Illegal Immigration Declining, Report Shows

Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies, left, check the shoes of a suspect arrested during a crime suppression sweep in Phoenix on Thursday, July 29, 2010. This was Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 17th immigration and crime sweep after hundreds of immigrant rights supporters delayed the effort with a rally at a downtown jail, in opposition to Arizona's new immigration law SB1070. A judge put the most controversial elements of the law on hold, but allowed other portions to take effect. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States has declined significantly for the first time in two decades, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. The population of undocumented immigrants fell by 8 percent to 11.1 million in March 2009, compared with a peak of 12 million in March 2007.

The drop in the population can be attributed to the reduced flow of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. It fell by nearly two-thirds in the period between 2007 and 2009 when compared to the period between 2000 and 2005, according to Pew.

The number of undocumented immigrants fell in three states between 2008 and 2009, Pew found: Florida, Nevada and Virginia. Additionally, the combined population of illegal immigrants in Arizona, Colorado and Utah also decreased from 2008 to 2009.

The new figures add context to the renewed national debate over illegal immigration, which gained steam after Arizona enacted a new, controversial law that makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.

While Arizona, Colorado and Utah combined may have hosted fewer undocumented immigrants in 2009 than in 2008, the report also shows that undocumented immigrants made up 5.8 percent of Arizona's total population in 2009. The only states in which undocumented immigrants make up a larger share of the population are California, Nevada and Texas.

The Pew report did not explore the reasons for the overall decline in the number of incoming illegal immigrants. However, a variety of factors could be at work, from the poor economy, to new policies enacted in the United States and elsewhere, as well as increased enforcement of immigration laws. The Obama administration has emphasized this year that it has placed "unprecedented" resources at the Southern border. Deportations of illegal immigrants are up under President Obama.

The Pew report's findings were praised by Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tighter immigration controls, the Washington Post reports.

The figures contradict "the idea that the only options before us are mass expulsions or mass amnesty," he said. "This finding points to the middle way, of a consistent decrease of the illegal population over time through enforcement."