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Illegal immigrants: Which states have lost the most?

The number of illegal immigrants in the US has declined by about 1 million since the start of the recession. A new study looks at the trend state by state. Here are the top five.

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On Thursday, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) wrote that the Department of Homeland Security has put the total number of illegal immigrants at 10.8 million as of early 2009. And the CIS has also calculated a decline in the number of illegal immigrants to 10.8 million.

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"The decline started before the recession, in response to the stirrings of enforcement activity at the tail-end of the Bush administration, and then was accelerated by the economic downturn," writes Mr. Krikorian.

To advocates of stronger enforcement, including the CIS, the decline since 2007 is a sign that better border patrol and other measures can result in progress on what has seemed to many Americans to be an intractable problem. At the same time, to the degree that the reduction relates to a poor economy, pressure on America's borders could quickly reverse if and when the job market improves.

Even if the overall number of illegal immigrants in the US has declined by 1 million or more since 2007, illegal immigrants remain a significant presence as a share of both the overall US population (3.7 percent) and the labor force (5.1 percent).

The states with the largest shares of illegal immigrants in the labor force are Nevada (9.4 percent of the work force), California (9.3 percent), Texas (8.7 percent), and New Jersey (8.7 percent).

[Editor's note: The original version of this sentence left out the word "illegal."]

In any given year, many unauthorized immigrants leave the US and many arrive. Nearly half the illegal immigrants living in the country in 2009 arrived in 2000 or later.

A campaign issue

Although jobs and unemployment have center stage in the fall congressional campaigns, immigration is as hot a political issue as ever. President Obama is working on an immigration reform proposal, while California Senate candidates Carly Fiorina (R) and incumbent Barbara Boxer (D) sparred over the issue in a debate this week.

In an August CBS News poll, 61 percent of Americans rated illegal immigration as a "very serious" issue.

Some public opinion polls have found a majority of Americans support the idea of Arizona's get-tough law, which requires people to provide documents verifying their status if asked by police. Yet polls have also found the public split over whether to focus on deportation or providing pathways toward legal residency for people in the country illegally.

The Pew Hispanic Center website offers an interactive map of the US, with data on illegal immigration in each state.