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WSJ: Fuzzy Math on Illegal Immigration

Author: Carl Bialik
April 5, 2006

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Estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants remain fuzzy and full of pitfalls, even as lawmakers toss them around in the latest round of debates over whether to offer guest-worker status to illegal immigrants.

At the core of the problem is the fact that undocumented immigrants don't generally come forward to be counted. The most widely quoted estimate of eleven million to twelve million is derived indirectly, using what's called a residual method: Researchers subtract the number of immigrants who were authorized to come to the United States from the number of foreign-born residents counted by the Census Bureau, then adjust the number using estimates of immigrants' deaths and migration, and of Census undercounting. Some critics say that estimate understates the degree of undercounting: Another estimate making the rounds holds that there are twenty million illegal immigrants.

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