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United States Border Patrol agentssearches a person suspected of crossing the Rio Grande River to enter the United States illegally near McAllen, Texas. / Larry W. Smith, epa

MIAMI - With each day that passes, the chances of Congress agreeing on how to overhaul the nation's immigration laws grow dimmer. What members of Congress need to realize, though, is that another massive wave of illegal immigration is forming and rapidly headed to our shores.

The Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill last summer, but the Republican-led House of Representatives has done nothing in the 10 months since. House GOP leaders have refused to take up the Senate bill, ignored a similar bill filed by House Democrats and have only introduced "principles" of what their version of an immigration bill should look like.

Meanwhile, there is growing consensus that changes in the economies of Latin America and the U.S. are creating the perfect climate for another wave of undocumented immigrants racing north.

A report released last week by the Inter-American Development Bank raises serious questions about the future of Latin American economies.

A slowdown in the Chinese economy would lower commodity prices around the world, which would hammer Latin American countries that for years have reaped profits selling to the Chinese. The slow-but-steady economic recovery in the USA could also hurt Latin American economies because of rising interest rates and the U.S. Federal Reserve slowing its bond purchases in the region.

Add an improved outlook in U.S. sectors that tend to lure low-skilled immigrants, like construction and retail, and the conditions are ideal for unemployed Latin Americans trying to find work in America.

"There will be more pressure for immigrants ?? both legal and illegal ?? to come to the United States," says Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based, non-partisan think tank that tracks migration around the world.

Illegal immigration slowed sharply during the U.S. recession. With jobs drying up and more Border Patrol agents manning the expansive border with Mexico, the size of the undocumented population in the U.S. fell from 2007 to 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

But mounting evidence shows that illegal immigration is back on the rise.

Pew estimates that the size of the undocumented immigrant population has increased in each year since 2010, inching closer to the all-time high of 12.2 million. Apprehensions along the southwest border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection ?? one of the best indicators of illegal activity there ?? have also increased each of the last three years.

And a study conducted by two officials from the Central Bank of Mexico estimated that, despite a growing middle class, Mexicans ?? who make up about 58% of the undocumented population in the U.S. ?? will soon start heading north at pre-recession levels.

There is no question that passing an immigration overhaul is incredibly difficult. And there are legitimate disagreements holding up the process, namely how to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

But there is widespread agreement that the government must enhance border security and revamp the legal immigration system to provide more visas to foreign workers to fill gaps in the U.S. labor market.

What's been missing for the past 10 months is a House bill that could serve as a vehicle to lock in the points of agreement and allow the lawmakers to work out the more contentious issues.

House Republican leaders like Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, keep saying that immigration changes are a priority that must get done this year. But as the midterm elections approach, time is running out.

If Congress fails, the only certainty remaining will be that we're on the verge of another wave of illegal immigration.

Alan Gomez is a Miami-based correspondent for USA TODAY.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Voices: Another wave of illegal immigration may be near

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