US illegal migrants up almost 500,000 a year
By Edward Alden in Washington
The number of illegal immigrants in the US has continued to grow by nearly half a million each year in spite of US efforts to increase security at the country’s borders, according to a survey released on Tuesday.
The study, by the Pew Hispanic Center, said that the population of unauthorised migrants reached between 11.5m and 12m last year, accounting for nearly a third of the foreign-born population in the US. That number is up from roughly 8.4m in 2000.
The continued rise was driven primarily by the strong demand for low-skilled work in the US. “What we’re seeing is a labour migration that is tied to employment opportunities,” said Jeffrey Passel, the study’s author.
The findings come as the Senate is set to take up on Wednesday legislation aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigrants coming to the US. The Senate judiciary committee is launching a three-week effort to produce a bill that the committee’s chairman, Republican Arlen Specter, hopes will create new legal channels for foreign workers in the US.
The proposal, outlined by committee staff on Monday, would allow those illegally in the US to apply for renewable two-year work visas, and would create a new guest worker programme to allow new workers to come to the US legally.
That contrasts with legislation that passed the House of Representatives late last year and would toughen enforcement against illegal aliens but would not allow for new guest workers. Differences between the House bill and the Senate version would have to be resolved later this year.
The Pew survey underscored the substantial presence of illegal workers in the US labour market. It estimated about 4.9 per cent of the US labour force, or 7.2m workers, was composed of unauthorised migrants.
Nearly a third of those work in service occupations, 19 per cent in construction and 15 per cent in production, installation and repair jobs. Illegal workers are especially prevalent in farming, where they make up nearly a quarter of all workers, as well as cleaning, residential home construction and food processing.
Despite beefing up border patrols and constructing fences along the southern US border with Mexico, the US has so far been unable to reverse the flow of illegal migrants there. The study found that the southern border remains the gateway to the US, with Mexican migrants making up 56 per cent of the unauthorised population, and another 22 per cent coming from the rest of Latin America, particularly Central American countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador.
The vast majority of those end up finding work in the US. Among adult males, 94 per cent of illegal immigrants participated in the US labour force, compared with an 83 per cent participation rate for native-born men.