When do we give them a break?

There have been a pair of reports released recently with new estimates of the undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. A report by the Pew Research Center, released in November, provides a wealth of information on the size and demographic characteristics of the undocumented population as of 2016. These estimates are compared to population estimates calculated in 2007.

Another report by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) takes a look at trends in the undocumented population between 2010 and 2017.

The headline is that the undocumented immigrant population has declined significantly. Pew estimated the undocumented population to be 10.7 million in 2016 — down from its 2007 peak of 12.2 million. It is as low as it has been since 2004. The estimate includes individuals who are now living with temporary protection from deportation through two programs — Temporary Protected Status (TPS), covering approximately 317,000 people, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects approximately 700,000 persons from deportation. The Trump administration is trying to end both of these programs.

Source: Pew Research

According to Pew, undocumented immigrants now make up less than a quarter (24 percent) of the total immigrant population in the U.S., down from 2007 when it was nearly a third (30 percent).

The decline is attributed primarily to a sharp decline in the number of Mexicans entering without authorization, and the departure of Mexican undocumented immigrants. CMS estimated that, since 2010, the undocumented Mexican population has declined by 1.3 million and, in 2017 for the first time, undocumented immigrants from Mexico constituted less than half of the U.S. undocumented population.

Flying Over the Wall

Increasingly, undocumented immigrants enter legally with visas, and overstay their visa. In each of the years between 2010 and 2017, the number of people who overstayed a visa exceeded the number who crossed the border illegally. CMS estimates that of the more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants added to the population in 2016, 62 percent were individuals who overstayed their visas. This means that the wall that President Trump so desperately wants to build would be completely irrelevant for more than half of the newly-arriving undocumented immigrants.

Strong U.S. Ties

The Pew report gives a good indication of just how deeply undocumented immigrants are integrated into our communities. A substantial majority of undocumented immigrants are now long-term U.S. residents; two-thirds have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, and the median term of residence is now 14.8 years, compared to 8.6 years in 2007. Only 18 percent have lived in the U.S. for five years or less. The newly-arrived undocumented were 32 percent of the population in 2007.

Source: Pew Research

Approximately one in every 23 U.S. households in 2016 had an undocumented immigrant. Approximately 43 percent of undocumented immigrant adults live in households with U.S.-born children, and there are now more than five million U.S.-born children with undocumented immigrant parents. An estimated 8 percent of children in elementary school have undocumented immigrant parents.

Many undocumented immigrants have lived in the U.S. so long that their U.S.-born children have become adults; there are now nearly one million adult U.S.-born children of undocumented parents living with their parents — and this figure does not include the number of adult U.S.-born children no longer living at home.

Crucial to our Workforce

Undocumented workers are a smaller component of our workforce, but still a sizable 4.8 percent. In some states they are a larger percentage of the workforce. For example, more than 10 percent of Nevada’s workers are undocumented. Removing all undocumented workers, obviously, would be a blow to the economy. U.S. employers are already having trouble filling their workforce needs — there are currently approximately 8 unemployed workers available for every 10 job openings.


Source: Pew Research

Focus on Deportation Increases Resentment of Immigration Enforcement

As demonstrated by this latest portrait, undocumented immigrants have been members of our communities for a very long time. As time goes on, removing them is a personal matter for more and more Americans. Immigration enforcement is not against some abstract immigration violator. It is against our neighbors, friends, co-workers, fellow congregants, home care aids, etc. For ordinary Americans, it is difficult to accept that, for the crime of seeking a better life for one’s children, there can be no forgiveness ever.

Instead, the failure of Congress to make changes in our immigration laws to give these people a break after so many years has led to increasing resentment of immigration enforcement. In a July 2018 public opinion poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal, only 38 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with 37 percent having a negative view. Americans around the country are putting pressure on their elected representatives to do what they can to protect their undocumented neighbors, and more localities and states are refusing to cooperate with ICE.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system is in the cards in the near term, so look for increasing tension between communities trying to protect their residents, and an immigration enforcement agency that, under President Trump, has shown no mercy even for the model citizens among our undocumented residents.

Author: Maurice Belanger

Maurice Belanger is an analyst and writer with more than 25 years experience working in the field of immigration policy.

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