Illegal immigration to U.S. in sharp decline
By Alfonso Chardy
The Miami Herald, September 2, 2010
At a time when immigration is a political flash point across the country, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is in sharp decline.
Fewer migrants without papers are sneaking into the United States and more may be leaving, according to a study released Wednesday by the respected Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.
The report partly attributes continued decline to a weaker economy and tougher border enforcement.
Florida had one of the greatest declines in irregular migrants in the country, according to the report. Pew says there may now be 675,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida, compared to slightly more than one million in 2008. A January Homeland Security report showed that Florida has the third largest number of undocumented immigrants in the country after California and Texas.
Teresa Guevara, an undocumented immigrant who lives in South Miami-Dade, said she was thinking about returning to Mexico because she has had trouble finding work since she was laid off recently from the plant nursery where she worked.
“Jobs are scarce, and the jobs we can find are more difficult to get because bosses want to see your immigration documents,'' Guevara said.
Nationally, the most dramatic evidence of the decline is a comparison of undocumented migrant arrivals in two different periods. From 2000 to 2005, when the economy was booming, an average of 850,000 migrants per a year sneaked into the United States or overstayed their visas, according to the Pew report. But as the economy worsened between 2007 and 2009, the flow of arrivals dipped to an average of 300,000 per year.
“The flow is down over two thirds during this decade,'' said Jeffrey S. Passel, one of the authors and a Pew Hispanic Center senior demographer. “As a result of the greatly diminished inflows, we've seen a reversal in what had been a long-term growth in the unauthorized immigrant population.''
At the same time, the report said, more undocumented migrants may be leaving. But the researchers said they did not have a “precise estimation'' on how many migrants have left, died or became legal residents.
Nevertheless, the report said, the overall number of undocumented migrants continues to decline.
Down From Peak
The Pew report put the total number of “unauthorized immigrants'' in the country at 11.1 million, down from a peak of 12 million in March 2007. In 2008, a Pew report confirmed the decline in undocumented immigrants, a trend first detected by researchers at another Washington think tank — the Center for Immigration Studies.
A January report by the Department of Homeland Security's office of immigration statistics also said the number of undocumented immigrants was dropping, and put the total figure at 10.8 million — slightly less than Pew.
The Pew report, part of a series of periodic estimates of the undocumented immigrant population, comes as the public debate on immigration has intensified in the aftermath of Arizona's controversial immigration control law, now on appeal in federal appellate court.
Activists who favor legalization of undocumented immigrants blame the Obama administration for not aggressively championing changes. And advocates who favor tighter immigration controls accuse the administration of doing little or nothing to stem the flow of illegal workers.
The Department of Homeland Security quickly claimed credit for the decline in undocumented immigrants, even though the report said the economic downtown was also a key factor.
“This administration's unprecedented commitment of manpower, technology and infrastructure to the Southwest border has been a major factor in this dramatic drop in illegal crossings,'' said Homeland Security deputy press secretary Matt Chandler.
The Pew report said that sharpest decline in undocumented immigrants was among people from Latin American and Caribbean countries, other than Mexico.
“From 2007 to 2009, the size of this group from the Caribbean, Central America and South America decreased 22 percent,'' the report said.
Mexicans remain the largest number of undocumented immigrants, at about seven million, the report said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Pew report is available online at: http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=126
The Pew study confirms earlier CIS analysis, available online at: http://cis.org/IllegalImmigration-ShiftingTide
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