Immigration Has Changed: Should We Change With It?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

When it comes to immigration control and reform, a lot of focus is placed on the border — especially in light of the recent crisis with unaccompanied minors crossing over from central America. The outpouring of 52,000 young illegal immigrants has a way of focusing the mind — and government resources — on the Southern border, and the issue there is a major one. But there are some statistics worth keeping in mind when taking in the whole of immigration as a system in need of reforming.

President Barack Obama addressed a letter to Congress on Tuesday, requesting emergency supplemental appropriations in the amount of $3.7 billion for the 2014 fiscal year. “The funding would support a sustained border security surge through enhanced domestic enforcement, including air surveillance … associated transportation costs; additional immigration judge teams, immigration prosecutors, and immigration litigation attorneys to ensure cases are processed fairly and as quickly as possible,” it reads, also listing costs for interim care of the children in question and diplomacy needs for helping to address the “root causes of migration.”

One point in particular that the president makes in his Fact Sheet on the Rio Grand Valley Areas is important to note. “Overall rates of apprehensions across our Southwest border remain at near historic lows.” According to FiveThirtyEight, this is a major distinction that needs to be made. While undocumented immigrants are certainly still a concern within the U.S., immigration itself “has fallen close to zero.”

Part of this is explainable by the American job market, which dipped for illegal immigrants during the recession when so many construction jobs went under. Pew Research reported that between 2011 and 2012 there was no statistically significant increase in the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., explaining in its estimates the inherent difficulty and complexity of estimating immigration numbers. Even more notably, a great deal of America’s present immigrant population is no longer flowing from Mexico and Central America — though the tide of unaccompanied minors in such large and increasing numbers may begin to alter those numbers once more.

Even so, demographic experts such as Dowell Myers of the University of Southern California say that even if immigration form Mexico sees an increase in parallel with economic recover, it isn’t likely the numbers will rise as far as they have in the past. “It’s now history,” Myers told FiveThirtyEight. “It’s the peak level of Latino migration.” On the other hand, there has been a 37 percent rise in the number of Chinese immigrants in the  U.S., with smaller increases seen in Indian and other Asian populations.

Looking at statistics — shown below — of illegal immigrants from Pew compared from 1990 up through 2012, it’s clear that unauthorized immigrants from Mexico are, at least for now, on the downtrend from the high reached in 2007.  It’s also clear that other immigrant populations are on the uptrend.

Regional immigration concerns within the United States vary, in part affecting perception of reform needs. Deportation has been strictly enforced under the Obama administration — to the extent that some are critical of the current system for being too stringent, while simultaneously some are concerned that the President’s rhetoric has been overly soft, resulting in misled believe over the border that policy might be gentler on illegal immigrants than it is.

The discussion of amnesty versus border control is of particular importance in this, partly because it’s such a diversive topic, quickly pitting Republicans against Democrats with a few notable exceptions. But it is also of import for another reason; namely that when reform policy, whether piecemeal or comprehensive, finally has its day — maybe sometime in 2050 — the focus of that reform will be up for debate.

Does a pathway to citizenship make more sense given the large population of illegals presently living in the United States, with the knowledge that the number of illegal immigrants coming in now has become flat? Does it make more sense to focus on unauthorized Latino and Hispanic immigrants given their proximity and a potential immigration rebound with the economic recovery? Or does it make more sense to consider policy tightening aimed at a broader swath of immigrants and regions given changing trends? Border security has recently become the main item of focus, while Congress and President Obama remain at odds over legislative reform, with Republican’s trust of the president as an enforcer in question. With first the midterm election — and then eventually the presidential election complicating the political playing field and tossing immigration out of bounds — it may be some time before policy is taken on, and changes from now until later next year, or even into the next presidency, may alter goals on immigration.

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