Census Bureau: Over 100,000 Illegal Aliens from the Middle East

New Government Report Raises Concerns in Light of Terrorist Threat

By CIS on January 1, 2002

WASHINGTON (January 22, 2002) - In a newly released report, the Census Bureau estimated that perhaps 115,000 people from Middle Eastern countries live in the United States illegally. The estimates are based on the bureau's preliminary analysis of the 2000 census. The findings are especially troubling given the role failures in immigration control played in September's terrorist attacks. Not only were at least three of the September 11th hijackers illegal aliens, a number of past terrorists have also been illegal aliens from the Middle East, including Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, who tried to bomb the New York subway system in 1997, and Mohammed Salameh, who took part in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

The entire Census Bureau report containing estimates of the illegal population by country of origin can be found at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0061.html (See Page 36, Table A-6).

The new numbers include some individuals who may have since received legal status and also include about 24,000 illegals from Israel, but do not include Pakistan, which the Immigration and Naturalization Service previously estimated had more than 40,000 illegals in the United States. The figures for the Middle East also do not include North African countries such as Egypt and Algeria, which have sent a number of terrorists to the United States in the past. Africa as a whole, including Sub-Saharan Africa, accounts for perhaps 243,000 illegals, according to the Census Bureau report. Overall, the report estimates that as many as 8.7 million illegal aliens may have been counted in the 2000 Census.

Implications of the report:

  • Current efforts by the Justice Department to make 6,000 Middle Eastern men who have been ordered deported actually return to their home countries barely scratch the surface. According to the Census Bureau, there are perhaps 58,000 non-Israeli Middle Eastern men living in the United States illegally, not including Pakistan or North African countries.
  • Current efforts to more carefully scrutinize visa applications from Middle Eastern countries are likely to be far less effective if immigration laws continue to remain largely unenforced, as the figures in the report indicate.
  • The fact that more than eight million illegal aliens now live in the country demonstrates that amnesties don't solve the problem of illegal immigration. Although 2.7 million of the estimated five million illegal aliens living in the country in 1986 were given amnesty (legal permanent residence), the new estimates indicate that they have been entirely replaced by new illegal aliens and that by 2000 the illegal population was at least three million larger than before the last amnesty.
  • Although the INS has very serious shortcomings, it is not primarily responsible for this situation. Instead, the problem lies with Congress and successive administrations, Democratic and Republican. All have failed to provide the money or political support the INS needs to enforce the ban on hiring illegals and to track down those who overstay their visas.

"It is difficult to overstate the implications of this new report for the security of our nation," said Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies. "While the vast majority of illegals from the Middle East are not terrorists, the fact that tens of thousands of people from that region and millions more from the rest of the world can settle in the United States illegally means that terrorists who wish to do so face few obstacles. We can't protect ourselves from terrorism without dealing with illegal immigration."

By not adequately policing the borders; by not enforcing time limits on visas and the ban on hiring illegals; by allowing illegals to attend college, open bank accounts, and obtain drivers licenses with little difficulty and by not even ensuring that those who are ordered deported actually go home, it is inevitable that millions of illegal aliens will settle in the United States, including tens of thouands from the primary terrorist-sending countries. Because the terrorist threat comes almost exclusively from foreign-born individuals, immigration enforcement must be a central part of efforts to reduce the likelihood of future attacks. In addition to concerns over terrorism, the huge number of illegal aliens living in the country also has significant implications for public services and the job prospects of low-wage Americans in the current economic downturn.