Report: ‘Attrition through enforcement’ cuts ranks of illegal aliens

WASHINGTON — A report today indicating a marked decline in the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. fueled a widening national debate over the Bush administration’s policy of immigration enforcement through aggressive work-site raids.

The raids, which have grown in intensity, led to the largest such enforcement action in May in Postville, Iowa, where federal immigration agents descended on a meatpacking plant and arrested nearly 400 workers who later were detained in a building used to house cattle.

The administration began forcefully executing workplace laws after Congress last year failed to pass an immigration overhaul. In the months since, thousands of workers have been arrested in scores of raids. Conservatives applauded the tactics, while critics pointed to mistaken arrests of U.S. citizens, deaths of immigrants in detention and the limited scrutiny of managers who recruited and hired them.

However, evidence that the tactics may have succeeded in reducing the number of illegal immigrants was presented in a report today by a group that favors tighter curbs on all forms of immigration.

The study, by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said the number of illegal immigrants fell an estimated 11 percent between last August and May, from 12.5 million to 11.2 million.

The study was based on an analysis of Census data and concludes that if that rate of decline is sustained, the number of illegal immigrants would be halved in five years.

Steven Camarota, the Center’s research director, acknowledged that the economy is a factor in the decline, but said several factors pointed to enforcement as a major factor. For instance, the legal immigrant population continues to grow, while the fall-off in illegal immigrants began even before their unemployment numbers began rising.

“It seems that increased enforcement has played a significant role,” said Camarota.

Camarota also said the data suggest that many illegal immigrants are leaving of their own accord. The number of illegal immigrants leaving the country is much larger than the number removed by the government, the report says.

“It challenges the idea that there is no way to deal with the problem but for creating some kind of legal status (for illegal immigrants),” he said. “And it seems you don’t have to deport everyone.”

Independent demographers said they also see a drop in the illegal immigrant population. But some questioned the study’s methodology, the size of the decline it identified and underlying assumptions.

“Our data aren’t inconsistent with the idea that people are leaving,” said Jeffrey Passel, demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. But Passel added: “I don’t see in my numbers anywhere near the decline he’s talking about.”

Pew expects to issue its own report later this month.

The immigration report was issued as Hispanic lawmakers gathered to condemn the administration’s enforcement drive and announced plans to put a stop to the raids.

“The president knows that we resolve nothing by taking these kinds of punitive actions,” Gutierrez said. “He says he wants comprehensive reform, yet all he does is enforcement with no steps to legalize the status of those workers.”

The lawmakers said workers at the Postville meatpacking plant endured child labor abuses, sexual intimidation and safety violations. Homeland Security officials compounded that abuse with heavy-handed methods, they charged.

“I’m going to be talking to my colleagues to put an end — an end — to these raids,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., “America is better, greater than these conditions which we have created in Postville.”

He said immigration reforms must include a way for illegal immigrants to legally remain in the country. However, he offered no further details on how lawmakers would stop the raids.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, conservative lawmakers praised the value of immigrant “attrition through enforcement,” and held up Wednesday’s study as proof.

“Enforcement works,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration issues.

Immigrant advocates dismissed the CIS report.

“There is nothing humane nor practical about creating a state of terror in immigrant communities aimed at driving millions of humble, hardworking people from our midst,” said Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who visited Postville last week decried working conditions at the plant and the absence of federal action against plant managers and owners. Two lower-level managers have faced charges, Gutierrez said.

Homeland Security officials have defended the raid and its aftermath. But Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., head of the Hispanic caucus, pointed to charges that the workers did not have proper access to lawyers and were pushed into guilty pleas.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

1 pedestrian dead after car crash on I-5 south of Marysville

Around 5 p.m., a car crashed into a pedestrian along I-5. Investigators believed a man had parked on the shoulder to refuel.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Do Snohomish County lawmakers want a 2020 presidential rematch?

The Herald contacted seven Republican legislators representing parts of Snohomish County about their primary choice. Five did not respond.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Firefighters respond to a report of a smoke alarm going off in the 100 block of West Main Street in Monroe on Monday morning. Fire officials confirmed the fire was coming from living quarters above Good Brewing Co. (Provided by Snohomish County Regional Fire and Rescue).
Fire damages apartment above Monroe brewery

Good Brewing Co. on West Main Street was listed as permanently closed Monday.

Tom Ceurvorst picks up his food order at Big Chicken on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free ice cream Wednesday for Shaq’s birthday at Big Chicken in Mukilteo

Sign a card for the NBA Hall of Famer and restaurant founder. Shaquille O’Neal turns 52 on March 6.

Flowers for slain trooper Chris Gadd begin to collect outside Washington State Patrol District 7 Headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Police: Lynnwood man consumed cannabis, beer before crash into trooper

Trooper Chris Gadd, 27, was stopped along I-5 when he was hit and killed early Saturday. Troopers suspect Raul Benitez Santana was impaired.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.