From this evidence, I draw two conclusions. First, stricter enforcement -- the border fence, more Border Patrol agents, more stringent employer verification, and state and local laws -- has reduced the number of illegal immigrants. Second, the recession has reduced the number of both legal and illegal immigrants.
CIS explicitly and Pew implicitly conclude that immigration will rise again once the economy revives. I'm not so sure. At least some of the stricter enforcement measures will continue. And the reservoir of potential immigrants may be drying up. Birth rates declined significantly in Mexico and Latin America circa 1990. And as immigration scholars Timothy Hatton and Jeffrey Williamson write, emigration rates from Mexico and Latin America -- the percentage of the population leaving those countries -- peaked way back in 1985-94.
Moreover, people immigrate not only to make money but to achieve dreams. And one of those dreams has been shattered for many Latino immigrants. Most housing foreclosures have occurred in four states -- California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida -- and about one-third of those who have lost their homes are Hispanic. Immigration is stimulated by the reports of success that immigrants send back home. It may be discouraged by reports of failure.
The apparent sharp decline in immigration and the possible or likely return of masses of illegals to their countries of origin won't necessarily change the stands of supporters and opponents of comprehensive immigration reform. But they should prompt all of us to rethink our positions. As one who has tended to support comprehensive bills, I think we might, at a time when high unemployment means we have less need for unskilled workers, have to consider moving away from family reunification and toward high skill levels in our criteria for legal immigration, as Canada and Australia already do.
That's not likely to be the approach taken by the Obama administration or congressional Democrats. Obama may be eager for action, but we all may be better off taking time to understand the emerging facts that may be redefining the problem before trying to come up with a solution.
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