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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde February 13, 2018

Tucker Carlson claims more immigrants now in the United States than any other time. Is that true?

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson shared on Twitter a key detail of the immigration debate: how many immigrants are in the United States.

"There are more immigrants in our country right now than any other time. Is the country more united? Stronger? Just the opposite & everyone knows it. Maybe that's bc our elites welcome immigrants by telling them how flawed America is and how bigoted its native population #Tucker," tweeted Carlson, host of Tucker Carlson Tonight on Feb. 8.

We wondered about the first part of Carlson’s tweet: Does the United States have more immigrants now than ever before?

Carlson linked us to reports from the Center for Immigration Studies and Pew Research Center on the growing foreign-born population in the United States, which is now at a record high. It’s also worth noting, however, that the immigrant share of the total U.S. population was its highest in 1890.

Background on the foreign-born population

The U.S. Census Bureau in 1850 began asking people where they born.

Large-scale immigration from Europe contributed to an increase of the foreign-born population in the United States from 1850 (2.2 million) to 1930 (14.2 million).

"The late 19th and early 20th century was a time of high immigration (relative to total population) because we had a growing economy (industrialization and urbanization)," said Mae M. Ngai, a professor of Asian American studies and history at Columbia University.

Nonpartisan think tank the Migration Policy Institute said restrictive immigration laws in the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II then reduced the number of new arrivals. The number of immigrants dropped to 9.6 million by 1970, but has continued to grow since then. Today, the majority of the foreign-born population is from Latin America and Asia, according to the Census bureau.

Carlson pointed us to a May 2017 post from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that said the U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 43.2 million in 2015.

"Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled," Pew Research Center reported.

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Carlson also noted that the Center for Immigration Studies in October 2017 said the U.S. immigrant population hit a record 43.7 million in July 2016. (The center, which favors low levels of immigration, analyzed data from the Census’ 2016 American Community Survey. It said the total number of immigrants was likely 45.6 million because some immigrants are missed by the survey.)

So the number of immigrants in the United States is the highest it’s ever been. But it’s worth mentioning that 1890 holds the record for the highest percentage of immigrants as a share of the population.

The total U.S. population in 1890 was about 63 million, and immigrants accounted for an estimated 14.8 percent. The total population in 2016 was about 323 million, which means about 13.5 percent were immigrants.

Through a spokeswoman, Carlson said he never claimed immigrants were at the highest level as a proportion of population.

An absolute number has no meaning by itself, "because it would mean something totally different in a country of 100 million, 200 million, 300 million or for that matter, 1 billion," said Ngai, the Columbia University professor.

Susan Martin, professor emerita of international migration at Georgetown University, said absolute numbers and proportion can help understand the scale and impact of immigration.

"Absolute numbers are important because each person presents needs and opportunities; proportion is equally important because impacts vary depending on whether the needs of a larger or smaller share of the population must be addressed," Martin said.

Overall, immigrants’ distribution across the country, how long they’ve been here (on average), their educational levels and and other socio-economic characteristics are also important, Martin said.

Our ruling

Carlson tweeted, "There are more immigrants in our country right now than any other time."

The number of immigrants in the United States is the highest it’s ever been: about 43.7 million. The number of immigrants in the United States has been increasing since 1970, according to the Census bureau. Carlson pointed to the absolute numbers as backup for his claim.

But it’s worth noting that immigrants as a share of the population reached its peak in 1890, at 14.8 percent. In 2016, immigrants accounted for 13.5 percent of the population.

Carlson’s statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.

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Mostly True
"There are more immigrants in our country right now than any other time."
in a tweet
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Our Sources

Twitter, @TuckerCarlson tweet, Feb. 8, 2018

Email interview, Fox News' Tucker Carlson, Feb. 9, 2018

Email interview, Tucker Carlson's spokeswoman, Feb. 12, 2018

Migration Policy Institute, Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States, Feb. 8, 2018

Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Immigrant Population and Share over Time, 1850-Present

U.S. Census Bureau, The Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 2011

Email interview, Susan Martin, professor emerita of international migration at Georgetown University, Feb. 12, 2018

Email interview, Mae M. Ngai, professor of Asian American studies and history at Columbia University, Feb. 12, 2018

Center for Immigration Studies, U.S. Immigrant Population Hit Record 43.7 Million in 2016, Oct. 16, 2017

Pew Research Center, Key findings about U.S. immigrants, Facts on U.S. Immigrants, 2015, May 3, 2017

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More by Miriam Valverde

Tucker Carlson claims more immigrants now in the United States than any other time. Is that true?

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