The number of people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally dropped by 40 percent between January and February. Naturally, many Trump supporters are rejoicing, and crediting the President’s hardline stance on immigration.
The numbers are real. According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 31,578 border-crossers were apprehended in January, while 18,762 people were apprehended in February. Over the last several decades, February has typically seen an increase in immigration.
But it’s too early to tell whether these statistics represent a long-term trend. Migration typically fluctuates seasonally. It ebbs and flows with economic tides in both the U.S. and countries to the south. It’s impacted by violent crime rates in Central America. It’s curtailed by the cost that coyotes (human smugglers) charge migrants, which has risen sharply to many thousands of dollars now that the Mexican drug cartels have taken over the borderlands.
It’s also possible that Trump has decreased immigration by turning America into a place fewer people want to go.
Other numbers support that hypothesis. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. colleges and universities are reporting a decline in the number of international students applying. The drop is particularly noticeable for students from the Middle East, India and China. (However, some schools in more immigrant-friendly blue states are seeing an increase in international applications.)
Students are citing several concerns, including a perception that the U.S. is now less welcoming to foreigners, as well as concerns that the travel ban might expand to other countries and that visa restrictions could tighten. Xenophobic violence, such as the murder of an Indian man in Kansas, is also making people fearful of coming to the U.S.
International students typically pay full tuition and bring more than $32 billion a year into the country’s economy. They also encourage an exchange of new ideas, foster innovation, and promote a positive view of the U.S. wherever they go. American students who interact with international students are more likely to learn a foreign language, place contemporary problems in a historical perspective, reexamine political and religious dogma, question their beliefs about other races, and appreciate art and literature.
It’s not only students who are reluctant to come to the country. International travel bookings to the U.S. are down by 6.5 percent compared to this time last year. In only the first week following the executive order travel ban, the U.S. lost nearly $200 million in business travel. New York City, the most popular destination for foreign travelers, is projecting that 300,000 fewer international tourists will visit the Big Apple this year.
In the travel industry, even small percentages can make a huge difference. A mere 1 percent reduction in international business travel over one year could cost the U.S. 71,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages.
It remains to be seen how Trump’s immigration rhetoric and border wall executive order will impact tourism from the U.S.’s second biggest travel market: Mexico.
Some Trump supporters may celebrate the literal and figurative walling off of America. But they should ask themselves: If people aren’t coming to America because they view it as an undesirable, unwelcoming and dangerous place to be, how is that ‘making America great again’? If we’re losing millions and perhaps billions of dollars in tourism, taxes and tuition, how is that ‘winning’? And if, in order to preserve America, you have to turn America into something it isn’t, how is that preserving America?