By DIANNE SOLIS / The Dallas Morning News
September 1, 2010
The unlawful flow of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. continues to slow, and the nation's illegal immigrant population is down by nearly 1 million people, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a report released today.
But Texas didn't show a decline in the most recent period of study, 2007 to 2009.Instead it showed an increase of 200,000, which the reports' authors said was not statistically significant.
The report by the Pew Hispanic Center avoids naming causes for the contraction to 11.1 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. But it notes that the recession and tougher immigration enforcement paralleled a trend that "represents the first significant reversal in the growth of this population over the past two decades."
The findings come at a time when the national debate over illegal immigration grows more vigorous and polarized. Rancor comes from Arizona's tough new immigration law, which is being challenged in the federal courts. And while some press for a partial legalization program for those here illegally, others have called for an end to birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.
"In the case of Mexico, the inflow has dropped but the outflow hasn't changed so those two numbers are in rough balance," said Jeffrey Passel, the report's co-author and a prominent demographer.
Why Texas' population of illegal immigrants hasn't declined is up for debate.
Mexican officials and others have speculated that Texas became a destination state for some immigrants from more economically battered U.S. states. Texas' jobless rate — now at 8.2 percent — has been 1 to 2 percentage points below the national average for much of the recession.
The Pew study follows another report this week that says in Texas one out of three young students under the age of 8 has an immigrant parent. The Washington-based Urban Institute says nationwide one out of four students under the age of 8, roughly third-graders, has an immigrant parent.
And Texas continues to have one of the nation's highest percentages of illegal immigrants in the labor force, at nearly 9 percent. Illegal immigrants account for 6.5 percent of the state's 24 million residents, or an estimated 1.6 million people in 2009. It's the third highest rate in the nation in a cluster led by California (with a 6.9 percent share).
In Dallas, Vanna Slaughter, the longtime head of immigration services for Catholic Charities , said the report reflected what she saw in the population.
"The contraction doesn't surprise me," Slaughter said. "That it doesn't show up in Texas does."
Slaughter said the State Department is seeing a similar trend in the legal flow of immigrants who petition to bring in relatives. Mexico leads in legal immigration, as well.
According to the Pew center's estimates, an average of 150,000 unauthorized immigrants from Mexico arrived annually between March 2007 and March 2009 — 70 percent below the annual average of 500,000 during the first half of the decade.
The Pew center said that the unauthorized immigrant population peaked at 12 million in March 2007, several months before the recession officially hit the U.S. And the nonpartisan research center noted that 72 percent of the overall foreign-born population was in the U.S. legally in 2009.
Apprehensions of illegal immigrants have decreased at the U.S-Mexican border with increased law enforcement there. But removals from the interior of the U.S. have steadily climbed.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have said they'd like to expel a record 400,000 people for the fiscal year, ending this September.