In the Saturday, November 15 CBS Democratic debate, presidential candidate Martin O’Malley responded to a question about U.S. border security as follows:
The truth of the matter is, net immigration from Mexico last year was zero. Fact check me. Go ahead. Check it out.
Several news outlets and fact-checking organizations took him up on the challenge.
But they mostly failed to pick up on a critical distinction, which actually determines whether he’s right or wrong (a distinction that probably worries every Mexican-American who listened to the debates):
Was O’Malley talking only about the immigration of undocumented persons (commonly referred to as “illegal immigration”), or about all immigration of Mexicans to the United States?
After all, according to U.S. government statistics, well over 100,000 people born in Mexico typically obtain lawful permanent residence (a green card) each year. They may do so through employers, marriage, and other entirely legal categories under U.S. immigration law.
O’Malley used only the word “immigration,” with no reference to this distinction. If ALL Mexican immigrants are what he meant to describe, he’s actually wrong.
According to data gathered by PolitiFact, the overall number of Mexican-born people living in the U.S. (a figure that would capture both documented and undocumented immigrants) was actually up by a couple hundred in 2014. Not a huge deal, but not “zero,” either.
It’s only when you look at the numbers of UNDOCUMENTED immigrants that O’Malley’s net-zero statement checks out, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
So, which is it, O’Malley? Was your language wrong, or were your facts wrong? It’s one or the other. Either way, someone running for the highest office in the U.S. needs to develop an acute awareness of difference between a legal immigrant and an undocumented one.