The policy is successful; we must change the policy. It is a ridiculous sentiment, of course, but that was the reaction of the amnesty crowd to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center indicating that Mexican immigration has leveled off to a point where there is equilibrium between Mexicans leaving America and those entering. The pundits who claimed we did not have an immigration problem — and if we did have a problem, enforcement measures would not work — now say that the problem is over, and we should proceed with a “comprehensive immigration reform” amnesty.

Marcos Breton wrote hyperbolically in the Sacramento Bee that concern about massive immigration was really “ethnic bashing” and “only the most nativist voices among us continue to beat the drum of the U.S.-Mexico border as a dire threat to our republic.”

Daniel Wagener at the Center for American Progress said the “report illustrates just how behind the times ‘enforcement first’ zealots are,” and the obvious next step is a “process of earned legalization.”

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post declared that “the immigration ‘crisis’ has solved itself,” but, of course, it “wasn’t really a crisis at all.” At least he had the decency to forego euphemism and call for amnesty, not earned legalization.

The Pew study concluded that the number of Mexican-born people living in America has decreased slightly, from 12.6 million in 2007 to 12 million last year, more than half of whom entered illegally. The number of Mexicans returning home doubled in the period from 2005 to 2010 compared to 10 years earlier, and the number of new arrivals decreased by more than half.

What the media accounts of the report missed was any assessment of the sheer magnitude of the problem that has accumulated over the last four decades from when the Mexican population here was under 1 million. The report noted, “The U.S. today has more immigrants from Mexico alone — 12 million — than any other country in the world has from all countries of the world.” There are more Mexicans in the U.S. than the combined populations of New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.

If the study is accurate — and one should always view reports about numbers of illegal immigrants with caution; the study indicated a huge range of between 5 and 35 percent for the number of Mexicans who have been deported instead of leaving on their own — then we should carefully evaluate which programs have led to this success.

Attrition through enforcement, what Romney un-artfully termed as self-deportation, works. While most observers agree that the downturn in the American economy has been a major factor, increased enforcement has also been a key reason. “Heightened enforcement of immigration laws has made it more difficult, expensive and dangerous for Mexicans to try to enter the U.S. illegally,” said the report’s author.

If the recession is the main cause for a decrease in illegal immigration, then we can expect a rebound in the numbers when our economy improves, so we must keep up the enforcement effort. If enforcement is the primary factor, then we should continue and expand successful policies. Along with enforcement of our laws at the border, we need to use the effective E-Verify system at all workplaces.

The worst response would be to offer some amnesty program and counteract the message we are starting to send through the small amount of enforcement we have effected to date. Americans understand that there is no way to deter illegal behavior by rewarding illegal behavior.

Ric Oberlink, J.D., is a senior writing fellow at the Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization.

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