News & Current Affairs

July 31, 2008

Study: Illegal residents decline

The number of illegal immigrants in the USA has fallen sharply as state and federal officials intensify a crackdown on undocumented migrants and jobs grow scarce in the faltering economy, according to a report Wednesday by a group that advocates reduced immigration.

Using Census data, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) estimates that the illegal immigrant population dropped by 10% to 11.2 million from August 2007 through May.

“Illegal immigrants are responding to changing conditions and leaving the country in significant numbers,” says Steven Camarota, director of research at CIS.

His study found that the number of legal immigrants rose from 26.6 million to 27.6 million over the same period.

“It doesn’t seem like America is more unpleasant for immigrants,” he says. “It seems more unpleasant for illegal immigrants.”

Camarota acknowledges that the study has limitations. The Census may undercount immigrants, he says, and his estimate of illegal immigrants calculates that 80% of those people counted by the Census as foreign-born Hispanics ages 18 through 40 with a high school education or less are in the USA illegally.

Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, uses the same Census data in his work. Camarota’s analysis “makes a lot of assumptions from what he’s actually measuring to what he’s concluding,” Passel says. “I don’t know if it’s right or not.”

The study says stepped-up enforcement is the primary reason for the exodus.

Pat Reilly, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, cites her agency’s workplace raids, deportations and efforts to track down illegal immigrants with criminal records. Tougher enforcement “has made entering and staying in the United States illegally less attractive as the probability of being arrested and detained is greater than ever before,” she says.

Groups that advocate for immigrants dispute the study’s findings.

Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C., says the illegal immigrant population is “nearly impossible” to measure. She faults the study for ignoring non-Hispanics.

She questions whether immigrants are leaving the USA or just moving from one place to another within the country to find work.

“Once folks have their roots here, it’s very difficult to just go all the way back to their country,” she says.

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