Illegal Immigration: Up or Down?

The Pew Hispanic Center recently released a demographic study showing that the annual influx of undocumented immigrants “was nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005.” (See U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade, by Jeffrey Passel and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Hispanic Center, 01.Sep.2010. Find it by searching the title on the Pew Hispanic Center WebSite.) The study characterized this as a sharp decline, pointing to “an overall reduction of eight percent in the number of unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.,” down to 11.1 million in March 2009, from a high of 12 million two years earlier. During the same period, the study found, unauthorized immigration from countries other than Mexico – in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America – dropped by 22 percent.

Reporting on the Pew Hispanic Center study, as well as newly-released statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, France 24 International News says that President Obama set a record in 2009 for deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in U.S. history: 393,289, nearly 10 percent more than President Bush did in his peak year of 2008. (See Obama Sets Record Year for Deportations, by Joseph Bamat, France 24 International News, 09.Sep.2010.) The France 24 article quoted Brooking Institution demographer Audrey Singer as saying that the president is “pushing enforcement now as a down-payment for further reform down the line.”

In an election year, this puts President Obama in a strange predicament, having to explain to his base – including the large bloc of Latino voters who helped elect him – why his deportation stats are so much higher than his predecessor’s, while trying to show steely resolve to his opponents, hoping to prove he can be even tougher on illegal immigration than President Bush was. The new numbers let the Administration crow, albeit not too loudly, that they have tightened the border, just as the GOP demanded, and that now there should be no more excuses or foot-dragging about passing comprehensive immigration reform when the new Congress takes office.

The meaning of these statistics may be more in the eye of the beholder, according to a commentary in The Atlantic magazine. (See What the Drop in Illegal Residency Means for Immigration Reform, by Nicole Allen, The Atlantic, Sep.2010.) A public policy director at a conservative-leaning think tank told The Atlantic that the drop in illegal immigration showed that “we can in face reduce the size of the illegal population without enacting amnesty,” and attributed at least some of the decline to more robust immigration enforcement, and state laws that assist federal immigration agencies.

At the same time, there is increasing noise about proposals to revoke birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. With a stroke of a pen – in the unlikely event the President would ever sign such a thing – revoking birthright citizenship would instantly increase the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. A study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) examined four scenarios for the treatment of birthright citizenship: (1) current law, revoking birthright citizenship if (2) both the mother and father are unauthorized, (3) mother only is unauthorized, or (4) mother or father is unauthorized. (See The Demographic Impacts of Repealing Birthright Citizenship, by Jennifer Van Hook with Michael Fix, Migration Policy Institute, Sep.2010, PDF 2.4MB). Even in its least-intrusive incarnation – revoking birthright citizenship only when both parents are unauthorized – MPI found the measure would “significantly increase the size of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States.”

One can’t help wondering whether – at least for some immigrant bashers – illegal immigration is just too juicy an issue to give up, so that we’ll need to create new illegal immigrants by changing the rules, just to restock that dwindling population. How else to explain the strange new push to revoke birthright citizenship?

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.