Study offers clues about US illegal immigration patterns
The number of illegal immigrants in the US is no longer falling, a Pew survey finds. The report tracks the community's flight from tough illegal immigration laws and pursuit of job opportunities.
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"Both the economy and enforcement impact people's decisions, and what we're seeing now is a kind of limbo period where the economy isn't getting worse and enforcement isn't getting any stronger, but it's not really being totally abandoned either," says Mr. Krikorian.Skip to next paragraph
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Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the Department of Homeland Security doubled the number of border patrol agents between 2004 and 2011, with over 20,000 agents now working the border. An estimated 850,000 illegal border crossers in 2005 shrank to only 350,000 in 2008. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has seen another 36 percent reduction in the number of border apprehensions, according to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The Pew survey, however, "suggests the number of new unauthorized immigrants entering the country is balanced by those leaving," says Pew demographer Jeffrey Passel, lead author of the study. He added that there is no proof that illegal migrants are moving out of the US in growing numbers.
By the same token, there's a body of evidence emerging that shows that tough anti-illegal immigration laws in places like Arizona and Virginia have played at least some role in those states seeing reductions in their overall populations since 2009. A Migration Policy Institute study released this week showed that illegal immigrants in two northern Virginia counties where police stepped up enforcement moved to more tolerant counties nearby.
But more critically, poor economic circumstances in places like Florida and Nevada have likely led to declines in those states while stronger economies, notably in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have become migration magnets, seeing a net growth in the number of unauthorized migrants since March 2009
"We have historically seen the growth patterns track fairly close with the US economy, but we've also seen in the last couple of years some very substantial changes in the enforcement mechanisms and patterns," says Mr. Passel.
The results may sway a looming debate, promised by Mr. Obama in his State of the Union speech, about another attempt at comprehensive federal immigration reform.
For one thing, the Pew findings that 80 percent of the of 5.5 million children born to illegal immigrant parents were born in the US, and are thus citizens, could fuel simmering debate from some on the American right about repealing the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to those born on US soil. While illegal immigrants make up 5 percent of the US workforce, children with at least one illegal immigrant parent made up 8 percent of US births in 2009.