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A new study from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that illegal immigration is down. Annual inflow between 2007 and 2009 was roughly two-thirds less than between 2000 and 2005, report Pew authors Jeffrey Passel and D'Vera Cohn. Furthermore, "the most marked decline in the population of unauthorized immigrants has been among those who come from Latin American countries other than Mexico."

This might not be what one would expect, given the current political tension over illegal immigration, say, in Arizona. Here's how immigration experts and political observers are parsing the numbers.

  • 'It's the (Labor) Market Stupid,' says Kevin Johnson, law professor and professor of Chicana/o Studies at University of California, Davis. Audrey Singer elaborates at The New Republic: "Loss of immigrants, particularly the unauthorized, may be the ultimate indicator of economic sluggishness." The fascinating thing about the Pew Hispanic Center estimates, she says, is that "because of the time period measured (through March 2009), [they] may not yet have captured the greatest declines in unauthorized immigrants for these states that have seen abrupt u-turns in their overall growth and as enforcement capacity is strengthened at the border."
  • And a Few Other Factors  The Washington Post's Tara Bahrampour talks to Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey, who studies migration. He, too, says the recession and job market are "major factors." He brings up some other trends worth noting:
Massey also pointed to a rise in guest-worker visas, from 104,000 in 2000 to 302,000 in 2009, allowing more immigrants to come to the United States legally. The other likely reasons for the decline, he said, include an increase in law enforcement and deportations, and enactment of stricter legislation against illegal immigrants.
  • More Evidence This Immigration Debate Is Bizarre  This report is "yet another piece of information which seemingly debunks" the idea that we're in an "immigration 'crisis,'" thinks Doug Mataconis. "Before we start engaging in a wholesale immigration debate, it would be nice to get the facts right."
  • But Unlikely to Change Anything  Adam Serwer, filling in for Greg Sargent at the Washington Post, agrees: "The report ... offers more evidence that the criticisms of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other Republicans about lax enforcement on behalf of the federal government are overblown." But "none of this is likely to change the politics of comprehensive immigration reform."

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