Despite Rhetoric, Florida's Undocumented Immigrant Population Is Actually Shrinking

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis
Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr
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Ron DeSantis' run for the Florida governorship was based, at times, almost entirely on the issue of immigration. He wants Donald Trump to build a border wall. He threatened to crack down on local mayors who refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He repeatedly said on the campaign trail that immigrants were hurting Florida's workers and that he would "abolish illegal immigration."

DeSantis, like Trump before him, made it appear that waves of undocumented people were sprinting into Florida at a rapid clip. Not so. As it turns out, the number of undocumented immigrants in Florida dropped 26 percent from 2007 to 2016, according to new figures from the Pew Research Center. In 2007, the Florida population included 1.05 million undocumented people — by 2016, that number had shrunk to just 775,000.

"Among states with the largest unauthorized immigrant workforces, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York had lower numbers in 2016 than in 2007, and unauthorized immigrants also became a smaller share of the total workforce," Pew researchers wrote. According to the Pew data, the number of unauthorized immigrants rose from just 240,000 in Florida in 1990 to a peak of 1.05 million in 2007 and now appears to be trending back downward. Pew's data is consistent with national trends showing that border apprehensions and overall levels of undocumented immigration have significantly slowed from their peaks roughly a decade ago.

Map showing that unauthorized immigrant populations changed in 15 states over the past decade.

The majority of studies show that increased immigration is, in fact, good for the U.S. economy, and that mass deportation is, in addition to being morally heinous and inhumane, sure to hurt U.S. industry. (Pew states that undocumented immigrants make up 5.6 percent of the workforce and work mostly in construction. Immigrant-rights activists say it would be far more humane and better for the United States economy to just make it easier to immigrate here.) But the Pew data lays bare just how empty much of DeSantis' (and Trump's) rhetoric was on the campaign trail this year: DeSantis painted undocumented immigration as a crisis at its tipping point when data show that's not close to true.

As he stood alongside Trump at an August rally, DeSantis shouted that he would "fight illegal immigration" before being forced to pause for a literal 20-second applause break:

At times, it appeared immigration was the only thing DeSantis cared about — he was criticized in the press for failing to roll out anything resembling a coherent economic or social platform. His most famous campaign ad showed him and his young son building a tiny replica of Trump's proposed "border wall" with blocks. He repeatedly railed against undocumented immigrants and stated that open-border policies let murderers into the country, even though data shows that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.

Of course, DeSantis refused to accurately cite data related to the comparatively small number of crimes committed by immigrants, and there's no way he'll quit tossing around anti-immigrant bile now that he's won the governor's race. But it's worth calling him out nonetheless. Maybe his tone will change now that he's in office. 

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