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Fewer Reported Entering U.S. Illegally

Resource type: News

The New York Times |

by GINGER THOMPSON The latest arrest figures from the Border Patrol and a report released on Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that fewer people are trying to enter the United States illegally and that the number living here without documents has declined. A Border Patrol spokesman, Jason Cilberti, said there were significant decreases in the numbers of arrests along the nation’s southwest border, with apprehensions falling by 78 percent around Yuma, Ariz., and more than 60 percent around El Paso. The Pew center report, which is based on census data, shows that for the first time in nearly a decade, the number of migrants entering the country illegally was lower than the number arriving through legal channels. Experts said the loss of low-wage jobs in the American economy, combined with intensified enforcement at the border and at worksites across the country, had caused immigrants to think twice before risking the increasingly dangerous journey to cross the southwest border illegally, bringing a significant reversal to a decade of rapid growth in immigration flows. As a result of those trends, central banks from Mexico to Brazil projected the biggest declines in remittances from the United States in more than 10 years. The Pew report found that illegal immigration to the United States dropped to some 500,000 annually from 2005 to the present, from an average yearly rate of 800,000 between 2000 and 2004. Since 2000, the average number of legal immigrants entering the United States each year has remained steady at between 600,000 and 700,000. Border Patrol officials and groups advocating tougher immigration controls attributed the trend to crackdowns against illegal immigration, including record numbers of work place raids and deportations across the United States. The Pew center’s Jeffrey S. Passel said the study was not designed to explain why the inflows of illegal immigrants had declined. He speculated, however, that it was the result of a combination of factors, led primarily by the weakening economy and rising rates of unemployment in the construction and service industries, which rely heavily on immigrant labor. Another report by the center also released today studied household income and found that the median annual income of noncitizen households – more than half of which are led by illegal immigrants – fell 7.3 percent from 2006 to 2007, while the annual income for all households rose by 1.3 percent. “If there are jobs in the United States, people will find a way to come fill them,” said Jeffrey Davidow, president of the San Diego-based Institute of the Americas. “If the jobs are not there, then coming to the United States might be too big a risk.” But both Mr. Davidow and Mr. Passel agreed that a harsher political climate also played a role in making the United States less attractive to illegal immigrants. A Pew survey of some 2,015 Latinos released in September showed that half reported their lives had worsened over the last year, while one in 10 said the police or other authorities had stopped and questioned them about their immigration status. One in seven of those surveyed said they had trouble finding or keeping a job because they were Latino. And one in 10 reported similar troubles finding housing. “The anti-immigrant sentiment in towns and cities across the country seems to have contributed to flows back across the border,” Mr. Davidow said. “Those flows include people who are here legally and illegally, and who just don’t feel comfortable here anymore.” Central bank reports from Mexico to Brazil suggested that the effects of those trends were being felt beyond America’s border. A report released Wednesday by the Inter-American Development Bank projected that the value of remittances from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean would decrease this year for the first time since the bank began tracking the figures in 2000. In Mexico, where remittances are the second-largest source of foreign income after oil, officials projected a 12 percent drop in remittances this year, the biggest decline on record. Other significant declines were projected by officials in El Salvador and Guatemala, which both rely on money from immigrants in the United States for more than 10 percent of their gross domestic products. Augusto de la Torre, a chief economist at the World Bank, said slight improvements in several Latin American economies, including those of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama and Peru, might have compelled some people in the region to stay closer to home. “For the first time in a decade, there are economies in Latin America that are doing better than in rich countries,” Mr. De la Torre said, “So people who were thinking of going to the United States, might now be migrating to other countries in the region.”

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