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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Non-Legal Immigrants

Recently, the United States Bureau of the Census posted without fanfare a new report that estimates the number of "unauthorized and quasi-legal migrants" Ăś people born overseas who have settled in the United States without permission from the U.S. government. In 1990, the census researchers had found that there were about 3.8 million of these non-legal immigrants present in the United States. In 2000, this number zoomed to 8.7 million. Assuming an undercount, there could be as many as 10.2 million. At the same time, the number of foreign-born as a whole increased in the United States from 19.8 million to about 30 million. This means that the proportion of all foreign-born in the United States who are not legal residents rose from about 20 percent to 28 percent.

At least one million non-legal immigrants make their home in the New York metropolitan area; as many as half of them may have arrived over the past decade, though it is probably less. The anti-immigration oriented Center for Immigration Studies http://www.cis.org/ sent out their own press release about this public report with the title "Census Bureau: Over 100,000 Illegal Aliens from the Middle East". The inflammatory headline undercut the most interesting information presented. The report finds that 3.9 million or about 44 percent of the "unauthorized and quasi-legal migrants" are from Mexico, with about four percent from the former USSR and El Salvador. As to the Middle East according to the report, both Iran and Israel supplied 30,000 non-legal immigrants. It does not present a figure for any other Middle Eastern country. Instead, all of them, including all of the Arab states and Afghanistan, were lumped together as the Other Mid-east, which all together produced 59,000 non-legal immigrants. (The Census says that in the future they may send out their own press releases when they issue new reports).

The metropolitan area in the last decade had an increase in the total number of foreign born, legal or non-legal, of about one million - from 3.6 million to 4.6 million, according to another recent report based upon a yearly Census survey, (available in pdf format) but most were probably not non-legal. The countries that supply large numbers of non-legal immigrants are not highly represented in New York. For instance, Russia, China, India, Korea and Jamaica and the Dominican Republic supply relatively few non-legal migrants.

Statistical Adjustment and "Hot" Decks

The United States Census Bureau continues to resist making an adjustment to the census to account for a failure to make an accurate count of all people living in the U.S. The bureau's decisions and a long-standing bureau procedure are now under legal attack. First, a group of Congressmen sued in California and a group of state legislators in Oregon and both won the right to have the adjusted data released. The Census Bureau is appealing. Congress members sued based upon an obscure law that gives rights to such information to seven Congress members on a committee if they are in a minority so there is a chance the Congress members will prevail. Second, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case concerning the legality of the bureau's long-standing procedure of estimating data when they know a household exists, but for whom they have no answer to the Census questions. The so-called "hot deck" procedure often used to create such data fills in the missing information by using the responses from the last responding household on the same block. The bureau has used the hot-deck procedure method at least since 1940.

The release of much of the new interesting data from the long form, such as income, occupation, education, place of birth, commuting, housing condition, marital status, etc. seems to be delayed and may not be available until early summer.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.

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