Illegal Workers Hold 1 Of 20 Civilian Jobs, Research Says
As many as 12 million illegal immigrants now live in the United States, up from an estimated 8.4 million in the 2000 Census, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The estimate by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also said that illegal workers fill nearly one out of every 20 civilian jobs.

They hold 24 percent of all jobs in farming, 17 percent in cleaning, 14 percent in construction and 12 percent in food preparation.

The population and work force estimates were released a day before the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to debate legislation that would tighten borders to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

The highly charged political issue centers on how to deal with immigrants already in the country illegally and whether to create temporary visas for future workers.

"In spite of efforts to control unauthorized migration, the numbers have continued to grow," said Jeffrey Passel, author of the report. "This is a population drawn (to the United States) by employment, and unauthorized workers participate actively in the labor force."

Children A Factor

The number of illegal immigrants is 11.5 million to 12 million, up from the 11.1 million estimate of a year ago, according to the Pew study.

Of the total, 7.2 million were employed in March 2005, making up about 4.9 percent of the civilian labor force.

While 94 percent of men illegally in the country hold jobs, undocumented women are less likely to hold jobs than legal or native-born workers, largely because of the presence of children in their families, the study said.

About 3.1 million children, or two-thirds of all the children in families that include illegal immigrants, were born in the United States and are citizens.

The high number of children born here to illegal immigrants is used by advocates of tighter controls as an argument against issuing temporary worker visas.

"It highlights how false the label of 'temporary worker' is," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

With illegal immigrant families taking root in the United States, he said, "it's hard to deport people."

Immigrant rights advocate Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, said it is perplexing that opponents want "to deny that there's a place for these workers in our society."

Business Interests

The Pew report added fuel to the debate about whether illegal immigrants are doing jobs refused by U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.

Krikorian said that if illegal immigrants make up 17 percent of those in the cleaning occupations, for example, "that means that 83 percent are Americans or legal immigrants. Where are the jobs that Americans won't do?"

Business interests especially want new "guest worker" visas and legal status for immigrants already here because, they say, the economy needs the immigrants who are filling unwanted jobs.

"There's an inadequate number of U.S.-born workers doing those jobs, which is why undocumented workers are doing them," Kelley said.

The Judiciary Committee will consider a proposal by its chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would allow illegal immigrants who were in the country and working before Jan. 4, 2004, to remain here if they stay employed and do not commit crimes.

But they would have to return to their home countries if they want to apply for citizenship or if they are out of work for longer than 45 days.

Some say they oppose Specter's idea because they say it amounts to amnesty, and some immigrant-rights groups say it would treat immigrants as substandard workers.