In a January 2005 paper (200K PDF), Bear Stearns dismissed the government’s estimate as “incomplete,” looking instead at “several micro trends at the community level.” Based on a high number of border crossings and on “very dramatic increases” in the usage of social services such as school enrollments, foreign remittances, and housing permits in a small sample of immigrant gateway communities, Bear Stearns, applying the high rate of growth it saw in those areas to the rest of the country, argued that the number of illegal immigrants “may be as high as 20 million people.”

The study was heavy on extrapolation and light on the large-scale demographic data needed to prove such a contrarian assertion. Common sense suggests that the number of illegal immigrants in the country would tend to be underestimated, but Bear Stearns’ analysis is far from convincing, or conclusive.

We are inclined to believe the much more comprehensive analysis of the Pew Hispanic Center, which reported there were 11.1 million unauthorized migrants in the U.S. in March 2005 and (in perhaps the authoritative study Trasvina referred to) gave “an estimate of 11.5 to 12 million for the unauthorized population as of March 2006.”

Dobbs’ suggestion that somehow Bear Stearns’ estimate is just as valid as the better-grounded lower estimates (“11 to 20 million”) just doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.