Amid reports illegal immigration is down, Republicans explain support for border wall plan

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KATU talked with a local Republican leader and an anti-illegal immigration group Thursday about why they support President Donald Trump's border wall proposal when multiple reports show illegal immigration is down historically.

"It's not a numbers issue," said James Buchal, chairman of the Multnomah County Republican Party. "To me it's a fundamental question: Is it good to have a nation with borders or not?"

A partial federal government shutdown is now nearly two weeks old. And it's happening due to a stalemate in Congress over the president's demand for $5.6 billion for the proposed wall and border security.

KATU found reports from the federal government and others showing illegal immigration is down.

Locally, the latest statistics from the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank, show there are about 130,000 undocumented immigrants in Oregon. The group says they make up 3.2 percent of the state's population and that their numbers peaked nationwide several years ago.

President Trump insists that "without a wall you cannot have border security," repeatedly saying America needs to do a better job keeping illegal immigrants out.

And on that point Buchal agrees.

"I support the president's initiative to secure $5 billion for increased border security, including the construction of segments of wall where they are needed," Buchal told a KATU reporter.

But why now?

The U.S. Border Patrol says it apprehended 396,579 people at the southwest border in fiscal year 2018. That's less than a quarter of the 1,643,679 people apprehended in the year apprehensions peaked in fiscal year 2000.

And the Pew Research Center says its latest stats show there were about 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2016, the lowest number since 2004 and significantly less than the peak in 2007.

"I agree that the evidence plausibly indicates that the level of illegal immigration has receded from the peaks," said Buchal. "OK. But is it less of a problem? I don't know. The policies have changed quite a bit."

Buchal pointed to a recent Yale study, which estimates there are 22.1 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with the number peaking in the mid-2000s.

He also talked about the fact that the number of asylum seekers claiming "credible fear" as a reason to enter the U.S. rose by 1,675 percent from 2007 to 2016 when there were 91,786 asylum seekers.

"If you're going to have borders, there's a meaning to them. That means you just can't walk across. It's a line," said Buchal. "And there's this very concerted effort to erase the line and that is something that as Republicans we're just dead set against."

Democrats are proposing a package that would include $1.3 billion for border security. But the White House rejected the plan and Republicans said they wouldn't vote for anything until it gets the president's approval.

Oregonians for Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigration group, sent KATU a report regarding the number of undocumented immigrants in prison in Oregon. And we fact-checked it with Oregon's Department of Corrections (DOC).

The DOC said the numbers in the report are a bit higher than theirs.

The state agency said 910 of Oregon's inmates (6.2 percent) are on a hold from ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. And the DOC said 50.2 percent of them are in prison for sex crimes including sex abuse (200 cases), rape (175 cases) and sodomy (101 cases). The agency said 132 illegal immigrants are in prison for homicide.

Jim Ludwick, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, denies claims from the Southern Poverty Law Center that it's a hate group.

"As an American citizen, we have a right to be here whether we were born here or immigrated here legally," Ludwick told a KATU reporter Thursday. "An illegal alien has no right to be here."

Meanwhile, four academic studies show that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems. The studies were conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University, the Libertarian Cato Institute and the University of Texas among other institutions.

The White House did not immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment.

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