Of all the issues that have bubbled up on the campaign trail so far, nothing has inspired absurdity quite like immigration. Donald Trump isn't the only Republican candidate to have made outlandish comments: Chris Christie has called for FedEx-like tracking of foreigners, and Carly Fiorina has endorsed a crackdown on Chinese birth tourism.
If the stakes were low, such rhetoric wouldn't matter much. But of course the stakes are high, and millions of Americans who follow political news as entertainment could end up believing simplistic talking points or even outright misinformation.
Here are some of the biggest absurdities from the GOP primary trail:
Pregnant women crossing the border. Trump has claimed that women who are not only pregnant but actually nine months pregnant are crossing the border to have their children in the U.S. What he hasn't mentioned is that Customs and Border Protection officers may take pregnancy into account in determining whether a migrant is likely to comply with visa restrictions. And, needless to say, women in late stages of pregnancy would have a difficult time evading ports of entry and attempting more dangerous border crossings.
Trump has also said that children born to these late-term border crossers remain a fiscal drain on the U.S. for 85 years or more. It's true that the children of immigrants may present fiscal costs in the short term, as any newborn would, but they produce significant fiscal benefits after entering the workforce, including extending the life span of Social Security.
Asian birth tourism. Fiorina has said birth tourism is a festering problem in Southern California. However, the reality is that the Obama administration and local authorities have cracked down on the industry, and many in local law enforcement report fewer complaints than in years past. Even the conservative Center for Immigration Studies estimates that birth tourists account for less than 1% of all births in the U.S. each year.
Tracking of foreigners. Christie has repeatedly called for a biometric system that would track foreigners on visas and "tap them on the shoulder" when their time is up. Such a program would not only represent extreme governmental intrusion into peoples' daily lives, it would also be cost prohibitive. Remember, millions come to the U.S. each year on temporary visas, including tourist and student visas. Indeed, Congress considered a far more modest program in 2007 — tracking when people leave the U.S. — and ruled it out because of its financial cost.
Fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border. Several candidates, including Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, have endorsed the construction of a massive wall or fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. But 700 miles of fences and walls already exist, and as past studies have indicated, these fortification solutions are only partly effective in deterring illegal immigration. Not only are migrants able to evade fences by digging tunnels or getting smuggled in in vehicles, any fortification would have no effect on those who enter the U.S. legally and overstay their visas. Research has shown, moreover, that increased border enforcement has stopped the decades-old practice of circular migration among Latin American immigrants, prompting more immigrants who entered illegally to remain in the United States.
Immigrants as violent criminals. Despite Trump's famous pronouncement to the contrary, a wide range of studies indicate that immigrants, including Mexican immigrants, are less likely than the native-born to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated.
Immigration is a complex policy area involving many different programs and types of legal status. It is precisely because of this complexity that idle speculation and simplistic solutions can lead to significant distortions in public opinion that are at odds with reality.
Although we might not expect politicians to produce a more accurate picture — especially if inaccuracy is advantageous to their campaigns — at the very least we should expect news organizations to respond quickly with hard facts. Only then can we hope that the years-long discussion on immigration will lead to actual solutions.
Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy at UC Riverside, and Pratheepan Gulasekaram, an associate professor of law at Santa Clara University, are coauthors of "The New Immigration Federalism."