Immigration: new facts emerging

Washington Examiner
Senior Political Analyst

In my September 2 Examiner column, I took a look at the accumulating evidence that we’re experiencing a sharp decline in immigration and that the number of illegal aliens in the United States may be sharply declining as well. I suggested that it is time for people on all sides of immigration issues to reconsider their positions in light of apparently changing facts.

Two Wall Street Journal stories in the past week cast an interesting light on the issue. The first recounted how the number of border arrests in the just-ended fiscal year fell 23% from the previous fiscal year. Border arrests are taken by many students of immigration as a proxy for the unknowable numbers of those crossing the border illegally; obviously they are an imprecise indicator, but probably a useful one. In any case the numbers are striking. In fiscal year 2009 there were 556,000 border arrests compared with 723,000 in fiscal year2008 and 1,675,000 in fiscal year 2000. In addition, the amount of marijuana and cocaine seized increased sharply in 2009 over 2008, suggesting that a higher proportion of illegal border crossers now are drug couriers rather than would-be illegals seeking work.

Two conclusions seem to follow from this. One is that illegal immigration is sharply down, in response to the economic recession. That’s in line with historic experience which shows levels of immigration to be responsive to the business cycle. The second is that increased enforcement efforts, at the border and within the United States as well, has made a difference. This could cut two ways in the debate over immigration policy. You could argue that providing legalization procedures for illegals is less worrisome because we’ll have fewer illegals to deal with as time goes on (or at least until unemployment sharply declines). Or you could argue that tougher enforcement of existing laws shows that legalization is unnecessary because illegal immigration can be sharply reduced.

The article continues at the Examiner.

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