we asked Kirk’s team about his claim, a spokesperson cited a Sept. 20 article from Breitbart, a conservative website.

Breitbart reported that since October 2021, 1.15 million immigrants crossed the border, 500,000 immigrants "sneaked or rushed past Biden’s small force of distracted border guards," and another 1 million entered as "visa workers, and job-seekers pretending to be short-term tourists." 

There were about 3.6 million births in the U.S. in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Using this data, which is the latest available, Breitbart divided its immigration total (2.65 million) by U.S. births (3.6 million), concluding there were about three immigrants for every four births in the U.S.

However, the assessment is missing important context and makes a number of assumptions to get to a 3 to 4 ratio.

  • The 1.15 million relies on border "encounters;" but not everyone encountered at the border makes it into the U.S.

  • Immigration data generally counts how many times Border Patrol agents stopped a person, not how many people were stopped. So there’s no direct way of telling how many unique individuals border authorities allowed into the country.

  • The 500,000-person estimate for migrants who were not stopped by border officials is high based on publicly available federal data. It was reported by another outlet using anonymous sources.

  • The 1 million figure comes from a seemingly random set of visas for temporary workers, intracompany transferees, exchange visitors and international students. 

How officials count border ‘encounters’

When immigrants are stopped at the border, Border Patrol agents can deny them entry and expel them, or let them in to ask for asylum or other immigration protections. (This can be done under the scope of immigration law or under a public health order in place to mitigate COVID-19’s spread.)

The data cited by Breitbart looks only at encounters at the southwest border where Border Patrol agents used immigration law. There have been 1.15 million encounters at the southwest border in fiscal year 2022 that fit this description. But that does not represent 1.15 million individuals, nor does it mean all 1.15 million encounters resulted in an immigrant entering the U.S.

Some people try entering multiple times. If authorities stop a person from crossing the border on three separate occasions, for example, that’s recorded as three encounters — even though it’s the same person trying to cross.

Using the number of encounters as the estimate of how many people came in "would paint a very false perception of how many people are actually entering and then remaining in the United States," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group.

Customs and Border Protection does track "unique individuals" encountered at the border, but its data do not break down how many were expelled and how many were allowed to proceed into the United States.

The second number Breitbart included in its calculation is the number of so-called "got aways," immigrants that entered the U.S. without being stopped by Border Patrol. Breitbart does not cite a source for the 500,000 figure used. A July 2020 News Nation article used a similar number, citing unnamed sources from the Department of Homeland Security.

We looked up how the department addresses "got aways." The department’s annual report on border statistics attempts to estimate the number of people who slipped past border agents, both detected and undetected. In fiscal year 2020, the department reported 136,808 "detected got aways" and estimated another 200,000 undetected unlawful entries into the U.S. The numbers for 2021 and 2022 are not yet available. 

The final number Breitbart used in its calculation is "1 million legal immigrants, visa workers, and job-seekers pretending to be short-term tourists." 

The article does not cite a source for this number,  but lists seven different types of visas that allow people to come in legally, including visas for temporary workers and international students. 

According to PolitiFact’s analysis, in 2020 there were 25 million admissions of people with one of the seven visas Breitbart listed, that’s the latest data available from the Office of Immigration Statistics. It’s unclear how Breitbart reached 1 million or why it is included in its calculation. 

"Throwing legal immigration numbers into the mix with unauthorized entries, and in particular adding in tourists and others on non-immigrant visas that do not permit a permanent stay, only generates confusion," Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, told PolitiFact. "It’s a total cherry-picking of data."

Although at first glance Kirk’s claim seems to check out, there are limits to the data available and what it represents. This does not allow us to reach a fair comparison of the number of immigrants entering the U.S. with the number of births in the country.

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Our Sources

Email exchange, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, director of policy at the American Immigration Council, Sept. 30, 2022 

Email exchange, Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the Migration Policy Institute, Oct. 11, 2022

Email exchange, Andrew Kolvet, founder of the ATK Co., Oct. 6, 2022

Phone call, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Oct. 5, 2022

PolitiFact, Despite uptick in border encounters, policies for adults traveling alone haven't changed under Biden, June 2, 2022

PolitiFact, What is the ‘great replacement theory’ linked to the Buffalo shooter?, May 16, 2022

Charlie Kirk, Instagram post, Sept. 24, 2022

Census Bureau, Fewer Babies Born in December and January but Number Started to Rise in March, Sept. 21, 2021

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Nationwide Encounters, accessed Oct. 1, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Order Suspending Introduction Of Certain Persons From Countries Where A Communicable Disease Exists, March 20, 2020

U.S. Code, Title 42, accessed Oct. 1, 2022

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP Enforcement Statistics Fiscal Year 2022, accessed Oct. 1, 2022

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Post-Apprehension Consequences, Jan. 2017

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Most Border Patrol Apprehensions are for Repeat Crossers, But Agency Data Doesn’t Yet Provide the Full Picture, Sept. 9, 2022

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP Releases August 2022 Monthly Operational Update, Sept. 19, 2022

Congressional Research Service, Expedited Removal of Aliens: An Introduction, March 25, 2022

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