More going back home
Illegal-migrant numbers down
By Stephen Wall
The San Bernardino Sun (CA), August 3, 2008
Stepped-up enforcement measures have contributed to a 11 percent decline in the number of illegal immigrants in the country over the past year, according to a new report by a nonpartisan think tank.
The illegal immigrant population fell from a peak of 12.5 million in August 2007 to 11.2 million today, according to the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.
If current trends continue, the illegal population would be cut in half within five years, the report states.
The decline is at least seven times larger than the number of illegal immigrants removed by the government in the last 10 months. As a result, most of the drop can be attributed to illegal immigrants leaving the United States on their own, according to the report released last week.
The findings are based on monthly data collected by the Census Bureau showing a significant decrease in the number of less-educated, young Latino immigrants in the country. During the same period, the number of legal immigrants continued to increase.
'The data shows that enforcement can work as an alternative to amnesty,' said Mark Krikorian, the center's executive director. 'We are not faced with the false choice of legalizing everybody or arresting every single illegal alien and throwing them out.'
After Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation last year, federal officials promised the government would do more to police the border as well as pursue employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Fencing along the border has increased significantly in the last 18 months, and the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled in recent years to more than 16,500, the report says.
State and local governments also have taken measures to deal with illegal immigration.
Georgia, Missouri, Arizona and Oklahoma require many employers to verify the legal status of workers in order to obtain business licenses or government contracts.
Local law enforcement agencies, including the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, have teamed with federal authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.
In addition, cities such as Escondido have tried to prohibit landlords from renting homes to people in the country illegally.
'Comprehensive enforcement of immigration laws is working, and we need to keep it up,' Krikorian said.
Immigrant-rights advocates agree that illegal immigrants are leaving the country. But they say it's largely because of the economic downturn, not stricter enforcement measures.
Illegal immigrants who work in the construction and service industries have seen job opportunities evaporate during the mortgage crisis.
'With the state of the economy and a lack of jobs, we do have a situation where many undocumented immigrants are going back home,' said Jose Calderon, a professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.
When they return to their home countries, immigrants then discourage their relatives and friends from trying to come to the United States, Calderon said.
'When the situation here gets worse than in their hometowns, they think it's better to be home,' he said.
The report acknowledges that the depressed economy is partly responsible for the decline in the number of illegal immigrants.
But, Krikorian said, 'the data shows the drop in the illegal population started before the uptick in the unemployment rate of those same people … The decrease began because of enforcement. It could well be picking up because the economy.'
Armando Navarro, an ethnic studies professor at UC Riverside, disputes the report's assertion that the illegal population will continue to drop as long as harsh enforcement measures are in place.
'It's only a temporary situation,' Navarro said of the illegal-immigrant decline. 'Once the economy picks up, you will have a restart of the so-called migrant exodus. As long as people are hungry, as long as people see there is opportunity in the United States of America, they are going to make the journey north.'
Krikorian said more needs to be done to combat illegal immigration.
'Despite the success, we still have almost 90 percent of the illegal aliens who were here last year,' he said. 'By no means is the job finished.'
EDITOR'S NOTE: The CIS study, 'Homeward Bound: Recent Immigration Enforcement and the Decline in the Illegal Alien Population,' by Steven A. Camarota and Karen Jensenius is available at: http://www.cis.org/trends_and_enforcement
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