12 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S., report says
More than half have been here less than 10 years, according to the report.
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WASHINGTON -- Both sides in the illegal immigration debate said Tuesday that the new Pew Hispanic Center report pegging the number of unauthorized people here at nearly 12 million proves their point.
Those who say Congress must pass a comprehensive bill that marries enforcement with a program to allow illegal immigrants to work legally say the increasing numbers make it more urgent that something be done soon.
And those who say the federal government should concentrate on enforcement say that the fact that so many of the illegal immigrants arrived recently means they can be made to leave on their own with some forceful incentives.
There were no surprises, experts said Tuesday, in the report that estimates that between 11.5 and 12 million illegal immigrants are now in the United States. And the study also confirms that the majority of illegal workers have jobs in agriculture, cleaning, construction and food service.
Of those here illegally, the report says, 66 percent have been here less than 10 years, with 40 percent having been here less than five years.
"What that suggests to me is that a policy of attrition of the legal population through law enforcement could actually work because most of them are not deeply rooted," said Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes a restrictionist immigration policy. Krikorian said if there was better workplace enforcement and the jobs dried up, illegal immigrants would go home.
Not so says the author of the study who pointed to the large percentage of people here illegally who are part of a family unit.
Of the 11 million illegally here as of last year, only 3.2 million were either single men or single women, said Jeff Passel, author of Pew's study.
"There has to be a more satisfactory answer than let's do more of the same," said Angela Kelley of the National Immigration Forum, which advocates broader immigration. "It's a bit of folly to say people don't put down roots and aren't needed in these jobs."
Krikorian said he was not surprised by the Pew numbers and believes that most scholars on the issue would agree with Pew's findings.
But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., believes those estimates to be low and said he believes if benefits are taken away from illegal immigrants and employers can't hire them, they will go home on their own.
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee begins tackling individual sections of a broad immigration proposal by chairman Arlen Specter. Specter, R-Pa., took portions of proposals by other senators as well as sections of an enforcement bill passed last December by the House.
Today, the committee is expected to discuss enforcement with guest worker proposals and a plan to allow illegal workers to work legally -- on the agenda for later this week and next week as well.
Rep. Ed Royce, a strong supporter of the House bill, said the Pew numbers show the federal government is not doing its job.
"These numbers are the result of the federal government not being serious about stopping illegal immigration," said Royce, R-Calif. Royce favors doing nothing about the illegal population already here until it can be shown that the estimated flow of 500,000 unauthorized migrants that come to the United States each year has been stopped.
"At least let's arrest the problem by ensuring border security, then we can discuss what steps we shall take once we've enforced the law," Royce said.
Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the immigration panel, says both issues must be tackled together.
"It is inexcusable that almost 40 percent of illegal immigration has occurred since 9/11," Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement Tuesday. "Our national security demands that we know who is coming to the U.S. and who is living here right now."
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