Best Free Reference
Web Site 2007
Fall Forecast: Immigration Reform Unlikely, Census Bureau Issues New Data on the US Foreign-Born Population
By Julia Gelatt
Migration Policy Institute
September 1, 2006
Passage of national immigration reform legislation this year appears increasingly
unlikely as summer draws to a close and members of Congress ramp up their reelection
campaigns. Months of House-sponsored hearings on various aspects of the
Senate-passed bill, including 21 hearings in August alone, have highlighted
local issues and kept immigration in the news but have not substantially altered
the immigration reform debate.
Hearings have highlighted the potential community and federal costs of immigration
reform, possible impacts on US workers, and national security implications
of the Senate bill. Members of Congress have speculated that many of the key
players in the debate would be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to
reach a middle road between the enforcement-heavy House bill and the broader
The Senate bill includes a path to permanent residence for a portion of the
country's unauthorized immigrant population, a temporary worker program,
and expanded enforcement of immigration laws at the border and workplace, while
the House bill calls for border fencing, a nationwide verification system for
employers, and other enforcement measures.
According to new estimates by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office
of Immigration Statistics, there were 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants
in the country in January 2005, and the unauthorized immigrant population is
growing by about 408,000 persons a year. Demographer Jeffrey Passel of the Pew
Hispanic Center has estimated the unauthorized population at 11.5 to 12 million
as of March 2006.
If the Senate bill becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates
that its provisions would cost the government about $127 billion over the next
10 years. As the law is written, federal tax revenues could be reduced
in future years, but a technical change to reflect the Senate's intent
would raise revenues by about $44 billion by 2016.
As it is now worded, the bill would exempt employers from tax liabilities
resulting from the past and future employment of unauthorized immigrants, which
could lead to a $79 billion reduction in revenues by 2016. Senate staffers
say the provision was intended to only cover past actions, and that the language
will be revised.
Increased government costs would stem mainly from various enforcement provisions
of the law requiring additional border patrol and other enforcement agents
(up to 31,000 additional positions by 2011), border fencing, and an electronic
employment verification system, as well as costs from government assistance
programs such as the earned income tax credit (EITC), Social Security, and Medicare
CBO estimates that enrollment in child nutrition, food stamp, and Medicaid
programs would rise by only about two to three percent by 2016. Detailed
analyses of subnational costs and revenues of immigration are not included
in the estimate, nor are broader economic impacts of expanded immigration,
such as a potential increase in consumer demand, workforce productivity, or entrepreneurship.
CBO projects that under the Senate bill, the number of legal immigrants in
the country would increase by about 16 million over the next 10 years, including
6.5 million new legal immigrants and 9.5 million people
who are either unauthorized immigrants already present in the country or who
would likely enter the country under current immigration laws.
In fiscal year 2005, about 1.1 million people obtained lawful permanent resident
status (see Spotlight on Legal Immigration to the United States), and the unauthorized immigrant population grew by an estimated 400,000 to 500,000.
Census Unveils New Annual Data on US Immigrants
- To read about DHS estimates of the unauthorized population, click
- To read the CBO cost estimate for the Senate-passed immigration bill, S.
The number of foreign-born persons living in US households grew 16 percent
to 35.7 million between 2000 and 2005, increasing from 11.2 to 12.4 percent
of the US household population, according to American Community Survey (ACS)
data just released from the US Census Bureau. About 11 million of the
2005 total were from Mexico, 1.8 million from China, 1.6 million from the Philippines,
and 1.4 million from India.
The new data reveal that many of the states showing substantial growth in
their immigrant population since 2000 are not traditional settlement locations
South Carolina saw a 48 percent increase in the size of its foreign-born population,
New Hampshire saw a 45 percent increase; Tennessee, 43 percent; Arkansas, 41
percent; Delaware, 41 percent; Alabama, 39 percent; and Georgia, 39 percent. Still,
this new growth has not unseated California, New York, Texas, Florida, New
Jersey, and Illinois from their positions as the top-six immigrant-receiving states.
Detailed state and local-level data on the US foreign-born population have
previously been available only every 10 years, following each decennial census. The
Current Population Survey (CPS), a series of monthly surveys conducted in a
yearly rotation, provided some detailed information on the foreign born. However,
those data are generally used for analysis of immigrant characteristics at
the national level, as the survey's small sample size makes it difficult
to perform analysis at the state or local level.
