- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More than 6 million illegal-immigrant Mexicans now live in the United States, making up more than half of the nation’s nearly 11 million illegal aliens, a new study finds.

The report, by the Pew Hispanic Center, found that illegal immigrants have dispersed far more widely than 15 years ago, with nearly 40 percent now living outside of the six states that traditionally have attracted the most immigrants. Arizona is now fifth on the list, vaulting ahead of Illinois and New Jersey and trailing only California, Texas, Florida and New York.

“The rapid growth of the undocumented population has been the principal driver of growth in the foreign-born populations in new settlement states such as Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee,” wrote Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior research associate at the center.

Mr. Passel’s study found that between 80 percent and 85 percent of Mexican-born people now in the United States came here illegally.

Those figures come as President Bush is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Crawford, Texas, later this week. Yesterday, White House officials said they did not expect immigration to be one of the major topics of conversation, since the meeting is trilateral and involves Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, with whom illegal immigration is not considered an issue.

But Democrats in Congress said it must be a topic of discussion. In a letter to Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called for renewed action on immigration legislation, including provisions “adjusting the status of the many hard-working, tax-paying immigrants who have resided in the United States for many years.”

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, suffered a symbolic setback in his border policy at home last week when the Senate voted to fully fund the 2,000 new border patrol agents called for in fiscal year 2006 by last year’s intelligence overhaul bill.

That bill sought to double the number of border patrol agents by adding 2,000 per year for five years. Mr. Bush signed that bill in December, but in his budget request asked for only 210 new agents — a move criticized by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and culminating in the unanimous but nonbinding Senate vote last week.

Mr. Passel’s study estimates that 485,000 new illegal immigrants arrived every year between 2000 and 2004, an increase of 23 percent, to 10.3 million in 2004. Given that rate of growth, he calculated there are nearly 11 million now.

Other estimates go as high as 3 million illegal border crossings per year, though many of those are multiple crossings for the same person, and not all of those who cross stay in the country. As for the total illegal population, a recent estimate by Bear Stearns Asset Management put the figure as high as 20 million.

The Pew study used 2004 data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor. The Pew Hispanic Center arrived at its 2005 estimate by extrapolating another year based on the trends through the 2004 data.

Pew arrived at its estimate of illegals by subtracting the number of legal foreign-born residents — based on those who hold green cards, those here on temporary visas and those here as refugees — from the total foreign-born population as shown in the 2004 Current Population Survey.

Illegal aliens make up 29 percent of all immigrants, while another 61 percent are legal permanent residents, 7 percent are refugees and 3 percent are here temporarily but legally.

The report also estimates that there are more than 3 million U.S.-born children in families headed by illegal immigrants — an issue that is sure to pop up as Congress begins to debate Mr. Bush’s proposal for a guest-worker program. The president’s proposal would allow temporary workers to bring their families, and children born in the United States are citizens, which means eventually they can apply to have other members of their families legally join them.

The vast majority of illegals are under age 40. Only 1.1 million, or about 10 percent, are 40 or older.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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