December 6, 2012

Illegal immigration drops after decade-long rise

Hope Yen / The Associated Press

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The numbers are largely based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey through March 2011. Because the Census Bureau does not ask people about their immigration status, Passel derived estimates on illegal immigrants largely by subtracting the estimated legal immigrant population from the total foreign-born population. The numbers are also supplemented with material from William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution and Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau, who reviewed data released Thursday from the Census' American Community Survey.

The data showed that 11.1 million, or 28 percent, of the foreign-born population in the U.S. consists of illegal immigrants, virtually unchanged since 2009 and roughly equal to the level of 2005. An additional 12.2 million foreign-born people, 31 percent, are legal permanent residents with green cards. And 15.1 million, or 37 percent, are naturalized U.S. citizens.

Fewer Mexican workers are entering the U.S., while many of those immigrants already here are opting to return to their homeland, resulting in zero net migration from Mexico.

In 2007, legal and illegal immigrants made up equally large shares of the foreign-born population, at 31 percent, due to ballooning numbers of new unauthorized migrants seeking U.S. construction and related jobs during the mid-2000s housing boom. Naturalized U.S. citizens then represented 35 percent.

Broken down by geography and race, roughly half of all states last year posted declines or no change in their numbers of foreign-born Hispanics, including big immigrant states such as California and New York as well as economically hard hit areas in Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina, which previously had seen gains.

Foreign-born Asians were a bigger source of population gain than Hispanic immigrants in California, New York, Virginia, Illinois and New Jersey. Newly moving into suburban communities, the Asian population spread out more across the southeastern U.S. and Texas, increasing their share in 93 percent of the nation's metropolitan areas.

As a whole, foreign-born residents are slowly graying, with 44 percent now age 45 or older. They are more likely than in 2007 to be enrolled in college or graduate school (39 percent, up from 32 percent) and to be single (17 percent married, down from 22 percent).

Births to immigrant mothers also are on the decline, driving the overall U.S. birth rate last year to the lowest in records dating back to 1920.

"At least temporarily, the face of immigration to the U.S. is changing in terms of cultural background, education and skills," Frey said. "The fertility bump provided by past Hispanic immigrants may not be replicated in the future, especially if Asians take over a greater share of U.S. immigrants."

House Republicans, seeking to show they are serious about addressing the immigration issue after being largely rejected by Hispanics in the election, voted last week to make green cards accessible to foreign students graduating with advanced science and math degrees from U.S. universities.

The measure, strongly backed by the high-tech industry and touted as a boost to the U.S. economy, would have a net effect of extending more visas and eventual citizenship to students from India and China. It is opposed by most Democrats, the Obama administration and immigrant rights groups such as the Asian American Justice Center which want to see it packaged with broader legislation that extends legal status for illegal immigrants.

These groups also oppose the proposed new 55,000 visas for foreign students because they would be offset by eliminating a lottery program that provides green cards to people with lower rates of immigration, mainly those from Africa. Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked Republicans from bringing up the bill.

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