Oct. 25, 2004
Your report on illegal immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico [Sept. 20] claimed that illegal immigration rose to 3 million in 2004. I believe this overstates the problem by 2 million. Prior-year official estimates show a gross number of 706,000 illegal immigrants annually with a net number (subtracting those who leave) closer to 350,000. When an individual crosses illegally four times and is apprehended four times, the border patrol records this as four apprehensions. Multiplying the number of apprehensions (1 million) by three (those said to evade successfully), as your reporters did, results in an inflated number for illegal immigration. The article also asserted that 190,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants — including those who came from terrorist hot spots — settled here this year. Border-patrol data indicate that there were fewer than 70 apprehensions of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia by July of this fiscal year. The U.S. has reduced illegal immigration in the past (back in the 1950s) and can do so again by making available sufficient legal visas so that individuals can enter legally to work, rather than cross the border illegally and occupy border-patrol agents with apprehending potential workers. Freeing up law-enforcement assets to focus on more genuine security threats will enhance both homeland security and the rule of law.
Stuart Anderson is Executive Director of the National Foundation for American Policy, an Arlington, Va.-based public policy research organization.
Journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele reply: Although the figure of 3 million illegal aliens is an estimate, it is based on government formulas and interviews with border-patrol agents and other law-enforcement authorities. Anderson's reference to 350,000 illegals comes from Census Bureau data, which are widely acknowledged to be seriously flawed. As for the 70 apprehensions from the seven countries mentioned by Anderson, published accounts put the figure at higher than 150. No one knows how many successfully made it into the U.S. Also, to discount Mexicans, Guatemalans and other Latin Americans who cross the border illegally is to ignore sleeper terrorist cells in Latin America.