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Immigration Slowdown Due to Economy, Not Enforcement

While the Department of Homeland Security has taken credit for a significant drop in unauthorized immigration since 2007, pointing to increased enforcement by the Obama administration, the decline is actually most likely due to the recession, according a new report by the Immigration Policy Center, the research and policy arm of the American Immigration Council.

When the economy improves, immigration will most likely increase again unless the “broken immigration system” is fixed, the report says.

The budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has increased nine-fold since 1992, and the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border has increased five-fold. But despite the increase in enforcement, IPC noted, unauthorized immigration roughly tripled in size between 1990 and 2007, when the recession began, from 3.5 million to 12 million.

The Pew Hispanic Center recently found no evidence that large numbers of unauthorized immigrants are leaving the U.S., which suggests that increased enforcement isn’t having a significant impact, the IPC noted. Instead, unauthorized immigration correlates with the economy, the think tank concluded, and will likely continue to do so until the system is fixed:

Ultimately, it is impossible to disentangle the impact of the recession from that of enforcement with any degree of certainty. Nevertheless, the available research indicates that the recession is likely playing a major role in discouraging new unauthorized immigrants from entering the country due to the lack of jobs. … Research also suggests that when the economy begins to improve again, unauthorized immigration is likely to increase as well—unless the broken immigration system which spurs unauthorized migration has been fixed by then.

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