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Tide of illegal immigrants now being reversed

Border crackdown and tough economic times in the US are seen as reasons.

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Some 1.3 million illegal immigrants have left the United States since Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the summer of 2007. If the trend continues, according to a new study, the nation's illegal population will drop by half in the next five years.

Moreover, reports the Center for Immigration Studies, young Hispanic immigrants began heading south before the nation's economy did – a clue that what's driving the new outmigration is a stepped-up border and workplace enforcement, not a souring US job market.

The source of the report – a think tank with a record of opposing illegal and even some legal immigration – is controversial in immigrant communities. But its findings could help frame the debate in a new Congress and a new administration.

The key conclusion is that enforcement, not the economy, is driving the decision to self-deport.

"The dropoff in illegal immigration seems to occur before there is a runup in their unemployment rate," says Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

But Mr. Camarota also cites evidence of a link to the discussion in Congress about a path to legalization for undocumented workers. "From May to April [2007] there is an actual uptick in the number of illegals in the country, which falls off after the legislation fails. It seems as if the discussion of legalization had some effect on the decision to come or go or both," he says.

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