Thu, Jul. 31, 2008
Study: Increased enforcement has driven illegal immigrants from U.S.
By PATRICK McGEEpmcgee@star-telegram.com
More than a million illegal immigrants have fled the country, scared off by a massive immigration crackdown that’s included high-profile workplace raids and sweeps of local jails, according to a new study by a group that pushed for tougher immigration enforcement.
From August 2007 to May, the number of illegal immigrants dropped 11 percent to 11.2 million nationally and to about 1.5 million in Texas, according to a report released Wednesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.
"It does seem that enforcement is working. What seems undeniably true is illegals respond to changing incentives, and some significant share have left the country," said Steven Camarota, a co-author of the report. "It seems to contradict the argument that illegals are permanently attached to the United States and their lives here and there’s no way to change that."
The study says that the great majority of those who left did so voluntarily, adding that if the trend continues, the illegal immigrant population will be cut in half in five years.
Pro-immigrant groups lambasted the study and said that only a slowing economy, not enforcement, will encourage illegal immigrants to go home.
"I think their methodology is flawed, and I think they’re overlooking 'It’s the economy, stupid,’ " said Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigrant policy and research organization in Washington.
She said the study ignores the decrease in construction and restaurant jobs that hit illegal workers hard.
Kelley also pointed to a University of California, San Diego, study that found that illegal immigrants fear crossing through the harsh desert climate more than they fear the Border Patrol.
But Camarota said that the exodus started before the unemployment rate began to rise and that the decrease in the number of illegal immigrants is already greater than that seen in the last recession.
The study concludes that it is mostly illegal immigrants who are leaving because the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly figures show a drop in the number of less-educated Hispanics age 40 or younger.
Increased enforcement since 2006 has included high-profile raids on businesses with large numbers of low-skilled illegal-immigrant workers.
Julie Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security who heads Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said her agency is targeting employers that attract illegal workers.
"It’s a much different landscape than it was a couple of years ago," she said. "This is causing employers to take notice and make sure they’re in compliance with the law."
The government has stepped up immigration prosecutions 87 percent in one year, according to a study released earlier this month.
Many city jails, including Irving, Grand Prairie and Farmers Branch, participate in the Criminal Alien Program, which refers federal immigration officials to suspected illegal immigrants in their jails.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have said that this has been a huge source of rounding up illegal immigrants for deportation. North Texas and Oklahoma jails turned 11,815 suspected illegal immigrants over to ICE last fiscal year, and it has almost as many this fiscal year with still three months to go.
'I want to go home’
Maria Martinez was the picture of discouragement Tuesday in the Denton County Jail.
The 40-year-old illegal immigrant and mother of two wore an orange prison uniform, jail ID bracelet and a dejected look on her face.
She was arrested July 23 in Addison for trying to get a job using a false Social Security card that she bought for $110. She faces a felony charge of tampering with a government record.
Visibly frightened by the prospect of going to prison, Martinez said she will return to Mexico and promise never to come back if she can avoid a prison sentence.
"I don’t want to risk being in this situation again," she said in Spanish. "I will not come back. I promise, I will not come back. I want to go home now."
She said she will take her 19-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son with her because they have no one else care for them. Her daughter is caring for her son while Martinez is in jail, she said.
Washington correspondent Dave Montgomery contributed to this report.
A new exodus? A Center for Immigration Studies report concludes that 1.3 million illegal immigrants, or 11 percent of the illegal-immigrant population, left the U.S. from August 2007 to May. The study argues that law enforcement, not the slowing economy, is causing illegal immigrants to go home because:
The illegal-immigrant population started to drop before the unemployment rate began to rise.
The current decline is already significantly larger than in the last recession.
The number of illegal immigrants declined at a time when the legal immigrant population continued to grow.
Source: Center for Immigration Studies
PATRICK McGEE, 817-685-3806