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Drop in Undocumented Population May Be Good for Immigration Reform

As of January 2009, there were 10,750,000 undocumented aliens in the U.S., down from 11.6 million a year earlier, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics of the Department of Homeland Security.

The drop which continues a trend that started two years ago could make the debate on comprehensive immigration reform less contentious.

The top ten source countries in the report were Mexico – 6,650,000; El Salvador – 530,000; Guatemala – 480,000; Honduras – 320,000; Philippines – 270,000; India – 200,000; Korea – 200,000; Ecuador – 170,000; Brazil – 150,000; and China – 120,000.

The above countries accounted for 85% of the entire undocumented population.

The figures were derived by subtracting the number of legally resident population (20,470,000) from the total foreign-born population living in the U.S. (31,220,000) on January 1, 2009. The data on the legally resident population came from the Department of Homeland Security while the source of the estimated foreign-born population was the American Community survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Most of the unauthorized population entered the U.S. without inspection or were admitted temporarily and overstayed. Those that applied for adjustment of status under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act were counted as unauthorized until they become lawful permanent residents.

Section 245 (i) allows an undocumented alien in the U.S. to apply for adjustment of status provided he/she is the beneficiary of a family or employment-based petition that was filed on or before April 30, 2001 and was physically present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000.

The undocumented aliens that were included in the count entered the U.S. beginning in the 1980s. The estimated entries were as follows: 19% or 2.05 million in the 1980s, 44% or 4.75 million in the 1990s; 28% or 3.08 million in 2000 to 2004; and 8% or 910,000 between 2005 to 2008.

1980 was the starting point for the estimates because the report assumed that foreign-born residents who had entered prior to 1982 were eligible to adjust status under the amnesty provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Also, the Registry provision of the Act allows persons who have been in the U.S. since January 1, 1972 to apply for a green card.

The decrease in the unauthorized population is attributed to the economic downturn and increased law enforcement. Immigration enforcement was stepped up in the middle of 2007 when the Bush administration conducted more high profile raids and gave the power to enforce immigration laws to some state and local police departments.

Some immigrant advocates believe that the population drop will make the passage of the comprehensive immigration reform bill easier. They contend that with a smaller undocumented population, the proposed legalization program will be more manageable. It would also reduce the pressure on enforcement.

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