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Donald Trump says illegal immigration is at a record high. He's wrong

Donald Trump says illegal immigration is at a record high. He's wrong
Donald Trump in New York. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump consistently portrays illegal immigration as a mounting crisis warranting drastic measures.

"Just look at the record number of people right now that are pouring across the borders of this country," Trump said to reporters Tuesday night at a party celebrating his victory in five more Republican primary states.

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But Trump's claims of record levels of illegal immigration don't match the facts.

Multiple studies show rates of illegal immigration are declining. And federal statistics show the lowest number of border apprehensions in years.

According to recent estimates by the Center for Migration Studies, the number of immigrants living in the country without authorization has fallen to the lowest level since 2003, thanks in part to a major buildup of border security started by President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama.

The decrease among Mexicans has been particularly stark, with net migration of Mexicans to the U.S. falling to lows not seen since the 1940s, according to Pew Research Center.

Which all begs a question: Why has Trump focused on illegal immigration now, given that it's a less significant phenomenon than it was in the past?

The Republican front-runner says his calls for mass deportations and an end to birthright citizenship are a response to crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally, including the death last summer of a San Francisco woman who was allegedly shot by a man in the country without authorization. Trump says a massive wall is needed at the southern U.S. border to keep out Mexican drug dealers and rapists as well as overseas terrorists.

His message has clearly resonated with some Republican primary voters. At campaign rallies, Trump is frequently interrupted by supporters chanting: "Build that wall."

"Oh we'll build a wall, don't worry," he told a boisterous crowd in West Chester, Pa., on Monday.

But how his immigration rhetoric might play out with a broader audience in a general election is another story.

Polls show a majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for the 10 million to 11 million immigrants believed to be in the country without authorization. Mass deportations of the sort Trump has called for are not favored.

Asked Tuesday night whether he plans on recalibrating his immigration plan to appeal to a general-election audience, Trump shook his head.

"I'll stick with my feelings on immigration," he said.

For more presidential campaign news, follow me on Twitter: @katelinthicum

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