Micek: We're not overrun by illegal immigrants
Okay, sit down. Take a deep breath.
Now repeat this mantra to yourself: No matter what Donald Trump says, we're not being overrun by illegal immigrants.
In 2015, the U.S. Border Patrol caught just over 331,000 people trying to cross the nation's southwestern border, according to the Washington Post. That's a drop of about 30 percent year-over-year, and a massive decline since 2000, when the Border Patrol arrested 1.6 million people.
In addition, citing 2015 data, the Pew Research Center found that after explosive growth in the 1990s in the early 2000s, the nation's illegal immigrant population has leveled off.
This is not to suggest that the United States should slack off in its enforcement efforts. If anything, it suggests an appropriate level of current enforcement.
But it also means that we're having the wrong conversation about immigration reform, one grounded in fear and suspicion, rather than actual facts.
According to Pew, there were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in March 2013. That's about the same as the 11.2 million in 2012 and unchanged since 2009.
Why did it stabilize? Well, that's because, in large part (and the Pew data makes this clear) more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are coming in.
Between 2009 and 2014, 1 million Mexicans and their families (including U.S.-born children) left the U.S. for Mexico, according to data compiled by the 2014 Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics.
In addition, U.S. census data for the same five-year stretch shows that roughly 870,000 Mexicans left their home country for the United States, a smaller number than the flow of families from the U.S. to Mexico.
Thus, no invasion — despite what you may have heard.
In fact, since 2009 Pew estimated there have been about 350,000 new illegal immigrants each year, about 100,000 of whom are Mexican. The rest hail from Central America, Cuba and elsewhere.
That's pronounced decline, and it means Mexicans accounted for about half of new illegal immigrants in the years leading up to the Great Recession.
And because of that slowdown, illegal immigrants are less likely than those in the past to be recent arrivals.
As the Pew data shows, the share of illegal adult immigrants who have lived in the United States for a decade or more nearly doubled between 2000 and 2012, from 35 percent to 62 percent.
Only 15 percent of unauthorized adults in 2012 had lived in the U.S. for less than five years, compared with 38 percent a decade-plus earlier.
And crime? That's a non-starter, too.
Despite Trump's pernicious claims last year that Mexico is sending less than its best citizens to the United States, it's provably true that illegal immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans.
According to a 2015 report by the American Immigration Council, based on 2010 data, 1.6 percent of immigrant males aged 18 to 39 were incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of native-born Americans.
"This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses," the report concluded. "In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants."
Despite some clear horror stories, U.S. authorities have also become more adept at catching and deporting illegal immigrants with criminal history. In 2014, the United States deported 177,960 undocumented immigrants who were convicted criminals, CNN reported, citing Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.
Compare that to the 121 people released from immigration custody who were later charged with murder between 2010-2014, according to Homeland Security data included in a breathless letter penned by two U.S. senators.
While all those deaths are still a tragedy, that's still about a thousandth of a percent of the total "estimated number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States," CNN reported.
As a consequence of much of the rhetoric now making the rounds, Americans' views of immigrants are decidedly mixed.
In a Pew poll released last September, respondents said 45to 37 percent that immigrants were making American society better. Half said immigrants were making the economy and crime rates worse.
Nearly half wanted immigration reduced, and more than eight in 10 said the immigration system needed to be overhauled — a task to which Washington has proven woefully unequal — despite a clear need for intelligent and meaningful reform.
So to review: Illegal immigration has slowed. And those who come here illegally commit fewer crimes than the native-born population.
We're going to need a smaller wall.
John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.