The contentious division over the presence of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States—and the federal government's inablilty to reform immigration law—continues to galvanize the nation. But exactly how many immigrants without legal documents are present in the country? Is that number in decline, as some border reports would indicate? Or is it increasing? To approach answers to those questions, the annual estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center provide the most help, and Pew Hispanic Center released that data today.
According to this newly released estimate, there were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US in March 2011. Interestingly, this number has remained stable for three years. They note, however, that the population of unauthorized immigrants in the country has sharply declined since its peak in 2007 at 12 million.
The estimate for 2011 is not different enough from totals for 2010 (11.2 million) or 2009 (11.1 million) to be statistically important. The decline that followed the 2007 population peak was important, however, because it was the first significant decrease following two decades of growth.
Why the population decline?
A decrease in the number of new immigrants from Mexico is the main reason for the population decline since 2007. Mexico is by far the nation in the lead in sending immigrants to the US. Immigration from Mexico to the United States, however, has stopped and possibly even reversed through 2010.
When immigration from Mexico was at its peak in 2000, about 770,000 immigrants arrived from that nation annually. The majority of those immigrants arrived illegally. By 2010, the inflow had dropped to about 140,000, and, according to Pew Hispanic Center estimates, a majority of these new arrivals entered as legal or authorized immigrants.
Another important factor in the population equation is the number of Mexicans and their children who moved from the US to Mexico between 2005 and 2010. That number roughly doubled from the number who had done so in the five-year period a decade before.
In early 2013, the Pew Hispanic Center plans to release an estimate of the 2012 US unauthorized immigrant population.