WASHINGTON (BP)–The number of illegal immigrants who enter the United States each year fell in the last decade, helping the total population of illegal immigrants level off and possibly decline, according to new estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The estimates show that the average inflow of illegal immigrants was 850,000 each year from 2000-2005, before falling to 550,000 annually from 2005-2007, and then to 300,000 annually from 2007-2009. Each year was based on a March reference date.
Meanwhile, the total population of unauthorized immigrants rose sharply during much of the decade, from 8.4 million in 2000 to 12 million in 2007, before falling to 11.6 million in 2008 and to 11.1 million in 2009. Immigrants from Mexico account for about 60 percent of the illegal population, according to Pew, although that segment, too, has seen a significant drop in annual unauthorized immigration, from 500,000 each year in the first part of the decade to an average of 150,000 each year from March 2007 to March 2009. There were about 6.7 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico in the U.S. in 2009, Pew estimates.
The estimates are based on data from the government’s Current Population Survey.
Pew’s analysis did not provide any definitive reasons to explain the decline, although its researchers theorized that a declining U.S. economy coupled with increased enforcement of immigration laws and new immigration law strategies were major factors. The economic and demographic conditions in the immigrants’ home countries also could have played a role, Pew said.
“All of these undoubtedly contribute to the overall magnitude of immigration flows,” Pew said. “But the data in this report do not allow quantification of these factors and are not designed to explain why flows and population totals declined.”
As of 2009, 59 percent of illegal immigrants lived in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and New Jersey. In 1990, 80 percent of such immigrants lived in those six states.
Among the other findings:
— While unauthorized immigrants from Mexico account for about 60 percent of the illegal population, other Latin American countries make up around 20 percent, while immigrants from South and East Asia comprise about 11 percent.
— As of March 2009 there were 5.1 million children in the U.S. with at least one parent who was an illegal immigrant. Of that total, an estimated 4 million were born in the U.S. — and are therefore citizens — and 1.1 million were born elsewhere and are unauthorized. About 80 percent of the children of illegal immigrants are born in the United States.
— The total population of illegal immigrants from Latin American countries other than Mexico saw a sharp decline from 2007 to 2009, falling 22 percent. The countries include those from the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.