- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2005

A new report says nearly 8 million immigrants came to the United States in the past five years — more than any other five-year period in history — and that nearly half of them were illegal aliens.

As of March, there were 35.2 million legal immigrants and illegal aliens in the United States, according to the report, released yesterday by the Center for Immigration Studies.

“Contrary to public perception, immigration hasn’t really slowed. The last five years’ total are the highest ever,” said Steven A. Camarota, author of the report, which is based on Census Bureau data.

Although 7.9 million immigrants arrived from 2000 to 2005, the foreign-born population grew by 5.2 million because 500,000 or more die or return to their home countries every year. According to Mr. Camarota’s figures, 3.7 million illegal aliens arrived in the United States during this period.

Mr. Camarota said his study contradicts President Bush’s assertion that immigrants are taking jobs that native-born workers won’t do.

The 2005 data show that there are large unemployment rates in industries that have high percentages of immigrant workers, and he said that although not every immigrant is taking a job from a native or naturalized American, a guest-worker program or other increase in the number of immigrant workers would affect native workers.

Mr. Camarota found 809,000 native-born construction workers who said they were unemployed in March, while the industry employed more than 2 million immigrants. And in food preparation, an industry that employees 1.6 million immigrants, 521,000 native-born workers were unemployed.

He also said legalizing illegal aliens will not reduce their rate of use of social services or the poverty rate, citing his finding that legal immigrants without a high school degree take advantage of welfare more than do illegal aliens and that 55 percent of unskilled legal workers fall within 200 percent of the poverty line — the level of eligibility for many programs.

But Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, said other studies show legalization does help.

“After people become legalized, their behaviors and their fortunes in the labor market increase substantially,” he said.

Mr. Papademetriou said these people move from sector to sector, earning higher wages, and that those being paid below the minimum wage right now would be paid at least minimum wage after legalization, which also would help.

Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, said the main issue facing Congress is that so much of the flow of immigrants is illegal, and the question is how to create a system that channels people into legal immigration.

“Where I think the debate needs to go is how we get a handle on migration to this country and the fact that we have a situation that is completely out of touch with reality,” she said.

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