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Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center, said the population of illegal immigrants is “nearly impossible to accurately measure,” and that using less-educated Hispanics was a poor substitute for illegal immigrants.

The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform said American workers won’t be able to replace illegal immigrants and that the loss would be devastating to the agriculture industry.

“‘Attrition through enforcement’ means attrition of the American economy. It means job attrition. It means attrition of our nation’s ability to produce our own wholesome and abundant food,” ACIR said in a statement. “It means relying on the world to feed us. ‘Attrition through enforcement’ is no solution. It is a hungry wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The immigrant advocates said a slumping economy is a more likely explanation for the figures.

But Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the report shows enforcing current laws can make a dent in illegal immigration.

“Today’s report proves that America does not need new immigration laws, comprehensive immigration reform or amnesty - which only encourages more illegal immigration,” he said. “Congress and the administration simply need to ensure that our immigration laws are enforced and our borders secured. Then, and only then, will we be able to solve the problem of illegal immigration in this country.”

The report, released at a press conference Wednesday, said the illegal immigrant population declined 11 percent from August through May, from 12.5 million to 11.2 million. If the pace of the decline continues, the report said, the total population of illegals would be reduced by one-half over the next five years.

The study is based on monthly Census Bureau numbers from the Current Population Survey. Mr. Camarota said the likely legal immigrant population has continued to rise even as the likely illegal immigrant population has dropped.