derived from the March Supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current
Population Survey (CPS) indicate that the unauthorized resident alien
population (commonly referred to as illegal aliens) rose from 3.2
million in 1986 to 12.4 million in 2007, before leveling off at 11.1 million
in 2011. The estimated number of unauthorized aliens had dropped to 1.9 million
in 1988 following passage of a 1986 law that legalized several million
unauthorized aliens. Jeffrey Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic
Research Center, has been involved in making these estimations since he
worked at the U.S. Bureau of the Census in the 1980s.
Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration
Statistics (OIS) reported an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized alien
residents as of January 2011, up from 8.5 million in January 2000. The OIS
estimated that the unauthorized resident alien population in the United States
increased by 37% over the period 2000 to 2008, before leveling off since 2009.
The OIS estimated that 6.8 million of the unauthorized alien residents in
2011 were from Mexico. About 33% of unauthorized residents in 2011 were
estimated to have entered the United States since 2000, but the rate of
illegal entry appears to be slowing. The OIS based its estimates on data from the
U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Although increased border security, a record number of alien removals, and high
unemployment, among other factors, have depressed the levels of illegal
migration in recent years, the number of unauthorized aliens residing in
the United States remains sizeable. Research suggests that various factors
have contributed to the ebb and flow of unauthorized resident aliens, and that
the increase is often attributed to the “push-pull” of prosperity-fueled
job opportunities in the United States in contrast to limited job
opportunities in the sending countries. Accordingly, the economic recession
that began in December 2007 may have curbed the migration of unauthorized
aliens, particularly because sectors that traditionally rely on
unauthorized aliens, such as construction, services, and hospitality, have
been especially hard hit.
Some researchers also suggest that the increased size of the unauthorized
resident population during the late 1990s and early 2000s is an
inadvertent consequence of border enforcement and immigration control
policies. They posit that strengthened border security curbed the fluid movement
of seasonal workers. This interpretation, generally referred to as a caging
effect, argues that these policies raised the stakes in crossing the
border illegally and created an incentive for those who succeed in
entering the United States to stay. More recently, some maintain that strengthened
border security measures, such as “enforcement with consequences,” coordinated efforts
with Mexico to reduce illegal migrant recidivism, and increased border patrol
agents, may be part of a constellation of factors holding down the flow.
The current system of legal immigration is cited as another factor contributing
to unauthorized migration. The statutory ceilings that limit the type and
number of immigrant visas issued each year create long waits for visas.
According to this interpretation, many foreign nationals who have family
in the United States resort to illegal avenues in frustration over the delays.
Some researchers speculate that record number of alien removals (e.g.,
reaching almost 400,000 annually since FY2009) may cause a chilling effect
on family members weighing unauthorized residence. Some observers point to
more elusive factors when assessing the ebb and flow of unauthorized
resident aliens—such as shifts in immigration enforcement priorities away from illegal
entry to removing suspected terrorists and criminal aliens, or well-publicized
discussions of possible “amnesty” legislation.
Date of Report: December 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 19 Order Number: RL33874 Price: $29.95
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