September 12, 2010

Immigration Enforcement in a Time of Recession – Explaining the Recent Decline in Unauthorized Migration

From the Immigration Policy Center

September 9, 2010

Washington, D.C. – Recent estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has declined by roughly one million since 2007-bringing the total size of the unauthorized population to approximately 11.1 million. Coming after the release of similar estimates by the Department of Homeland Security in January, these figures have provoked considerable speculation as to how much of the decline is attributable to the current recession, and how much is the result of heightened immigration enforcement.

Ultimately, it is impossible to disentangle the impact of the recession from that of enforcement with any degree of certainty. Nevertheless, the available research indicates that the recession is likely playing a major role in discouraging new unauthorized immigrants from entering the country due to the lack of jobs. After all, federal spending on immigration enforcement has been rising steadily since the early 1990s, while the size of the unauthorized population continued to increase until the current recession hit. Research also suggests that when the economy begins to improve again, unauthorized immigration is likely to increase as well – unless the broken immigration system which spurs unauthorized migration has been fixed by then.

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