The Connection Between Legal and Illegal Immigration

March 8, 2006: The Connection Between Legal and Illegal Immigration

Two Sides of the Same Coin
The Connection Between Legal and Illegal Immigration

WASHINGTON (March 2006) ''Legal immigration good, illegal immigration bad.''

This is often the limit of the analysis underlying debates over immigration in Congress. Supporters of amnesty and guestworker programs often claim that if only illegal aliens were legalized, the problems they create would disappear. In addition, many of the immigration proposals currently being considered would significantly increase ordinary legal immigration; Sen. Arlen Specter's bill, for instance, would double the number of green cards issued, to as many as 2 million each year.

To add some depth to this superficial understanding of the issue, the Center for Immigration Studies has released a new report, ''Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Connection Between Legal and Illegal Immigration,'' by James R. Edwards, Jr., Ph.D. Edwards, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and co-author of The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform, explores the intertwined histories of legal and illegal immigration and how current immigration policy encourages lawbreaking. The report, available online at , finds the following:

* Legal and illegal immigration are inextricably related. As legal immigration levels have risen markedly since 1965, illegal immigration has increased with it.

* The share of the foreign-born population who are illegal aliens has risen steadily. Illegal aliens made up 21 percent of the foreign-born in 1980, 25 percent in 2000, and 28 percent in 2005.

* Mexico is the primary source country of both legal and illegal immigrants. Mexico accounted for about 30 percent of the foreign-born in 2000, and more than half of Mexicans residing in the United States in 2000 were illegal aliens.

* The level of illegal immigration is severely masked by several amnesties that legalized millions of unlawfully resident aliens. The largest amnesty was the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized 3 million aliens.

* Amnestied aliens to date have been fully eligible to sponsor additional immigrants. This has contributed to the ranks of immigrants, both legal and illegal (and often both).

* Many aliens who receive a permanent resident visa each year have spent years living in the United States illegally.

* Amnesties, technical qualification for a visa, chain migration, and vast opportunities to come to the United States (particularly via the tourist visa, the most abused visa by eventual immigrants, according to the New Immigrant Survey) all foster an ''entitlement mentality'' among many foreigners.

For more information, contact Dr. Edwards at

# # #

Support the Center for Immigration Studies by donating on line here:

Center for Immigration Studies
1522 K St. NW, Suite 820
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 466-8185 fax: (202) 466-8076