Illegal population now seems static, Pew report says

2012-12-07T00:00:00Z 2012-12-07T11:00:42Z Illegal population now seems static, Pew report saysHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
December 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - A new report Thursday says the United States is no longer the beacon for illegal immigration it was when the economy here was expanding rapidly.

Figures from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate 11.1 million illegal immigrants lived in the country last year, virtually no change from the 11.2 million estimate for 2010 or the 11.1 million figure the year before that.

The number peaked at 12 million in 2007 after rising steadily for at least a decade. Pew puts the number of illegal immigrants in the country in 2000 at just 8.4 million.

The 11.1 million figure is identical to what it was in 2005, in the early stages of the economic boom.

Thursday's report could have political implications.

It suggests that, at least for the time being, people are not crossing the border illegally in large numbers. That, according to Pew researchers, is driven largely by a decrease in the number of new immigrants from Mexico, which is the largest source of migrants.

At its peak in 2000, Pew estimates about 770,000 immigrants arrived each year from Mexico, mostly illegally. By the end of the decade, that had slowed to about 140,000.

And Pew figures that the number of Mexicans and their children who moved back home in the last half of the decade is about twice as much as the first half.

What that means is less need for the debate about illegal immigration to focus on enhanced border security and more on what to do about the people who are already here, and, by all indications, have been here for some time.

The Obama administration already has staked out its position, saying those who arrived as children but were not yet 30 should not be deported. While the action does not provide the group - potentially 1.7 million according to Pew - any legal status, it sets the stage for potential congressional action.

Outgoing U.S. Rep. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., along with fellow lame-duck Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, proposed something similar to what the president already has enacted.

It also could have implications for some businesses that have depended on a steady flow of foreign-born workers, legal and otherwise, to fill the jobs they have: If immigrants are not arriving from Mexico, the United States will have to depend on people from elsewhere.

Pew had no Arizona-specific numbers. But staffers said given the static figures nationwide, it is likely that the illegal immigrant population here is little different from their 2010 estimate.

That report pegged the likely number of those without documents in Arizona at 400,000. But researchers acknowledged the figure could be anywhere from 275,000 to 500,000.

D'Vera Cohn, a writer with Pew Hispanic, said reports anticipated for release next year are likely to have state-by-state numbers.

Coming up with an exact number requires a bit of massaging of the numbers that the U.S. Census Bureau provides on an annual basis through its sampling. That data is then adjusted to compensate for undercounting.

Those numbers do include, though, estimates of foreign-born population.

But since the Census Bureau does not ask about legal status, Pew uses numbers that it does have from other sources, like naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary legal residents and refugees, to figure out what's left. And that is presumed to be the total of illegal immigrants.

By the numbers

Estimates of illegal immigrants in US, in millions:

2000 8.4

2001 9.3

2002 9.4

2003 9.7

2004 10.4

2005 11.1

2006 11.3

2007 12.0

2008 11.6

2009 11.1

2010 11.2

2011 11.1

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

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