- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Despite the surge of illegal migrants from Central America, the actual unauthorized population in the U.S. has dropped over the last decade, according to a new analysis Wednesday that found hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have surrendered their foothold and self-deported back home.

The border is also no longer the key to illegal immigration, with the Center for Migration Studies of New York calculating that two-thirds of the new unauthorized migrants between 2010 and 2018 came on legal visas but never returned home. Only one-third jump the border.

Over that period, the total illegal immigrant population fell from 11.8 million to 10.6 million, CMS says.

And the decline was consistent. More people left each year than arrived save for 2014 and 2015.

“There’s a widespread assumption that everyone wants to come to the United States and no one ever leaves, but that’s never been true,” said Robert Warren, the demographer who did the study for CMS. “There has always been a return flow, but until recently we weren’t able to measure it well in the undocumented population.”

In 2010, there were 6.6 million illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. By 2018 that had dropped to 5.1 million.

Within those numbers, there were massive shifts. CMS says 4 million illegal immigrants here in 2018 came during that decade — but a total of 5.3 million people left the unauthorized population, or an annual average of 665,000.

Of those, about 360,000 either got legal status, died or were deported. The remaining 305,000 voluntarily went home, CMS said.

And it wasn’t just Mexico.

The number of Polish illegal immigrants fell from 93,000 at the beginning of the decade to just 39,000 by 2018. CMS said that was due to a greatly improving economy back home, which both stemmed any new flow and drew some citizens back.

The yearly average of 1,800 new visa overstays from Poland was easily outdistanced by 8,500 people a year returning home — “possibly passing through the same airports,” CMS said.

Venezuela, by contrast, saw its unauthorized population soar as the country devolved into economic catastrophe and political chaos. The 65,000 illegal immigrants at the start of the decade is now 172,000, CMS said, with almost all of the increase coming after 2014, when the country’s political crisis began.

CMS said there are lessons for the recent border crisis, which saw massive numbers of people from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala rush to the U.S. Nation-building in Central America could keep them home, the analysts said.

In particular, despite the large number of folks nabbed at the border, the rate of illegal immigration from those countries didn’t rise as fast.

“Increases in border apprehensions should not be equated with increases in arrivals into the undocumented resident population,” CMS said.

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is a contentious issue.

The government’s latest official estimate was released in 2018 and dates back to 2015, when it calculates there were 12 million. That analysis said the population grew an average of 70,000 a year.

Another analysis from 2018 by researchers at Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put the number much higher, at 22.1 million. In fact, the study said the range was anywhere from 16 million to 29 million.

That paper used mathematical models of foreign arrivals, deportations and death rates to calculate the number.

By contrast the CMS calculations are based on Census Bureau numbers.

Both that 2018 study and CMS’s research did suggest that illegal immigration peaked around the end of the last decade, and had declined slightly since.

CMS’s study said the biggest drops in illegal immigrant population came in sanctuary states, which limit cooperate with federal immigration authorities. California, which became a full sanctuary in 2018, though some cities were sanctuaries before, saw its illegal immigrant population slide from 2.9 million to 2.3 million.

CMS said Texas, which does cooperate with the feds, saw its illegal immigrant population grow by 77,000.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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