Stiffer enforcement at the workplace and at the border are forcing an exodus.
What to do with millions of illegal aliens in the US? The issue is still a sleeper in the presidential campaign. But maybe not for long. Americans who want strict law enforcement before a "total" immigration solution now have proof that stronger enforcement can bring results.
Exhibit A: The illegal migrant population has dropped an estimated 11 percent through May after hitting a peak last August, based on census data used in a report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Much of that decline is due to people who self-deported by slipping back across the border.
The drop began well before unemployment went up, which points to the real success story: Washington's wake-up call last summer to beef up enforcement, from plugging leaks in the border to cracking down on employers who hire illegal workers.
In raw numbers, the decline meant 1.3 million fewer illegal immigrants in the US, down from an estimated 12.5 million. Not bad for a year of attentive law enforcement but still a long way to go. And in another sign of change: Immigrant remittances to the Bank of Mexico are down after years of rising.
The study found the number of immigrants continues to rise, helping employers who are looking for low-wage workers.
Few people expect all remaining 11.2 million illegal immigrants to be forcibly deported. Many have lived in the US for decades, raising children who are American citizens. Those cases will need a blend of humane treatment and punishment, and then likely be set on a long course to legal residency.