As someone who has long supported a major overhaul of our immigration laws, I'm sorry to say that President Obama's call this week for new legislation will only make matters worse. With unemployment hovering at almost 10 percent, the country is in no mood to increase the number of legal immigrants or temporary workers in the U.S. And short of doing so, we cannot fully solve the vexing problem of illegal immigration. But an open and honest debate on immigration is difficult with so much disinformation on the issue circulating.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, for example, made the outrageous claim recently that "we all know that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules. They're coming across our borders in huge numbers." But the facts don't bear her out. So let's examine some of the facts:
Illegal immigration is down, not up. Since mid-decade, illegal immigration at the Mexican border has declined drastically. Border apprehensions -- one of the most consistent and accurate measures of illegal traffic -- are at a 35-year low, down 54 percent since 2005. The peak period of illegal immigration -- 1995-2000 -- coincided with a major expansion in the U.S. economy, with jobs plentiful. Indeed, the 2008 recession and slow recovery have been as big a factor as beefed-up border security in drastically reducing illegal immigration.
Illegal immigration has not led to an increase in crime, nationally or in the communities in which large numbers of illegal immigrants reside. The popular perception that illegal immigration equals increased crime is one of the most persistent reasons many fear that illegal immigration is causing untold hardship to Americans. But the facts don't bear out the fears. Crime in the U.S. has been declining consistently over the last two decades, even while illegal immigration was increasing.
According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reports, overall crime declined nationally for the 16th straight year, with violent crime down 5.5 percent in 2009 And the figures for Arizona -- ground zero in the immigration debate and the state that experiences the largest influx of illegal immigrants into the U.S. -- show that violent crime has been falling steadily and is lower now than at any point since 1972. In Phoenix, violent crime declined by about 10 percent.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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