On the other side, the flow of illegal immigration into the country would decrease by one-third or one-half compared with current law, the Congressional Budget Office says. Illegal immigration has already decreased since 2000 due to a combination of factors, including the economic downturn and greater security measures in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Although up-to-date annual figures on illegal immigration are hard to come by, one recent study published in the International Migration Review said that close to 400,000 people entered illegally in 2009, either by crossing the border unlawfully or overstaying temporary visas. An author of the study, Robert Warren, said that figure probably has not changed dramatically in the years since.
The Senate bill offers a 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants already here illegally, the most contentious element of the legislation since many House conservatives oppose granting citizenship to people who broke U.S. laws to be here. But that aspect of the legislation has little impact on the overall population size since the people involved are already in the country even if they end up transitioning to legal status. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that some 8 million of them would do just that.
Beyond the changes in numbers, the immigration bill would shift the emphasis of U.S. immigration policy away from family ties and put more weight on employment prospects, education and relative youth. It also would raise ceilings on how many immigrants could come from any one country. And there would be impacts as yet unforeseen as the policies unspool into an uncertain future and economic conditions in other countries affect how many foreigners dream of calling the U.S. home.
"There's not going to be a dramatic change that we will see overnight, but longer-term changes," said Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "We've got this idea of the policy and then when we put it into practice inevitably there are unintended consequences or unintended trends that develop."
AP Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this report.
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