Evading the System
According to INS estimates, 300,000 illegal immigrants come to the United States each year, and there were 5 million illegal immigrants living in the country in 1996. About 2.1 million of this group are "nonimmigrant overstays," that is, people who entered the country legally on a temporary basis and didn't go home. Most illegal immigrants, an estimated 2.7 million, come from Mexico, but only 16 percent of Mexican illegal immigrants are overstays, compared with 26 percent of those from other parts of Central America and 91 percent from all other countries. The INS deported 111,794 "criminal and other illegal aliens" in 1997, and recent changes in the law, summarized here, establish new grounds for denying admission to the United States. For example, nonimmigrant overstays can now be denied readmission for up to 10 years.
Access to jobs attracts illegal immigrants. Although the INS negotiated its largest work-site settlement last year, when a Texas restaurant chain agreed to pay a $1.7-million fine for hiring and employing illegal immigrant workers, critics claim that Congress doesn't do enough to punish employers who make extensive use of illegal labor. Unscrupulous employers see these workers as more manageable and less likely to complain. Despite regulations that punish employers who knowingly employ them, pressure from business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Restaurant Association scuttled an attempt to include computer verification of employee eligibility in the 1996 immigration bill.
What About Refugees?
A fact sheet prepared by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration outlines the U.S. refugee policy. Around 120,000 refugees are allowed into the country each year if they flee their country "due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group." Recent changes in the law prohibit asylum applications from persons who have been in the United States for more than a year. Cuban pitchers are also offered refuge--unless they can get a better deal in the Bahamas, of course.