Thursday, June 08, 2006

Half of undocumented immigrants didn't enter illegally

Triple-layer fencing, web cams, national guard troops at the border - the list of draconian anti-immigrant proposals expands seemingly daily. But those plans ignore how undocumented immigrants really get here. Half of immigrants illegally residing in this country never swam the river, braved the desert or otherwise entered the country illegally - they came in as tourists and simply overstayed their visas. So how will fences, web cams and soldiers patroling out in the boondocks help that? Reported AP ("Millions of visa overstays overlooked," June 5):

Millions of illegal immigrants in the United States never jumped the U.S.-Mexico border where Congress wants to erect impenetrable walls and President Bush is sending National Guard troops to patrol. They never sneaked in at all.

The little-acknowledged reality is that nearly half the estimated 12 million undocumented foreigners in the United States entered on bona fide U.S. visas - and simply never left. Authorities call them "overstays" who have been largely overlooked in the vitriolic debate on immigration.

"The southwestern border gets all the attention, but it's staggering the number of people who come and overstay their visa," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington. "It's a very large-scale problem."

A study by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center last month indicated that 45 percent of the undocumented migrants in the United States overstayed legal visas.

Honestly, I'd have thought it'd be more. Certainly an additional, large percentage came through checkpoints without documentation - less than one half of one percent of truck traffic is searched crossing the border, so it'd be naive to think none of the other 99.5% are working with coyotes to smuggle immigrants. All the focus on militarizing border spaces between the checkpoints ignores how the majority of illegal immigrants enter the country, but that's where the money is going. In the context, don't look for new anti-immigrant programs to make a serious dent in illegal immigration - for the most part they only target the high-profile symbols, not the substance.

Grits' prediction: the need to approve legitimate personal and commercial travel will forever trump desires to keep out immigrants who want to come here. If walls and soldiers make it more difficult to trek through the desert, immigrants will still come legally and overstay their visas, or else arrive packed like sardines in the massive line of vehicles crossing the border every day. You can't shut that down without shutting down important parts of the economy - like the food supply.

IMO, trying to stop immigration flows is a fool's errand, anyway - more foolish, still, is trying to stop just half of it.

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