Illegal Immigration Has Dropped by Two-Thirds Since 2000

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Two-thirds fewer illegal immigrants currently reside in the U.S. than did 10 years ago, according to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center. This drop is the first statistically significant reversal in the growth of the illegal immigrant community in the past 20 years.

Tara Bahrampour at the Washington Post reports:

Between 2000 and 2005, an average of 850,000 people a year entered the United States without authorization, according to the report released Wednesday. As the economy plunged into recession between 2007 and 2009, that number fell to 300,000.

The sharp drop-off has contributed to an 8 percent decrease in the estimated number of illegal immigrants living in the United States, from a peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2009, the report said.

This shift comes as the debate over illegal immigration is heating up, with the Obama administration challenging Arizona's stringent new immigration law and the Senate passing a border security bill right before lawmakers left for August recess. It's impossible to nail down a single cause for the drop in illegal immigration, but the Post provides a few options:

Douglas Massey, a Princeton University sociologist who studies migration, said the recession and lack of jobs are major factors in the decline of those entering the country illegally.

The unemployment rate for unauthorized immigrants is 10.4 percent higher than that of either U.S.-born residents or legal immigrants, the Pew report said.

Massey said other likely reasons for the decline include an increase in law enforcement and deportations, and enactment of stricter legislation against illegal immigrants. He also pointed to more guest-worker spots, from 104,000 in 2000 to 302,000 in 2009 -- allowing more immigrants to come to the United States legally.

"Life's gotten pretty miserable for immigrants in the United States," he said, noting that even for legal immigrants, many of whom have relatives who are unauthorized, the increased scrutiny has been stressful.


Read the full story at the Washington Post.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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