Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Slumping economy causing illegals to leave?

Illegal immigration, THE ECONOMY

CARAFANO: Where did the illegals go and why? Dec 7     Great comic too


They are leaving. Illegal immigrants, that is. Analysts from both ends of the immigration debate, from the Center for Immigration Studies to the Pew Hispanic Center, agree. The "unlawfully present" population in the United States has shrunk - and it's getting smaller.

According to Pew, there has been a drop in the annual illegal "inflow" of people to the country since 2005. And the numbers of those already here is going down. It peaked at 12.4 million in 2006 and is down by about 1 million now.

Analysts don't agree on why this is so. Good enough data simply aren't available to answer the question. There are a number of possibilities.

It could be simple economics, with fewer jobs translating into fewer illegals. Historically, whenever the U.S. economy has shrunk, fewer workers risk coming north to seek employment. They find economic opportunities at home or migrate to alternate destinations.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wants part of the credit, too, citing "tighter border security, a significant expansion of the Border Patrol, the deployment of new technology, and increased interior enforcement are having an undeniable impact."

Contrarians, however, are quick to deny that. They seem eager to paint enforcement not only as ineffective but evil.

According to Tom Barry of the Center for International Policy's "Americas Policy program," enforcing the "rule of law" is little more than a fig leaf for some anti-immigration types - allowing its advocates to appear "ostensibly separate from the nativists, economic populists and white supremacists that make up much of the base of the movement."

This is a remarkable claim. No doubt many in Congress - including Sens. Ted Kennedy and John McCain, who pushed for a comprehensive reform that included a number of border security and workplace enforcement measures (as well as all in Congress who voted to build a fence to help stop illegal entry from Mexico) - would be stunned to find out they're just fronting for the Ku Klux Klan.

Demonizing law enforcement and border security seems like an effort to poison the well for promoting serious further reforms. There are already whispers that some policymakers will try to roll back enforcement innovations such as the 287(g) programs that set up compacts between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement. Never mind that these programs assist in identifying and deporting criminal aliens in jails and prisons after they complete their sentences and other cooperative activities.

The result of such efforts is that both Congress and the American people will become more reluctant to embrace any kind of immigration reform. Instead, they will suspect the administration offers " '86" all over again.

In 1986, Congress passed comprehensive reform that granted a general amnesty and promised more workplace enforcement and better border security. There were about 3 million illegals then. Now there are more than 3 times as many. Granting amnesty just encouraged more illegal immigration, while Washington did little to secure the border or enforce the law. Failure to enforce the law, combined with an amnesty that brushed aside the rule of law (along with strong economic growth for more than 25 years) created today's crisis - one that needs to be solved.

Hopefully, no one thinks a depression is the answer (if there are no jobs, there would be no illegals). We need to get the economy growing again.

As the economy recovers, if we want to continue reducing illegal immigration, we are going to have to have border control, enforce the law (not grant amnesty), and institute reforms that help provide sufficient legal avenues for employers to get the workers they need to help the economy continue to grow and prosper.

And if we can do it with more workers being "lawfully present," so much the better.

James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation (, is the author of the books "G.I. Ingenuity" and "Private Sector, Public Wars."

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