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Posted Wednesday, September 1, 2010
WASHINGTON - The number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. has dropped for
the first time in two decades - decreasing by 8 percent as the sour economy
dried up jobs and increased enforcement made it harder to sneak across the
border with Mexico, a new study finds.
|Number of illegal immigrants
in US is now declining
|By Hope Yen,
Much of the decline comes from a sharp drop-off in illegal immigrants from the
Caribbean, Central America and South America attempting to cross the southern
border of the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center, which based its report
on an analysis of 2009 census data.
The findings come amid bitter debate over Arizona's strict new immigration law,
which was passed earlier this year but is on hold for now as it is challenged in
federal court. The Obama administration contends the state law usurps federal
authority and promotes racial profiling, while Arizona leaders say states are
justified to step in if federal enforcement falls substantially short.
The study released Wednesday estimates that 11.1 million illegal immigrants
lived in the U.S. in 2009. That represents a decrease of roughly 1 million, or 8
percent, from a peak of 12 million in 2007.
The study puts the number of illegal immigrants down to about where it was in
2005. They still make up roughly 4 percent of the U.S. population.
The Homeland Security Department's own estimate of illegal immigrants is
slightly lower, at 10.8 million. The government uses a different census survey
that makes some year-to-year comparisons difficult.
An increase in unauthorized immigrants leaving the U.S., by deportation or for
economic reasons, may have played a factor in the falling number.
In recent years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported an
increasing number of illegal immigrants, reaching a high last year of more than
389,000 people, according to government figures.
States in the Southeast and Southwest saw some of the biggest declines in the
number of illegal immigrants from 2008 to 2009, including Florida, Nevada and
Virginia. Arizona saw a decrease, but it was too small to be statistically
It's hard to figure out how much of the decline to attribute to the bad economy
and how much to federal immigration enforcement, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior
demographer at Pew who co-wrote the analysis.
"They're certainly acting together," he said. Passel said illegal immigrants now
find it more expensive and dangerous to cross into the U.S. and also have less
incentive to do given the languishing job market in construction and other
"While people are arguing the government is not stopping illegal immigration,
our data suggests the flow of undocumented immigrants sneaking into the country
has dropped dramatically," Passel said.
The estimates by Pew will add to the political back-and-forth on immigration
President Barack Obama, who is challenging the Arizona law, has pledged to push
an overhaul of federal immigration law but has declined to set a timeline.
After the passage of Arizona's immigration law, more than a dozen states were
considering similar legislation or have issued legal opinions aimed at
strengthening immigration enforcement. They include Florida, Virginia, South
Carolina and Utah.
Boosted by immigration and high numbers of births among Latinos, minorities now
make up roughly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in
which they are projected to become the majority of Americans by mid-century.
Roughly one in four counties currently have more minority children than white
children or are nearing that point.
Still, the Census Bureau has made clear that projected minority growth —
particularly among Hispanics — could change substantially depending on
immigration policies and the economy.
Other Pew findings:
- The states with the highest percentage of illegal immigrants were California
(6.9 percent), Nevada (6.8 percent), Texas (6.5 percent) and Arizona (5.8
percent). The numbers are expected to play an important factor in whether those
states lose or gain fewer U.S. House seats than expected after the 2010 census.
_Illegal immigrants make up about 28 percent of the foreign-born population in
the U.S., down from 31 percent in 2007.
_The unemployment rate for illegal immigrants in March 2009 was 10.4
percent - higher than that of U.S.-born workers or legal immigrants, who had
unemployment of 9.2 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively.
The Pew analysis is based on census data through March 2009. Because the Census
Bureau does not ask people about their immigration status, the estimate on
illegal immigrants is derived largely by subtracting the estimated legal
immigrant population from the total foreign-born population. It is a method that
has been used by the government and Pew for many years and is generally
___ Online: Pew Hispanic Center:
Associated Press writer Sara Krugler Frazier in New York contributed to this
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
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