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Unauthorized Immigration Declining, But Experts Disagree on Why
By Muzaffar Chishti and Claire Bergeron
Migration Policy Institute
The weakened US economy or increased enforcement? Observers are divided on which is responsible for the drop in unauthorized immigration.
October 15, 2008
Flows of unauthorized immigrants to the United States have declined significantly according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The report estimates that between 2005 and 2008, approximately 500,000 unauthorized immigrants entered the United States each year — 300,000 fewer than the 800,000 unauthorized immigrants Pew estimated for each year between 2000 and 2004.
The report also found that as of March 2008, approximately 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States, roughly 500,000 fewer than in March 2007.
Though the report's authors have noted caution about some of their findings, other evidence corroborates their broad conclusions.
According to government officials, apprehensions along the Southwest border have decreased dramatically over the last year. Although apprehension numbers do not provide conclusive evidence of a decline in unauthorized immigration, government officials, including Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff, have cited such data as one indication that levels of unauthorized immigration are lower.
Similarly, reports released by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Bank of Mexico have found a drop in remittances to Latin America. According to the Bank of Mexico, Mexican immigrants living in the United States sent 12 percent less money to Mexico in August 2008 than they sent in August 2007 — the largest decline in remittances the bank has recorded in 12 years.
Many analysts see as these reports as evidence of reduced migration to the United States, especially from Latin American countries. The decreased flows follow a period of growth in the size of the unauthorized population, which increased 40 percent between 2000 and 2008.
Although experts generally agree that overall levels of unauthorized immigration decreased in 2008, the reasons behind the trend remain hotly contested.
Proponents of increased immigration enforcement have linked the decrease to recent Bush administration efforts to tighten border security and boost interior immigration enforcement.
Others cite the declining US economy, especially its effects on certain industries, as reasons for the drop in unauthorized immigration. Between 2006 and 2007, approximately 77,000 jobs were lost in the construction industry according to Moody's Economy.com. Construction has historically attracted unauthorized workers.
Despite the decrease in overall levels of unauthorized immigration in 2008, the recent population surveys and analyses indicate that unauthorized immigrants continue to make up a sizeable percentage of the US foreign-born population (30 percent) and of the total US population (4 percent).
Court Upholds Arizona Employer-Sanctions Law
Arizona's employer-sanctions law that went into effect on January 1, 2008, does not preempt federal immigration law or violate federal constitutional protections according to a recent court ruling.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the arguments of various business and civil rights organizations but left open the possibility of a challenge to the law once the statute is enforced.
Under the Arizona law, employers that hire unauthorized immigrants can have their business licenses suspended or revoked. The law also requires them to use E-Verify, a federal database, to determine their employees' work-authorization status.
No action has been brought against an employer since the law went into effect.
The Ninth Circuit was the first federal appellate court to rule on state employer-sanctions laws in recent years. A similar case is now pending before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Depending on the outcome of that appeal, the issue may be headed to the US Supreme Court for resolution.
Attorney General Reverses Female Genital Mutilation Asylum Decision
- Read the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Decision here.
- Read More About the Legal Arizona Workers Act in the January 2008 Policy Beat.
In a rare move, US Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey invalidated a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that had denied asylum to a woman from Mali who had been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).
BIA will now have to reconsider the case, taking into account Mukasey's decision.
BIA ruled in September 2007 that since the respondent had already undergone FGM, she could not demonstrate that she would be further persecuted in Mali if she were forced to return.
Mukasey stated that BIA committed an error when it based its decision on the logic that a woman could not be subjected to FGM more than once.
Immigrant advocates, medical experts, and several members of Congress lauded Mukasey's decision.
In 1996, BIA ruled in Matter of Kasinga that fear of being subjected to FGM could be used as the basis for an asylum claim in the United States.
Policy Beat in Brief
- Read the attorney general's decision here.
NSEERS Program Ruling. A government program that required certain nonimmigrants to register with immigration authorities after the September 11, 2001, attacks was constitutional and did not violate administrative law, according to a recent court ruling. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the legal challenges brought by four immigrants ordered removed from the United States as a result of their participation in the Special Registration portion of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program. NSEERS required adult male nonimmigrants from designated countries to present themselves to immigration authorities for registration, fingerprinting, and questioning.
Iraqi Refugees. The United States surpassed its goal of resettling 12,000 Iraqi refugees during fiscal year 2008, according to the departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State (DOS). As of September 12, 2008, 12,118 Iraqi refugees had been resettled. Refugees were chosen for resettlement after being identified and referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program by a United States embassy, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or certain NGOs. In addition to the Iraqi refugee program, DHS and DOS have issued regulations that allow certain Iraqi nationals who previously worked for the United States military or US government to apply for special immigrant visas.
TPS Extensions. Certain nationals of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua can extend their temporary protected status (TPS) for another 18 months. DHS opened reregistrations on October 1, 2008, for immigrants from these countries who were previously granted TPS. The extensions are expected to affect 229,000 Salvadorans, 70,000 Hondurans, and 3,500 Nicaraguans, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The US government grants TPS to certain foreign nationals already in the country who are unable to return home because of an extended armed conflict or environmental disaster. Immigrants with TPS are authorized to work and are protected from deportation. All three groups have had TPS extended several times.
State and Local Policy Beat in Brief
Rhode Island Executive Order. Rhode Island will now be able to require all government contractors to participate in the Federal E-Verify program, thanks to a court decision upholding Rhode Island Executive Order 08-01. Issued in March 2008, the order states that all "persons and businesses" doing business with the state of Rhode Island must use the federal E-Verify database to confirm that their employees are authorized to work in the United States.
San Francisco's "Sanctuary" Policy. A federal grand jury is investigating whether San Francisco's policy violates federal laws
that make it illegal to harbor unauthorized immigrants. The San Francisco Administrative Code states that "no department, agency, commission, officer or employee... shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law ... unless such assistance is required by federal or state statute, regulation, or court decision." Some immigration restrictionist groups have heavily criticized the San Francisco policy, saying it offers sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants. In September, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the city would delay a program offering city ID cards to unauthorized immigrants until after the city had fully reviewed its policy prohibiting the use of city funds for immigration enforcement.
Alabama/Arkansas on Unauthorized Immigrants in Public Colleges.
Prospective students at Alabama's two-year colleges will have to prove they are legally residing in the United States, thanks to a new Alabama State Board of Education policy. The policy, which goes into effect in spring 2009, requires all students seeking enrollment in two-year colleges to present proof of US citizenship, permanent residency, or otherwise lawful immigration status. The Alabama decision came just days after Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel endorsed the opposite policy in Arkansas. In his advisory opinion, McDaniel stated public colleges and universities in Arkansas do not have to verify the legal status of their students.
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