About That Recent Decline of Illegal Immigrants... Part I: Illusionary Hiatus?

By Stanley Renshon, November 10, 2010

It seems like only yesterday that news reporters, legalization supporters, and the Obama administration were touting the new Pew study that reported, "U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows Are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade."

The Pew report delivers its most noteworthy finding in the first paragraph; "The annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants to the United States was nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005, according to new estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center. This sharp decline has contributed to an overall reduction of 8% in the number of unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.-to 11.1 million in March 2009 from a peak of 12 million in March 2007, according to the estimates. The decrease represents the first significant reversal in the growth of this population over the past two decades."

Within hours of the report's release, a report noted, "The Obama administration is touting an independent report released Wednesday that shows that the number of illegal immigrants crossing into the U.S. fell by nearly 65 percent in recent years." More specifically, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said in a statement, "This administration's unprecedented commitment of manpower, technology and infrastructure to the Southwest border has been a major factor in this dramatic drop in illegal crossings."

After the Republican takeover the House, Joe Klein wondered why Obama didn't trumpet that he had "been wildly successful in reversing the tide of illegal immigration across the Mexican border. The number of illegal immigrants declined by an estimated 800,000 in 2009. This was partly attributable to the lousy economy – not so many jobs here anymore – but it was also a result of the Administration's amped-up security efforts at the border."

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post heralded these findings in spite of the fact that the Pew report offered no explanation as to why the numbers had decreased.

It simply notes that "the analysis does not explain why these changes occurred. During the period covered the analysis, there have been major shifts in the level of immigration enforcement and in enforcement strategies, as well as large swings in the U.S. economy…. But the data in this report do not allow quantification of these factors and are not designed to explain why flows and populations totals declined." (p. iii) Still, one of the report's two chief authors, Jeffrey Passel, did say in an interview that, "At this point both of those broad factors seem to be working in the same direction."

But what happens when both factors don't pull in the same direction? And of the two factors, administration enforcement efforts or the effect of the recession, which is key?

And that brings us to the most recent Pew Hispanic Center report on this subject that begins to "walk back," as they say in political life, their earlier observations. The study is startlingly entitled "After the Great Recession: Foreign Born Gain Jobs; Native Born Lose Jobs." That report dated, October 29, 2010, noted that after the official end of the recession in June 2009, foreign-born workers gained 665,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million jobs.

More specifically the report found:

  • The foreign-born working-age population (ages 16 and older) in the U.S. increased by 709,000 from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010. That marks a reversal from the preceding year, when the foreign-born working-age population shrank by 95,000.
  • Employment among Hispanics increased by 392,000 from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010. All of the gains accrued to foreign-born Hispanics – their employment increased by 435,000.
  • Moreover, absent Census 2010 hiring, the difference between the jobs gained by immigrants and the jobs lost by the native born would most likely have been greater.

An obvious question given past reports of a decline in illegal immigration is: do these numbers represent immigrants already in the country, or do they represent newly arriving immigrants?

Next: About That Recent Decline of Illegal Immigrants... Part II: Illegal Tide Rising Again?