The 11.7 Million-Person Question: What to Do about Illegal Aliens? Pt. 1

By Stanley Renshon on December 19, 2013

In a September 2013 report, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that as of March 2012 there were 11.7 million illegal migrants in the United States. That number represented a slight uptick from the 11.2 million figure they had used in a June 2013 report.

There are two important basic points to be taken from the juxtaposition of these two reports, using the same methods:

1. Whether the figure is 11.7 million, 11.2, million or more or less, any legalization proposal will start with the largest number of potential amnesty beneficiaries in American immigration history, or the immigration history of any other country in the world, ever.

The logistics of registering and evaluating those who have any potentially credible claim to our compassion and understanding, even before we get to the question of the real consequences that ought to be part of any legalization assessment, is monumental. It will take several years at least before all those who are potentially eligible can register, provide documents, have their records checked, and be called in for interviews should there be any questions.

If Americans are going to be asked to support any form of legalization for any group of illegal migrants, they have a right to expect that the vetting will be done carefully, fully, and honestly.

Anything less would be a cynical abuse of American compassion.

2. The second point is that the death of illegal migration is, like rumors of Mark Twain's death, premature. In April 2012, The Pew Hispanic Foundation published a report titled: "Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less". Pundits rushed to claim that illegal migration was, to use the words of a Los Angeles Times editorial, "passé," and the crisis according to the New Republic was "non-existent" and had "passed."

Various explanations for the downturn were offered; lower fertility rates, an improving Mexican economy, better control of U.S. borders and, of course, an American economy with a high unemployment rate.

A little over a year later, in September 2013, Pew Hispanic issued the report noted above, "Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed". It stated that "The sharp decline in the U.S. population of unauthorized immigrants that accompanied the 2007-2009 recession has bottomed out, and the number may be rising again."

Note the wording. The decline is said to have accompanied the U.S. economic recession. Nothing is said about either decreased fertility or an improving economy south of the border. Presumable, both factors would have led to a continued decline and not to an estimated uptick of 500,000 in the estimated count of illegal migrants.

Of course, the Pew estimates are just that, estimates. Still if the estimates are sound enough to herald illegal immigration's fading as a crisis, they are sound enough to require prudence on our part before we wish the problem away.

And even if Mexican illegal migration slows again sometime in the future, there are still two other cautionary facts that council prudence. First, illegal migration from South and Central American countries other than Mexico is on the rise. According to the earlier 2012 Pew report, border apprehensions of Mexicans, one inexact measure of illegal migration declined. However that same report noted, "In 2012, the number of unauthorized immigrants apprehended at the Mexican border rose modestly, to 365,000, but only because of growing apprehensions of non-Mexicans." In short, groups other than Mexicans are making their way to and across our borders. And neither of these aspects is related to the large number of persons who overstay their visas and who account for about 40% of the illegal migration to the United States.

And herein lies one major rationale for treating the illegal alien problem seriously. It is not going away and unless dealt with will continue to undermine the legal, political, and cultural foundations of the country.

It is not a victimless crime.

Next: The 11.7 Million-Person Question: What to Do about Illegal Aliens? Pt. 2