Intercept jeers right-wing media in latest misunderstanding of statistics

January 24, 2022

By Tim Worstall

The Intercept largely misunderstood statistics in a recent piece, in which it jeers the right-wing media over immigration while not quite understanding the numbers they’re using to do so.

Perhaps the jeering is valid, even, but not for the reason that’s being given here.

As President Joe Biden entered office there was a certain surge of undocumented immigrants arriving at the Mexican border. A certain portion of the media said that this was something to do with Biden and his new likely policies on such immigration.

The Intercept, though, reported that this is all nonsense because immigration last year (it’s measured June to June, released in December) was lower than in any recent year. So all this shouting about Biden and immigration simply cannot be true.

That is their argument:

 “But rarely has such a long-running and widely accepted political and media narrative been so at odds with reality. In fact, immigration into the United States in 2021 plunged as a result of both a decline in international travel brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictive U.S. immigration policies, according to new report from the Census Bureau.”

Except for the details of those figures. Census releases numbers for all immigrants, legal and illegal. It doesn’t break them down by type either.

In 2021, some three-quarters of U.S. consulates were closed so that legal immigrants — even visitors from many countries — could not get visas to come to the U.S. For much of the year, they couldn’t get on an airplane either, the Canadian and Mexican borders were closed to legal (and non-essential) travel for a considerable amount of time.

It really is no surprise that legal immigration fell. But Census reports on legal and illegal in one great big number. So the fall in legal immigration doesn’t assuage the worries over however many potentially illegal immigrants there were at the southern border as a result of the Biden inauguration.

We can share those worries over immigration or not, up to us. But the Intercept’s claimed proof that it’s not an issue just isn’t there. For the numbers they’re using just don’t show that concerns over illegal immigration are invalid.

The Intercept is a private foundation – funded by Pierre Omidyar’s money from eBay – dedicated to entirely independent journalism. Sadly it doesn’t do much intellectual independence, usually following the same old progressive stories in the same old way. It gains some 4 million views a month for all that and is influential in its own way.

We do not, in fact, know the numbers for illegal immigration in the last reported year and nor does The Intercept. So the Census report can’t be used as proof that it’s not something to worry about – yet the Intercept insists that it can.


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