The immigration problem Donald Trump is ignoring is north of the border

By Daniel Lombardi/Deseret News

The presidential primary debates, and Donald Trump in particular, have brought new focus on immigration, but a new report documenting the visitors who overstay their visas could reframe the topic.

As Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently pointed out, many of the people in the U.S. illegally came to the country on legal travel or business visas that they have since overstayed. A new report from the Department of Homeland Security points to Canada as the surprising source of most of these overstayers.

“Forty percent of illegal immigration comes not over the border illegally,” Cruz said in the recent GOP debate, “but people coming on visas and overstaying.” Cruz has an 11-page immigration policy that includes building a wall and tripling border patrol.

“The data is a little bit old,” said Jon Greenberg on PBS, “But we have been in touch with the researchers. And … they affirm that the numbers still hold true. It’s at least 40 percent of the undocumented in this country.”

However, Cruz, who was born in Canada himself, was incorrect when he said President Clinton had deported 12 million people and George W. Bush 10 million. “In fact,” William Brangham said on PBS, “Clinton deported only 1.6 million and Bush only 870,000. President Obama is the record-holder, having deported 2.4 million people to their home countries.”

Donald Trump, for his immigration plan, has proposed deporting all illegal immigrants, a wall along the Mexican border and a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

The country with the most visitors overstaying their visas is Canada, Pew Research Center reported last week after analyzing a new report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “Out of 45 million U.S. arrivals by air and sea whose tourist or business visas expired in fiscal 2015, the agency estimates that about 416,500 people were still in the country this year,” wrote Pew. After Canada, Mexico and Brazil are home to the most visitors who failed to leave at the end of their visa. Together, those three countries account for more than a third of all overstayers.

As of 2014, about half of all unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico but Mexicans account for only about 9 percent of all visa overstayers. Canadians, on the other hand, only make up 1 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. (as of 2012) but 19 percent of all overstayers who had not left the U.S. by the end of 2015, equalling about 93,000 people. The DHS report only looked at visitors whose visas expired during the 2015 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, and didn’t look at arrivals from Canada or Mexico by land, which account for most temporary visitors, according to Pew.

The DHS report also indicated that the number of overstayers decreases over time. Of the 45 million arrivals who were supposed to leave, about 527,000 overstayed, or 1.17 percent. “So by Jan. 4, 2016, an estimated 416,500 were still in the country, a rate of 0.9%. The DHS report said some have likely left since then, or obtained or renewed a legal visa,” wrote Pew.

There’s still too little known about people who overstay visas, according to Newsweek, but “the good news is that roughly 99 percent of all visitors comply and go home when they are supposed to; the bad news is that, with more than 40 million visitors last year, the 1 percent who didn’t go home still adds up to nearly 500,000 overstayers,” wrote Newsweek.