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Illegal immigration slows in California, across the U.S.

Jim Greenhill/FlickrA U.S. Army National Guard soldier watches the U.S./Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz.

The number of illegal immigrants in the United States has declined for the first time in 20 years, and California's share of the undocumented population has shrunk, from 42 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2009, according to a study released yesterday by an independent research group.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there were 11.1 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in 2009 – an 8 percent drop from a peak of 12 million in 2007 and about the same as in 2005.

The analysis suggests that fewer illegal immigrants – particularly those from the Caribbean, Central America and South America – were entering the U.S. amid increased border enforcement and the economic downturn. About 300,000 illegal immigrants entered the country each year between 2007 and 2009, compared to 850,000 annually from 2000 to 2005.

The figures are based on an analysis of census data. Researchers estimated the number of illegal immigrants largely by subtracting the estimated number of legal immigrants from the foreign-born population. 

The analysis adjusts for undercounting, is consistent with estimates [PDF] from the Department of Homeland Security and tracks with census and immigration data from Mexico, where about 60 percent of America's undocumented population originates, said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the center and an author of the report. The method is used by researchers and the government and is widely accepted.

Despite the recent decline, the undocumented population is still more than triple what it was in 1990, at 3.5 million people.

California has the largest concentration of illegal immigrants in the nation. Illegal immigrants make up 3.7 percent of the population in the country and 6.9 percent in California – the highest percentage of any state.

Undocumented workers also constitute a larger share of the state's labor force – 9.3 percent – than in any other state except Nevada (9.4 percent). Nationwide, illegal immigrants are 5.1 percent of the labor force. This figure declined from 2007 to 2009.

Among the report's other findings:

  • In March 2009, the unemployment rate was higher among undocumented workers (10.4 percent) than for American-born workers (9.2 percent) and legal immigrants (9.1 percent). This was also the case in 2008, and from 2000 to 2003. 
  • There were 6.7 million illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. in 2009. Illegal immigrants from other Latin American countries totaled 2.2 million people, or 20 percent of the U.S. undocumented population.
  • The percentage of illegal immigrants from other countries were: 11 percent from South and East Asia; 4 percent from Europe and Canada; and 4 percent from Africa and other areas, including 1 percent from the Middle East.



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