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Dear Editor:
A new study from the Public Policy Institute of California points to the desperate need for a re-orientation of our nation's immigration policies. In Holding the Line, The Effect of the Recent Border Build-up on Unauthorized Immigration, authors Belinda Reyes, Hans Johnson, and Richard Van Swearingen assert that our recent emphasis on increasing resources to patrol our nation's borders have had little to no effect on reducing unauthorized migration. Instead, these policies have merely channeled desperate migrants to more remote crossing points, increasing the number of fatalities along the border and enhancing the market for immigrant smugglers. The study also finds that unauthorized immigrants may be staying longer in the U.S. than before the border build-up, which is yet another indication that our current policies for controlling undocumented immigration may, in fact, be having the opposite effect.

The authors explore a variety of policy positions that might more effectively reduce unauthorized migration. Options that negotiate the economic push and pull factors that drive people to migrate hold the most promise for long-term success. For example, our current immigration system allows only 5,000 immigrant visas for low and un-skilled workers per year, while our economy obviously demands many more of these workers. This mismatch means employers cannot obtain the workers they need legally, and potential employees cannot find legal means to enter the country and obtain jobs waiting for them. Direct investment in regions sending many migrants to the United States, coupled with a more realistic number of employment-based visas for the workers our economy demands-both now and in the years to come-would more realistically address our nation's labor needs and reduce the pressure for people to migrate under dangerous conditions.

As the authors of this study suggest, until we fix our broken immigration laws we will continue to see more deaths related to remote border crossings and alien smuggling, and we will fail to stop the rise in the undocumented immigrant population. The recent deaths of two undocumented immigrants, who were being smuggled through Texas in an 18-wheeler, are a stark reminder that this problem remains as grave as ever. We need modern immigration policies that work with, not against, the economic factors that drive immigration. On the occasion of President Bush and President Fox of Mexico's meeting in August, we urge both leaders to return to the promising negotiations on migration that they began last year, and to take bold steps that make migration orderly, regulated, and legal instead of chaotic, underground, and deadly.

For a research brief covering highlights of the Public Policy Institute of California's report, visit:

For the full text of this report, visit:

Douglas Rivlin
National Immigration Forum