During an appearance on "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on the Fox Business Network last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the current crisis at the border is at a level he has "never seen before."
Patrick’s segment appeared after one about the birth rate from 2017, when more than 3.8 million births were recorded across the country, the lowest number in 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This will stagger you," Patrick said, referencing Dobbs’ report on birth rates. "We will have more people enter our country illegally than were born in this country in one year."
"We’re on pace to apprehend a million people crossing into this country illegally. Any law enforcement person you talk to — local sheriff, our state police — they will tell you that they catch one out of four or five. That means if we catch 1 million, there are 4 million others."
Patrick’s claim is wrong. No matter how generously we slice and dice the figures, his math does not add up.
Patrick under on apprehension estimate
Alejandro Garcia, spokesman for Patrick, pointed us to a few different sources for this claim: news reports about birth rates, projected border apprehensions for the coming year and a study that suggested the population of people in the country illegally is significantly higher than previously recorded.
Let’s start with projected border apprehensions.
The ABC News article Garcia provided reports that border authorities are "predicting the number of undocumented migrants stopped at the southern border could reach as high as 1 million by the end of the year, potentially doubling last year’s level."
The only problem here, as the article notes, is that this estimate "includes illegal crossings and people arriving at ports of entry."
Similar claims have been made by federal officials in the past, with the same caveat, that their estimate counts both apprehensions of individuals crossing illegally and law enforcement encounters with individuals at ports of entry who are looking to enter the country legally.
A Fact-check.org analysis found that a more accurate estimate is that federal authorities are on track to make 643,306 apprehensions this fiscal year, the time frame U.S. Customs and Border Protection looks at when tracking apprehensions.
That number was based on average apprehensions from the first five months of the fiscal year, which spans from October to September. There are two more months of data available now, which has boosted the monthly average. Officials are now on track to make about 789,000 apprehensions this fiscal year.
It’s also possible to come up with a similar estimate for the calendar year; Patrick didn’t specify which period he was considering. Given the monthly average of about 76,700 apprehensions for the first four months of the year, officials look to be on track to make about 920,400 apprehensions this calendar year.
Patrick wrong on 1 out of 4 (or 5) claim
Garcia pointed to a study published by researchers at the Yale University School of Management to support the last part of Patrick’s claim: that agents apprehend just one in every four or five individuals who attempt to enter the country illegally.
The study looked to calculate how many undocumented immigrants live in the United States, and it found a mean population estimate of 22.1 million in 2016 — "essentially double the current widely accepted estimate" of 11.3 million.
But Edward Kaplan, a professor at Yale University who authored the study, said the higher population count does not mean individuals are crossing the border at the rate Patrick suggested.
"We do not estimate that 5 million people have crossed the border illegally in any single year during the time of our study," Kaplan said in an email, noting that the highest number of border crossings reported in the study was in 2000, when an estimated 2.6 million people crossed illegally.
An important aside here: Many experts have raised concerns about the validity of the Yale study, including researchers at the Migration Policy Institute who said its findings were based on "seriously flawed assumptions" about migration patterns and Census data.
Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, was among those researchers who criticized the results. He called its conclusions "unsupportable" in a blog post for the center, which advocates for low levels of immigration.
We asked Camarota to take a look at Patrick’s claim.
Even though there has been an increase in apprehensions from previous years, Camarota said, far fewer than 4 million people will cross the border illegally this year.
He said even if Patrick’s claim was limited just to births of native-born Americans (which Camarota estimated to be at about 3.1 million in 2017) or if he included estimates for people who overstay their visas in his calculation of illegally crossings, the ratio is off.
"The bottom line is that it doesn’t seem possible you could get to 4 million," Camarota said, referencing the number of births recorded in 2017.
The Department of Homeland Security offers estimates for apprehension rates at the border and for how many people successfully enter the country illegally, based in part on observable data reported by agents on the ground and on statistical models.
A Border Security Metrics report published in February used two different calculations to estimate that agents at the southern border apprehended about 65% to 75% of people who attempted to enter the country illegally in fiscal year 2017.
A separate report published by the Office of Immigration Statistics in 2017 said agents apprehend 55% to 85% of all individuals attempting to cross, depending on the specific estimate.
The DHS report also includes estimates for "got aways," people who were observed successfully crossing the border while evading apprehension, and "total successful unlawful entries," a number calculated through statistical models and observable data.
There were an estimated 104,000 "got aways" in 2017 (an 83% decrease from 615,000 in 2006) and 160,000 "total successful unlawful entries" in 2017 (a 92% decrease from 2.1 million in 2000).
Patrick said, "We will have more people enter our country illegally than were born in this country in one year."
There is no evidence to support Patrick’s claim. While it is hard to say exactly how many people successfully enter the country illegally while evading detection, it’s safe to say that the real number is significantly smaller than Patrick’s 5 million.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
Footnote: This isn’t the first time Patrick has made a claim like this. In 2014, he suggested that more people are apprehended after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border a week "than are born in Texas each week." That was True (at the time).