Stepped-up efforts to enforce immigration policy have reduced the illegal alien population by 11 percent during the last year, a new study says.
“You have just the natural phenomenon — one cop pulls over a speeder and everyone else on the highway slows down. What you have to do is make enforcement a real possibility to begin to affect behavior, and we’ve seen that in the last year or two,” said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which produced the study of U.S. Census Bureau reports.
The study goes to the heart of the immigration fight — those who want to legalize illegal immigrants say it’s impractical and inhumane to force them to go home through more enforcement, while those on the restrictionist side say the government can successfully reduce illegal immigration if it would use available tools.
The report was released at a press conference Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. It found that the illegal immigration population declined 11 percent from August 2007 through May 2008, from 12.5 million to 11.2 million. If the pace of the decline were to continue, the report said, the total illegal population would be reduced by one-half over the next five years.
Those pushing for legalization of illegal immigrants say it may be true that illegal immigrants are leaving, but said that’s more because of a poor economy than because of enforcement.
Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center, said the illegal immigrant population is “nearly impossible to accurately measure,” and she and other advocates said this shouldn’t derail efforts to overhaul the immigration system and legalize those that are here illegally. The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform said the loss of the workers would be devastating because American workers won’t be able to replace the loss of illegal immigrants.
“‘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 issue is about to be brought to a head. Julie Myers, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told Univision’s “Al Punto” program this weekend she soon will announce a self-deportation policy.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, blasted that idea, saying people won’t leave on their own.
“The worst-hit communities in America probably provide more opportunity than rural Guatemala or other destinations from which immigrants are coming. While the flow of undocumented immigrants has slowed since the economy first started to sputter in 2000, it is still the case that the demand for legal immigration from our economy and families far outstrips the supply of legal immigration from the government,” Mr. Noorani said.
After the failure of President Bush’s immigration bill last year, top administration officials said they would instead concentrate on enforcement. At the same time, states and localities have taken their own steps to increase enforcement.
Both efforts have received extensive coverage in the Spanish-language press, and Mr. Camarota said that’s resulted in a behavioral change.
The report looked at the monthly data collected for the Census Bureau’s Current Population Study and focused on Hispanics, particularly on lesser educated, foreign-born young Hispanics, which it identifies as the “likely” illegal immigrant population.
The numbers showed a spike in the illegal immigrant population last summer — or what Mr. Camarota calls the “amnesty hump” — just as Congress was debating legalization. The rise hit its peak in August 2007 and declined as the prospect of legalization became more remote and enforcement became more real, Mr. Camarota said.
“The data so far seem to suggest that that’s what’s happening — we’re enforcing the law more vigorously and it’s changing behavior,” he said.