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Arrivals to U.S. now likely to be illegal

Immigration has picked back up after a lull, but illegal immigrants now outnumber the legal ones, a new study finds.

By wire services
Published September 28, 2005

WASHINGTON - More illegal immigrants are entering the United States than legal immigrants, a study released Tuesday found.

The Pew Hispanic Center reported that immigration in general has been picking up, tracking the reviving American economy and improving jobs picture.

"The U.S. economy was obviously a very important factor in determining these flows," said Roberto Suro, director of the center and a co-author of its study.

Immigration - both legal and illegal - topped 1.5-million people in 1999 and 2000, according to the report. The number of people entering the United States then dropped to 1.1-million by 2003, the same level as in 1992.

Immigration bounced back to 1.2-million in 2004, but the report said it is difficult to say whether the upswing is part of a new trend.

"The extremely high (immigration) flows at the end of the past decade were not the norm, nor part of a long-term trend, but rather the peak of a momentary increase that lasted for only a few years," said the report, which was written by Suro and demographer Jeffrey Passel.

The report documents immigration levels from 1992 to 2004, generating estimates from a variety of Census data.

The Pew Hispanic Center is a nonpartisan research organization supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The decrease in immigrants after 2001 was due in part to ramped up security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to fewer legal immigrants arriving in the country. Some visa and refugee programs, such as student visas and H1-B temporary visas for skilled specialty workers such as computer programmers and nurses, were reduced and more rigorous checks on legal immigrants caused longer delays for visa approvals.

The basic pattern of increase, peak and decline coincided with the performance of the U.S. economy and was evident for immigrants from every region of the world and for those who are legal and illegal, the study said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has proposed a temporary worker program for immigrants, said the report shows the system is broken.

To reverse the trend of more people entering the country illegally than lawfully, "immigration reform must be comprehensive and address both enforcement and improved avenues for legal immigration," said Cornyn, whose bill would require illegal immigrants to return to their home countries within five years before applying as temporary workers.

Border security gained national attention last month after the governors of two states, Arizona and New Mexico, declared states of emergency on their borders with Mexico. The governors cited security shortcomings by the federal government.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at the time that he had already ordered a review of border security strategy.

The Pew report said immigration levels closely mirror economic conditions in the United States - as the economy improves, immigration increases - suggesting that the lure of jobs is a strong factor in attracting people to this country. The U.S. economy appears to be a stronger factor than economic conditions in the countries sending immigrants here, the report said.

The report also found that the destination of immigrants has changed over the years away from states with large foreign-born populations - such as Florida, California, New York and New Jersey - toward new settlement states such as Georgia, Oregon, Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa.

--Information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.

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