The number of unauthorized people living in the U.S. fell for a second straight year to 10.8 million between January 2008 and January 2009. That's the first time this has happened since President Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty into law, according to The Washington Post, which cited data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The reason for the decline is simple: fewer jobs.As unemployment climbed as the economic recession deepened, fewer foreigners saw the U.S. as the land of opportunity and stayed put. Other undocumented workers grew tired of the stagnate economy -- and of the growing distrust of immigrants fueled by conservative talk radio -- and decided to head back to their homelands. With unemployment hovering around 10%, who can blame them.
About four out of five undocumented immigrants come from Latin America, and they have been hit hard by the economic slowdown, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The unemployment rate for foreign-born Hispanics increased from 5.1% to 8%, from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008.
Farmers in Florida Are Scrambling
Odds are that the picture hasn't improved much since that data was collected. For instance, farmers in Florida are scrambling to keep their farm workers employed after a record cold snap in January devastated the citrus crops, says Rod Hemphill of the Florida Farm Bureau,
These figures represent a turnabout from the past when the numbers of immigrants lacking papers continued to increase during the economy's boom years. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., research group that favors immigration restrictions, hailed the numbers in a Los Angeles Times story as proof that "illegal immigration is not inexorable." Farm groups, who depend on immigrant labor, take a differing view.
"Agriculture utterly depends on a foreign-born workforce," said Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, in a press release. "Even in this recession, few Americans are seeking jobs on the farm."
What To Do With Undocumented Foreigners?
The statistics suggest that in some respects, the illegal immigration problem is a function of the strength of the economy -- and that it may to a great extent regulate itself. But the question remains about what to do with foreigners who are here illegally. The issue has taken on renewed significance as intelligence officials warn of an imminent terrorist attack on American soil. Unfortunately, purging the country of nearly 11 million people is both logistically impossible and prohibitively expensive. Some sort of way, though, is needed to bring these people out from the underground. How to do it is the tricky part.
This member of the liberal media elite agrees with conservatives that the U.S. can't "reward" people who break the law, but taking overly punitive measures like jailing those who are otherwise law-abiding seems pointless. That takes someone who is contributing to society and makes them a drain. It's the ultimate case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
America, as has been said too many times, is a land built by immigrants. Making their lives less onerous with sensible immigration reform is in everyone's best interest. The current broken system deprives the U.S. of the talent it needs to bring this country out of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression.
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