Legal immigration has soared as illegal entries have dwindled
David J. Bier, Contributor
Here’s the paradox of immigration in America right now: The economy is roaring, and wages are rising, yet 2017 was another year of virtually no illegal border crossings. On average, each Border Patrol agent apprehended just 16 people all year — one every three weeks, tied for the lowest rate since World War II. This is down from when Border Patrol agents apprehended an average of 261 crossers per agent in 1996.
Where have the illegal crossers gone? Newly released statistics from the Department of State give a plausible answer: They haven’t disappeared; they’ve become legal.
The 16 apprehensions per agent in the entire year was significantly fewer than the 21 apprehensions that each agent was making in a month throughout the 1990s. This figure actually overstates the agency’s current workload because so many of today’s “apprehensions” are, in fact, asylum seekers, families and unaccompanied children who turn themselves in to the agents.
Of course, many factors affect the number of border crossers. Changes in Mexico’s economy, border security and demographics all played a role in the steady reduction in illegal immigration. But one factor deserves far more attention than it has received so far: Legal entries are becoming the norm.
From 1996 to 2017, the number of temporary visas issued to seasonal workers on farms and other industries increased tenfold, from 23,204 to 236,695. Even while Congress has done little on other immigration issues, seasonal worker programs have gradually expanded.
Entries using these visas have increased twice as fast as the number of legal documents issued themselves, meaning that each worker is crossing back and forth legally in a way that was much less common in 1996. This is partly because an increasing share of the visas are going to Mexican workers who can easily criss-cross the border. In 1996, Mexicans made just 60 percent of all border crossing entries. In 2016, that figure was 90 percent.
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