This is the first year the Census Bureau has fully implemented ACS, which
has a much larger sample than CPS and will eventually allow for detailed analysis
of the US immigrant population at all levels of geography. The 2005 survey
provides data on all Congressional districts, counties, or cities of 65,000
residents or more. By 2010, it will provide multiyear averages for the smallest
levels of geography.
This year's survey describes only the household population, meaning
that anyone living in "group quarters," such as university dorms,
prisons, or long-term care facilities, is not included. Future years will capture
the full US population.
Immigration Judges Face Increased Scrutiny
- To access data tables from the American Community Survey (through the US
Census Bureau's American Fact Finder), click here.
All of the country's more than 200 immigration judges will face annual
performance reviews for the first time, according to an August 9 announcement
by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Judges will also be subject to
regular review to uncover unusual patterns in decision-making, backlogs, or
Gonzales had ordered a comprehensive review of immigration
judges in January 2006 (see the February 2006 Policy Beat for
more detail). He
has not publicly disclosed the findings of that review but reportedly told
immigration judges that the findings overall were positive, though some troubling
patterns emerged, including improper treatment of immigrants or their legal
Decisions by immigration judges can be appealed to the Board of Immigration
Appeals (BIA); BIA rulings may then be appealed to federal courts. Streamlining
measures taken in 1999 and 2002 reduced the number of BIA members and allowed
the BIA to issue summary decisions. Following this streamlining process,
there has been a large increase in the number of cases appealed to federal
immigration courts, leading to greatly expanded caseloads.
In his recent talk, Gonzales said he will push to hire more immigration
judges, add four members to the BIA, and allow federal courts to send certain
cases back to the BIA for further review.
Beginning next year, new immigration judges will be required to pass a written
immigration law exam, and new immigration judges and BIA members will undergo
a two-year trial period of employment to ensure they have the proper skills
and temperament for the job.
It remains unclear who will conduct the annual reviews and what the consequences
of a negative evaluation will be. Immigration judges are concerned they may
be unfairly evaluated by those with certain political orientations, or that
they will be pushed to emphasize speed and backlog clearance over the quality
of their decisionmaking.
A spokesman for the Justice Department countered that the judges would be
evaluated on their "professionalism, reasoning, and courteous manner."
New Report Finds Uneven Treatment of Asylum Cases
US immigration judges across the country vary greatly in their willingness
to grant asylum to those seeking to remain in the United States, with acceptance
rates ranging from 10 to 98 percent, according to a recent study by the Transactional
Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The report
further found that while 64 percent of requests for asylum were denied among
asylum applicants with lawyers, 93 percent of applicants without lawyers were
The study attempted to control for the possibility that some judges might
have higher or lower denial rates because the asylum applicants before them
tend to come from one or several main countries.
However, researchers found that even in their consideration of similar asylum
applicants, immigration judges demonstrated very different denial rates. One
New York judge who regularly heard cases from legally represented Chinese nationals
denied asylum requests about 95 percent of the time, while another judge denied
asylum in only about seven percent of similar cases.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called on the director of the Executive
Office of Immigration Review and the acting chief immigration judge to review
the study and to make recommendations on the topic, if deemed appropriate.
Policy Beat in Brief
- To read the TRAC report on asylum judges, click
- To view analysis of individual immigration judges' track records,
Policy Change for Cubans. The US government will
grant lawful permanent residence to more Cuban immigrants each year who have
family members in the United States. The move is part of a policy change
made following the temporary handover of power from Fidel Castro to his brother
Raúl. Since 2004, about 12,500 Cubans have entered the United States each
year under the Special Cuban Migration Program, referred to as the Cuban
Lottery. Under the revised policy, about 7,500 of the lottery visas will
now be granted to individuals waiting for family-sponsored green cards. In
order to deter Cuban migrants from trying to circumvent the visa process
and reach the United States by sea, any Cuban interdicted by the Coast Guard
on the water will become ineligible for a future US visa. Further,
officials from the Cuban government who served in certain positions, who
are identified human rights abusers, or who have engaged in prosecution of
others will be denied entry to the United States. Cuban medical personnel
currently working or studying outside of Cuba, as well as their families, will be
granted permission to enter the United States.
