DHS Estimates: Long-Time Illegals Do in Fact Self Deport

By Steven A. Camarota and Steven A. Camarota on February 14, 2012

Will illegal immigrants, particularly the well-established, ever leave? Some advocates of amnesty say they never will and for this reason we have to legalize them. But DHS estimates tell a different story. They indicate that long-time illegal residents do, in fact, go home.

Between 2007 and 2009, DHS estimates that the illegal immigrant population declined by 1.03 million, from 11.78 million to 10.75 million. (All DHS estimates are for January 1 of the given year.) Table 1 (p. 4) of the 2007 estimate and the 2009 estimate show the year of arrival of illegal immigrants. In 2007, there were 7.61 million illegal immigrants living in the country who had arrived before 2000. The 2009 estimate shows 6.8 million pre-2000 illegal immigrants living in the country ─ a decline of 810,000 in just 2 years. Pre-2000 illegal immigrants accounted for 79 percent of the overall decline in the illegal population. These pre-2000 immigrants can reasonably be described as long-time or established residents and yet more than 800,000 left the illegal population in just two years.

Of course, not all of these individuals went home. As in any human population, there is mortality. Given the characteristics of this population, the number of deaths is, at most, 7 per 1,000 per year, or about 100,000 during 2007-2009. Moreover, it is one of the peculiar aspects of our immigration system that a significant number of illegal immigrants are allowed to receive green cards each year. No more than 400,000 pre-2000 illegal immigrants were legalized from 2007 to 2009. Adding this number to deaths (400,000 + 100,000) would still mean that conservatively some 310,000 long-time resident illegal aliens went home in just a two-year period. The actual number is almost certainly higher.

That large numbers of long-time resident illegal aliens are leaving the country is not really too surprising. It has always been the case that many illegal immigrants return home on their own each year. This fact coupled with the increase in enforcement during the last two years of the Bush administration and the deterioration in the economy during this time period explains why many long-time illegal residents would leave.

The bottom line is that the population of long-time resident illegal aliens can fall quite a bit in a relatively short period of time, as illegals respond to changing circumstances. The argument that established illegal immigrants will never leave and therefore they must be amnestied is simply wrong. In fact, it's worth noting that the number of pre-2000 illegal immigrants fell by another 190,000 between 2009 and 2010, according to the most recent DHS estimate, for 2010, even though the overall number of illegal aliens stayed about the same.