Except for CNN’s Lou Dobbs bloviating on a regular basis about securing our borders from illegal immigrants heading North, the presidential campaign and the early days of the post-election period have been noticeably devoid of the furor over those 12 million “aliens” living and working in this country. John McCain early on in the campaign divorced himself from his own immigration reform efforts in favor of a hard line on the illegals, while Barack Obama was rarely pressed about immigration and border security. For an issue that raised such passions over the last few years, illegal immigration simply dropped off the political radar screen.
Of course a convincing case can be made that the economic meltdown trumped all other issues, even divisive ones such as what to do with 12 million undocumented workers. But it it important to point out that the illegal immigration issue has slowly but surely begun to solve itself, not so much because of government policies, but rather because the downturn has forced many illegals to pack up their belongings and head back home. Data from anti-illegal immigration sources point to a decline of the undocumented population in this country by as much as 1 million people.
Conservatives will claim that tougher enforcement measures, beefed up border patrols, increased raids on companies that hire illegals and that 800 mile fence ( made with Chinese steel, of course) have sent a clear message to those here illegally that they are lawbreakers and have no rightful place in this country. But the talk about closing the borders and pulling the illegals out of the meat-packing plants ignores other persuasive arguments about what is driving 1 million people across the border. There has been a 15% drop in remittances back to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean this year, an exodus of some national groups ( such as the Brazilians) to countries where the economy is stronger, and substantial anecdotal evidence from illegal immigrants that they just can’t make a go of it in the United States. The new emphasis on law enforcement may have contributed to the movement of these people back to the homeland, but it is more likely that employment and pocketbook issues were the deciding factors.
Simple math will show that there are still about 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, but if the American recession continues and deepens as many have predicted, than it is indeed possible that one of the most difficult public policy problems facing this country in the last ten years will quietly go away without all the partisan bickering, ideological fear mongering, and endless debates over whether the illegals were a boon or a bane to the American economy and American society. Immigration reform never really happened through the governmental process, but immigration reversal has started and will not end anytime soon. Lou Dobbs just might have to find another cause to bloviate about.