Business Compliance Plan. A new Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) initiative will allow employers to work with US Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to develop good practices for verifying employees' ability
to work legally in the country. The ICE Mutual Agreement between Government
and Employers (IMAGE) program is the agency's response to employers' requests
for help with ensuring that their workforce is legal. The requests followed
several high-profile criminal cases against companies found to employ unauthorized
immigrant workers. As part of the program, employers will submit to an
audit of their I-9 records, which all employees complete to prove their employment
eligibility. They must also use the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program
to electronically verify the work authorization of new hires. ICE will provide
employers with training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection,
and antidiscrimination laws, and will review the hiring practices of employers
to correct any minor compliance issues that are detected.
- To read the USCIS press release, "USCIS Will Further Strengthen Measures that Support the Reunification of Families
Separated by the Castro Regime," click
- To read the USCIS press release, "DHS Announces
Additional Measures to Combat Alien Smuggling of Cubans," click
Colorado's Benefit Restrictions. Applicants
for nearly all federal, state, or local government benefits in Colorado will
now need to prove their lawful presence in the country. The law, which became effective August 1,
requires adult applicants for any government benefit, excluding emergency services,
food stamps, and Medicaid, to produce a photo ID, submit a sworn affidavit,
and have their application verified through the Systematic Alien Verification
for Entitlements Program. The Colorado Department of Revenue passed emergency
rules to allow people without required documents to continue to obtain services
until March 2007. Government benefits covered by the law include everything
from in-state tuition or state financial aid to government licenses or permits,
government workforce training programs, government contracts, welfare, and
- For more on the IMAGE program, including a list of ICE best practices, click
US-VISIT Program Expansions. Lawful
permanent residents of the United States, as well as certain Canadian citizens
entering for specific business or employment reasons, will likely need to submit
fingerprints to border agents upon reentering the country as part of a proposed
expansion of the US-VISIT program. US-VISIT currently tracks the entry
of all temporary visitors to the United States, excluding those from Canada
or Mexico. Since January 2004, 61 million visitors have been fingerprinted
and photographed to ensure they hold valid visas and to weed out suspected
terrorists or known criminals. The new measure, included in proposed
regulations, is intended to prevent those using stolen or fraudulent green
cards from entering the country. DHS is also testing a program to record all
10 fingerprints as part of US-VISIT tracking, rather than the current two prints. Currently,
US-VISIT is not compatible with an FBI criminal database, which tracks 10 prints. The
10-fingerprint test program will begin at some US ports of entry in 2007, with
full implementation slated for 2008 or 2009.
- To read the new law (Colorado HB06S-1023), click
TPS Extension for Somalis. US Citizenship and Immigration
Services has announced that Somali nationals with temporary protected status
(TPS) may register for an 18-month extension, which would give them TPS status
until March 2008. About 250 Somali nationals are eligible for the extension.
TPS was granted to Somali nationals following the outbreak of violence after
the 1991 fall of the Siad Barre regime. Somalia has lacked a central government
and faced continual violence since that time. Current TPS holders will have
until September 25 to register for the extension.
- To read a DHS press release on the expansion of US-VISIT to lawful permanent
GAO on Border Checks. Undercover agents were able
to enter the United States at nine land crossings on the southern and northern
border by providing fake documentation to support their claims of US citizenship,
according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
US citizens are not currently required to carry a passport to cross the US
border from Canada or Mexico, but border agents may request documentation establishing
US citizenship, which could include a driver's license, birth certificate,
or baptismal record. Border officials asked the GAO agents for documentation
on most crossings, but never questioned the validity of the driver's
licenses or birth certificates presented to them. CBP inspectors are trained
to detect false driver's licenses, birth certificates, and other documents,
but border crossers may present inspectors with up to 8,000 acceptable forms
- To read a USCIS press release providing more information on this extension, click
- To read the GAO report, "Border Security: Continued Weaknesses in
Screening Entrants in the United States," click
Back to the top
If you have questions or comments about this article, contact us at
2002-2013 Migration Policy Institute.
All rights reserved.
Migration Information Source, ISSN 1946-4037
MPI · 1400 16th St. NW, Suite 300 · Washington, DC 20036
ph: (001) 202-266-1940 · fax: (001) 202-266-1900