- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

The population of illegal aliens in the United States more than doubled in the past decade, with more than 7 million, mostly Mexicans, now living here, according to a report issued yesterday by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Annually, 350,000 illegals are believed to enter the United States, mainly from countries whose residents traditionally enter with visas and overstay, said the report based on the 2000 census and INS statistics. That's about 75,000 more than earlier INS estimates.

"The bottom line is America has lost control of its borders. It does not inspire confidence at a time of war when [terrorists] are trying to get into the country and blow you up," said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

"The scale of illegal immigration can only be described as enormous," said Mr. Camarota.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that wants to curb immigration said the country's willingness to issue permanent-resident "green cards" is attracting illegal entrants.

"We gave out green cards like candy," Mr. Camarota said.

In 1999, 200,000 illegal aliens were given legal status. Overall, the study of 1990 to 2000 census figures shows that nearly 1.5 million aliens who were in the country illegally were granted legal status. The INS deported more than 400,000 during that same period.

California has the largest number of unauthorized visitors with 2.2 million nearly 32 percent of the total residing in the country and was followed by Texas with more than 1 million. New York and Illinois have about half a million each, and Florida has more than 300,000.

The new totals provide more ammunition for groups seeking greater restrictions on immigration and tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the nation's immigration laws and enforcement have been under heightened scrutiny. All 19 of the hijackers entered the country legally, with travel, student or business visas. Most of the visas were still valid at the time of the attacks.

Sixty-nine percent of illegal aliens are from Mexico, about 5 million, more than twice as many as the 2 million estimated in 1990. The entire illegal-immigrant population in the United States grew from 3.5 million to 7 million.

Following Mexico with more than 100,000 illegal immigrants each are El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, China and Ecuador.

There are 8 million legal immigrants residing in this country.

The report said changes in legislation and court decisions allowed aliens from certain countries to obtain legal status.

"In 1997, many long-term illegal residents from Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the former Soviet Union were allowed to stay and work in the United States under provisions of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act," the report said.

"Unauthorized residents from Central American and other countries were effectively shifted from unauthorized to lawfully resident by other legislative changes and judicial decisions in the latter part of the 1990s," the report said.

In 1987, nearly 2.7 million illegal aliens were granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and prior to September 11, the Bush administration called for broad legalization.

About 7,000 illegal immigrants were estimated to be in the District of Columbia and 56,000 are in Maryland. The report says more than 100,000 illegal aliens reside in Virginia.

The lowest eight states, with fewer than 2,500 illegal residents each, are Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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