Walls closing in on immigrants

A worldwide economic crisis coupled with a surge in border enforcement at the end of the Bush administration is snuffing out the American dream for thousands of immigrants, legal and illegal, advocates and researchers say.

The winds buffeting immigrants, who are struggling for work and cutting the money they send home as the recession deepens, are described by advocates as a troubling bellwether for America, the premier global destination for migrants.

For foes of illegal immigration, the trend offers hope that undocumented workers will leave the country while fewer seek entry.

“The reality is that we should be very concerned when America is no longer a place where immigrants want to go,” said Charles H. Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “You don’t want to be Russia.”

Last year, 1.3 million illegal immigrants left the country as border patrols and workplace raids intensified in the waning months of the Bush White House, according to the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies.

With the national unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, work is drying up for 22.1 million immigrants in the United States, including about 6.5 million illegal immigrants, many of whom work and pay taxes and many of whom put a strain on schools, prison systems and social service agencies.

“There’s a fall-off in the illegal population, and it seems to be caused by things other than the economy. That doesn’t mean that the economy does not play a big role in terms of what’s going on,” said the director of research at the center, Steven A. Camarota.....