WASHINGTON—The number of illegal immigrants in the United States has grown to as high as 12 million, according to a new estimate released Tuesday as the Senate considers legislation aimed at tightening America’s borders.
The Pew Hispanic Center report estimated that undocumented workers fill one out of every four agricultural jobs, 17 percent of all office and house cleaning positions, 14 percent of construction jobs, and 12 percent of those who work in food preparation.
The report found that the pace of illegal immigration is increasing, despite government efforts to crack down.
“It’s been very hard to find any effect from border security,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior research associate at the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center and the author of the report.
Except one: Mexicans who make it to the United States illegally are staying longer, perhaps because it is getting harder and more expensive to move back and forth across the border, Passel said.
“The security has done more to keep people from going back to Mexico than it has to keep them from coming in,” Passel said in an interview.
Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tougher border enforcement, said he isn’t surprised that the number of illegal immigrants continues to climb. He called the government’s crackdown halfhearted at best.
Camarota pointed to a recent government report showing that very few businesses are fined for hiring illegal immigrants. The government filed only three notices that it intended to fine companies in 2004, down from 417 notices in 1999, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.