Amnesty Under Hagel-Martinez

Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, June 2006

Based on the outcomes of the last amnesty in 1986, we expect that nearly 10 million illegal aliens will receive amnesty under the Hagel-Martinez bill. That is, they will legalize and eventually apply for permanent residence and be eligible for citizenship. As in 1986, we also expect that one-fourth (2.6 million) will get amnesty fraudulently. The bill will also allow an estimated 4.5 million family members of illegal aliens to join their legalized relatives, for a total of 14.4 million beneficiaries. These estimates do not include the very large increases in future legal immigration in the bill.

  • Based on the 1986 amnesty, we estimate that slightly over 70 percent (7.4 million) of the 10.2 million illegals eligible for the three amnesties in Hagel-Martinez will come forward and receive amnesty legitimately. That is, they will gain legal status allowing them to live and work in the United States and eventually apply for permanent residence and then citizenship.
  • In addition to the 7.4 million expected to receive amnesty legitimately, we estimate that, as in 1986, there will be one fraudulent amnesty awarded for every three legitimate ones. This means that nearly 2.6 million additional illegals will legalize fraudulently, for a total of 9.9 million.
  • In addition to the amnesty beneficiaries, the bill will allow an estimated 4.5 million family members currently living aboard to join their newly legalized relatives for a total of 14.4 million people who will benefit from the bill’s amnesty provisions.
  • Our assumption that the share of illegals who come forward will be similar to the share in 1986 may be too low because, unlike the last legalization, illegals now know that amnesties are real and not a ruse by the government to deport them. Moreover, because the border is now more difficult to cross illegally, legalization is a more attractive option.
  • Our estimate of 2.6 million fraudulent amnesty recipients, based on the 1986 amnesty, may be too low as well because the false-document industry is now more developed. Moreover, the overworked immigration bureaucracy already has a severe fraud problem according the Government Accountability Office. As its workload mushrooms with amnesty, fraud will become even more difficult to detect.
  • Of the 14.4 million illegals and their family members who will receive amnesty, we estimate that 13.5 million will eventually become permanent residents, which means they can stay as along as they wish and apply for citizenship. The rest can be expected to die or return home before becoming permanent residents.
  • The above estimates do not include the bill’s very large increases in future legal immigration, which is expected to double or triple from one million a year under current law.

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