WASHINGTON – America might welcome 28 million new immigrants in the coming decades under a pending U.S. Senate bill. Then again, it could be facing 10 times that number. Welcome to the world of fuzzy immigration math, where advocacy groups spout conflicting data on everything from population estimates to the costs and benefits of illegal workers. Southland residents following the year’s hottest policy debate said the dizzying array of numbers makes them skeptical of nearly all the statistics they see. “Grandma always said don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see,” said Linda Shehee of Azusa. The former Arcadia Unified School District secretary – who describes herself as frustrated by the influx of illegal immigrants, opposed to granting citizenship, yet reluctant to advocate deportation – said she examines groups’ political biases when viewing their information. Even then, Shehee said, “They’re all basing their projections on a guess. I don’t think anyone really knows for sure.” The numbers, murky though they may be, will take on added importance in the coming weeks. Members of Congress return to Washington today to take up the immigration debate anew. This time they will try to find common ground between a recently passed Senate measure that would give green cards to millions of illegal immigrants and a House bill from December that would either deport illegal immigrants or send them to jail. “This numbers debate is already having a significant influence on what Congress is doing,” said Tamar Jacoby, an immigration expert at the conservative Manhattan Institute. The statistics war, she added, “will become perhaps more central as we go into conference.” Explosive study Last month, Robert Rector, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank and top architect of the 1996 welfare reform law, released an explosive study on the impact of the Senate immigration bill. He found it would unleash a tide of 100 million new immigrants over the next two decades upon America’s shores. The numbers were calculated, in part, by counting anyone who came in on a temporary visa, based on the assumption that they eventually would become a permanent resident. The White House budget office, in contrast, declared the bill would add only 8 million new U.S. residents by 2016. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., did his own calculations and claimed it would bring 200 million new immigrants – a two-thirds increase in the current U.S. population. Jacoby and others say the battle over projections led to two major amendments to the Senate immigration bill. One, by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, would allow a maximum of 200,000 immigrants a year to come into the United States as temporary guest workers, down from 350,000. It also eliminated an escalator that would allow the number to grow each year. The other amendment, also sponsored by Bingaman, would cap at 650,000 the number of green cards the United States would issue for relatives and nonfarm workers. Bingaman argued that if immigrant workers bring their relatives to the United States, their numbers could rise to as high as 1.8million a year. “We shouldn’t send this out of the Senate without knowing if we’re increasing legal permanent residents by four times or eight times or 12 times, which is very possible,” he said at the time. “We need to be somewhat prudent.” Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation fit the new regulations into another study and found the Senate bill would lure 66 million new immigrants annually. And last week, another report came out by the National Foundation for American Policy, which describes itself as nonpartisan and whose executive director, Stuart Anderson, is a former GOP Senate aide and held top posts in the former INS under President Bush. Anderson’s shop predicted 28.4 million new immigrants over 20 years. Of those, 8.8 million already are in the country illegally and would merely have their status changed. The analysis does not assume that most illegal immigrants and their relatives would receive green cards. The group also assumes a smaller increase in the immediate relatives eligible for permanent residency. Skewed numbers? Whom one believes has a lot to do, of course, with the views one already holds on illegal immigration. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Long Beach, said he distrusts statistics showing a relatively low impact from the immigration bill. “Most of the establishment sources of information have dramatically underestimated the number of illegals that are here and that will be here given certain changes in the law,” Rohrabacher said. “The numbers are skewed,” he claimed. “There’s political pressure being placed on the calculators.” Meanwhile, Jacoby, who advocates the legalization of undocumented workers and a guest worker program, called the higher figures cited by the Heritage Foundation “disingenuous” and filled with “exaggerated threats.” The distrust extends to the very number of illegal immigrants believed to be in the United States. The best guess by government officials put the number of illegal immigrants at 12 million, while Rohrabacher declares it to be closer to 30million. The government estimates that for every permanent legal immigrant, 1.2 immediate relatives also are brought to America. Rohrabacher believes the average number is closer to eight. “We can talk all we want about how illegal immigration isn’t such a big problem, but what do your eyes see?” Rohrabacher said. “The problem is way beyond what even some of the most stringent anti-illegal immigration groups say.” Angela Kelley, director of the National Immigration Forum, concedes that advocates for illegal immigrants once were “squeamish” talking about the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, but that has changed. “The reality of 12 million people is something you can’t walk away from,” she said. “It’s better to put the cards on the table and be honest and, in fact, it supports our arguments for reform.” As for projections that waves of immigrants will invade the United States, Kelley said, “I can’t help thinking that that’s aimed as a scare tactic. Opponents of immigration reform like to use big and scary numbers to, quite frankly, frighten the public.” [email protected] (202) 662-8731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!