When U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida addressed the topic of immigration during the first Republican debate, he portrayed our country as the leading repository of legal immigrants.
"This is the most generous country in the world when it comes to immigration," Rubio said Aug. 6. "There are a million people a year who legally immigrate to the United States and people feel like we are being taken advantage of."
Rubio went on to talk about people who call his office in frustration as they wait years to come to the United States legally.
Statements about illegal immigration by Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and businessman Donald Trump were hot topics during the debate. Here, we will fact-check whether Rubio got his figure right, and we will explain what he means about the United States being the "most generous in the world when it comes to immigration."
Rubio’s stance on how to change immigration laws has been a hot topic since 2013 since Rubio and seven other senators crafted bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate. The bill included a pathway to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants, though one with significant hurdles. But the House wasn’t interested in that approach, and after that died, Rubio said he still favored changing immigration law through piecemeal bills.
In May, Rubio said at the National Review Forum that "We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts 1 million people a year, legally. No other country in the world even comes close to that."
As we explained in our earlier fact-check, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security keeps track of the number of new legal permanent residents a year, and in 2013 it was just shy of 1 million at 990,553. Of the 2013 number, about 46 percent were new arrivals, and about 54 percent were people already in the United States whose status was upgraded to "permanent."
As for how the United States stacks up against other countries in terms of legal immigration, we turned to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Formed in 1961, the OECD collects data on a wide range of topics, including immigration.
We looked at the data in two ways for 2013: First, the sheer number of legal immigrants and secondly, the number of new immigrants as a percentage of the population.
OECD standardizes the data from various countries to make them comparable with those in the United States. That process aims to count only permanent residents and exclude other categories such as seasonal workers or students.
When we fact-checked Rubio’s claim in May, the OECD was in the process of standardizing the data for 2013, but expected the United States to be in the top spot for the sheer number of immigrants with nearly 1 million immigrants. Provisional figures by OECD showed that Germany had 466,000 while the United Kingdom had 291,000.
In per capita rates,the United States placed 19th out of 24 countries. That means that the United States received fewer immigrants per capita in 2012-13 compared with several European countries, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Rubio said, "This is the most generous country in the world when it comes to immigration. There are million people a year who legally immigrate to the United States."
Rubio got his number correct: Nearly 1 million legal immigrants came to the United States in 2013, according to data from the federal government. In terms of sheer numbers, that puts the United States ahead of other countries, but not in terms of a percentage of the population.
We rate this claim Mostly True.