Experts Slam Report by Anti-Immigration "Think-Tank" Claiming Undocumented Migrants Leaving Due to Raids

Editor's Note: Immigration experts attribute the decrease in illegal immigration to the U.S. economic downturn, rather than stepped-up enforcement measures as findings by the Center for Immigration Studies conclude.


A report released in Washington this week by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) titled Homeward Bound: Recent Immigration Enforcement and the Decline in the Illegal Alien Population claims the undocumented population in the United States has declined significantly.

Using the Current Population Survey by the Census Bureau as the quantitative basis for their report, CIS notes that "since hitting a peak in the summer of 2007, the illegal population may have declined by 11 percent through May of 2008."

This data leads them to conclude that "it seems that increased enforcement is at least partly responsible for this decline."

However, Stephen Buckner, a spokesman for the US Census responded to this report by saying: "The Census Bureau does not produce estimates or counts of illegal immigrants living in the United States."

Additionally, the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) took issue with the report. "The persuasiveness of CIS' argument is undermined not only by an absence of hard data, but by the faulty logic and contradictory statements of the report itself" and added "the authors report confidently about a population that is nearly impossible to accurately measure."

In addition, IPC took exception with CIS' conclusion that immigrants are leaving because of stepped-up immigration enforcement. If there is indeed movement, IPC contends, something that has not yet been proven, then it's likely more because of economic conditions rather than immigration-enforcement measures, as has been the case historically.

They cite a June 2008 report by Wayne Cornelius, Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California in San Diego, which found "undocumented migration clearly responds to changing U.S. economic conditions, with steep increases in the flow toward the end of expansion phases of the business cycle and significant decreases during economic downturns."

Muzaffar Chishti, Director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University, tracks migration patterns globally and agrees "there is no evidence of an exodus either because of economic conditions or greater enforcement."

Shortly after the report was released, the Washington Post took a critical look at CIS' methodology, noting: "Several demographers who specialize in estimating the illegal immigrant population expressed concern about the limits of the study's methodology, but said they found the possibility that the illegal immigrant population is decreasing plausible. Determining the actual amount of that decline, however, is a far more controversial matter."

The report also uses the decline in remittances (money sent from the US to home countries) as evidence of a decline in immigration. However, Sergio Bendixen, a pollster in Miami, who conducted a recent poll for the Inter-American Development Bank on remittances, says that his study did indeed show a decline in remittances. But "that does not support the argument that people are leaving, but rather that people here are spending less money because of economic conditions and future plans."

The CIS' report itself acknowledges the challenges in counting the undocumented. "While it is clear that a large share of illegal aliens are included in Census Bureau surveys, there is always the question of those who are missed. Although DHS as well as most researchers assume a 10 percent undercount, there is debate about the number of illegal immigrants who are not counted."

Past research by CIS has been criticized by groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF). "The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has a history of misrepresenting facts concerning immigrants and Latinos," says MALDEF.

MALDEF's website features an array of rebuttals and fact sheets in response to previous CIS research.

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