As the Supreme Court contemplates the validity of Arizona’s state passed immigration law, it is worth examining the central conceit that SB 1070 was necessary because of an “invasion of undocumented immigrants.”  A report by the Pew Hispanic Center underscores a new reality in our current immigration debate: more Mexican immigrants are leaving the United States then entering it.  This highlights a key problem with the defense of Arizona’s “papers please” law, which is built around a premise which is now patently false.

Last July, the Obama Administration sued Arizona over its state passed immigration law. In turn Arizona Governor Jan Brewer sued the federal government under the pretense that the Obama administration had failed to protect the Arizona-Mexico border from an "invasion" of illegal immigrants which was threatening the state. Governor Brewer has since repeatedly gone on the record saying that SB1070 has been justified, because in her own words “we are being invaded by illegal immigration in the state of Arizona.” 

The Governor is towing the line set by former Arizona State Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce in D.C. defending SB 1070 before a Senate Judiciary Immigration Hearing. In his opening remarks the only State Senator in the history of Arizona Politics to ever be recalled said: “The invasion of illegal aliens we face today – convicted felons, drug cartels, gang members, human traffickers and even terrorists – pose one of the greatest threats to our nation in terms of political, economic and national security”

Sadly even the State of Arizona’s Supreme Court Brief echoes this ignoble sentiment: “Arizona bears the brunt of the problems caused by illegal immigration. It is the gateway for nearly half of the nation’s illegal border crossings.” Despite all of the bluster here the reality is violence along the Arizona Mexico border is at the lowest it has been in decades and immigration from Mexico is actually in reverse.

Here are the facts: at the border between Arizona and Mexico, in 2000, there were 23 rapes, robberies and murders in Nogales, Ariz. Last year, despite nearly a decade of population growth, there were 19 such crimes. Aggravated assaults dropped by one-third. No one has been murdered in two years.

According to the Pew Hispanic Report: apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70% in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011—a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement—including more agents and more fencing—has risen sharply.

At the same time as apprehensions have dropped, deportations have increased. Deportations of criminal Mexican undocumented immigrants have risen to record levels. In 2010, nearly 400,000 unauthorized immigrants—73% of them Mexicans—were deported by U.S. authorities.

Finally for the first time since the Depression, more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than are entering it. The Washington Post puts it this way: a four-decade tidal wave of Mexican immigration to the United States has receded, causing a historic shift in migration patterns as more Mexicans appear to be leaving the United States for Mexico than the other way around, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center.

When are Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce, and Mitt Romney going to acknowledge that the Southwest Border region has in fact never been safer and the immigration into the country is at an all time low? It is no longer any where close to being accurate to say that Congress must secure the border before we do anything to fix our broken immigration system. The reality is with migration into the United States at a manageable level it is time for Congress to come together to fix our legal immigration system and deal with the current population of undocumented immigrants in the country.

Kristian Ramos is Policy Director, 21st Century Border Initiative, at NDN and The New Policy Initiative.

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