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Why the Undocumented Immigrant Population is Down

There has been a sharp decline in the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States, according to a report released on September 1 by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group.  Annual unauthorized immigration inflow between March 2007 and March 2009 were almost two-thirds smaller compared to the period between March 2000 and March 2005.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was quick to take credit.  Matt Chandler, DHS Deputy Press Secretary said in a press release that DHS enforcement measures have been a major factor in this dramatic drop.

According to Mr. Chandler, the DHS has doubled the number of border control agents from 10,000 in 2004 to more than 20,000 today.  It has cracked down on more employers that hire illegal labor, has increased seizures of illegal goods, and has removed criminal aliens at an unprecedented level.

Interestingly, some states directly affected by increased DHS enforcement and federal deployment of the National Guard to the border did not show extremely significant reduction in the unauthorized immigrant population.  Texas, for instance which is a vocal anti-immigration state, experienced only a negligible drop.

On the other hand, states that suffered from severe recession, such as Florida, Nevada and Virginia experienced large drops in unauthorized immigration in 2008 and 2009.  Arizona had a 20% drop before their harsh anti-immigrant law went into effect.  The decline in unauthorized immigration seemed largely the result of the housing bust that ended nearly all new home and real estate development in these states in 2008.

Closer examination into the historic rates of unauthorized immigration flow between the years 2000 and 2009 does not establish a convincing relationship between DHS activity and the steep drop in 2008 and 2009.  If the DHS’s claims were true, the data would show a steady decline in unauthorized immigration flow between 2004 and the present.  However, the data does not show a decrease in unauthorized immigrant flow compared to increased DHS activity.  In fact it widely fluctuates, and finally shows a dramatic decline between 2008 and 2009.

The data in the reports shows that the decreased flow of immigrants was due largely to a combination of abysmal economic conditions and the high levels of unemployment in industries that affected immigrants the most such as construction, hospitality and service.  In the past decade unauthorized immigration flow closely matched unemployment rates and economic fluctuations.

Previous to the drop described in the Pew Report, another drastic decline occurred between 2000 and 2002 coincidentally around the last recession.  Much like the current drop in immigrant flow, the previous drop coincided with weak job prospects and precarious economic conditions.  As long as economic conditions stay the way they are, unauthorized immigration flow will either remain the same or fall further only to pick up once confidence in the economy returns.

This Pew Hispanic Report has widespread implications for the current immigration debate.  Harsh enforcement measures will not fix our broken immigration system, regardless of what Mr. Chandler or Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer say.

It will make more sense to assimilate the unauthorized population and channel our strained government resources to improve our economy rather than to build fences on the border.

As Immigration Protests Mount Democrats Unveil Plan

The first lawsuit against Arizona’s tough anti-immigrant law was filed last April 29 by a Tucson police officer who claimed that the law would compel him to engage in racial profiling.

Another group composed of clergies filed a petition in Phoenix alleging that the law would target their vehicles travelling in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Three well-known civil rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Immigration Law Center have also announced that they would work together to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

In the meantime, it has been reported that at least ten (10) states including Ohio, Missouri, Maryland, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas are preparing to introduce similar anti-immigrant legislations.

National outrage over the law has been growing rapidly. On May 1st, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in at least 70 locations all over the country. Some demonstrators were arrested, including Rep. Gutierrez, the principal author of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill in the House.

Rep. Gutierrez likened the anti-Arizona movement to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Rev. Jesse Jackson said that “Arizona has become a Selma.”

Only several days ago, President Obama said that Congress “may not have the appetite to tackle immigration reform this year.” But he quickly praised the proposal of Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer, Patrick Leahy, Diane Feinstein and Robert Menendez to fix our broken immigration system as soon as possible.

The Democratic proposal is entitled Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform or REPAIR. It is a “framework of concrete bipartisan ideas” for reform.

It would increase the number of border patrol officers, immigration agents and inspectors at the port of entry. It would also provide for a more effective entry-exit system designed to monitor overstaying visitors.

It seeks to end illegal employment through biometric employment verification. Biometric social security cards would be issued within eighteen (18) months from the date of the enactment of the proposed law.

The legal immigration system would be reformed to maximize economic prosperity. The law would provide immediate green cards to foreign students educated in the U.S. with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The existing H and L visas would be reformed and a new H-2C visa for non-seasonal, non agricultural workers would be created.

The family immigration backlog would be cleared over an 8-year period. Unused immigrant visas would be recaptured and spouses and children would be classified as immediate relatives. The per country cap would be increased from 7% to 10%. Children of Filipino World War II veterans would be exempted from the cap. Foreign doctors, nurses, and physical therapists would be given workers visas more easily.

Undocumented immigrants would be legalized in two phases. Phase I would require them to register, be fingerprinted and get a background check. Upon their complete registration, they would be accorded Lawful Prospective Immigrant status (LPI) with right to work and travel. Those who fail to register or those who are not eligible to register would be arrested and deported.

Phase II would start 8 years after the enactment of the law and when the current visa backlogs are cleared. They would be eligible to apply for adjustment to permanent residents.

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