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Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010

by Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vere Cohn for the Pew Hispanic Center

As of March 2010, 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States, virtually unchanged from a year earlier, according to new estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. This stability in 2010 follows a two-year decline from the peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2009 that was the first significant reversal in a two-decade pattern of growth. Unauthorized immigrants were 3.7% of the nation's population in 2010.

The number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation's workforce, 8 million in March 2010, also did not differ from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate for 2009. As with the population total, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force had decreased in 2009 from its peak of 8.4 million in 2007. They made up 5.2% of the labor force in 2010.

The number of children born to at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent in 2009 was 350,000 and they made up 8% of all U.S. births, essentially the same as a year earlier. An analysis of the year of entry of unauthorized immigrants who became parents in 2009 indicates that 61% arrived in the U.S. before 2004, 30% arrived from 2004 to 2007, and 9% arrived from 2008 to 2010.

Other key points from the new report include:

The decline in the population of unauthorized immigrants from its peak in 2007 appears due mainly to a decrease in the number from Mexico, which went down to 6.5 million in 2010 from 7 million in 2007. Mexicans remain the largest group of unauthorized immigrants, accounting for 58% of the total.

  • The number of unauthorized immigrants decreased from 2007 to 2010 in Colorado, Florida, New York and Virginia. The combined population in three contiguous Mountain West states-Arizona, Nevada and Utah-also declined.
  • In contrast to the national trend, the combined unauthorized immigrant population in three contiguous West South Central states-Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas-grew from 2007 to 2010.
  • Although the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. is below 2007 levels, it has tripled since 1990, when it was 3.5 million and grown by a third since 2000, when it was 8.4 million.

The estimates are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, augmented with the Pew Hispanic Center's analysis of the demographic characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population using a "residual estimation methodology."

Although the estimates indicate trends in the size and composition of the unauthorized-immigrant population, they are not designed to answer the question of why these changes occurred. There are many possible factors. The deep recession that began in the U.S. economy officially ended in 2009, but recovery has been slow to take hold and unemployment remains high. Immigration flows have tended to decrease in previous periods of economic distress.

The period covered by this analysis also has been accompanied by changes in the level of immigration enforcement and in enforcement strategies, not only by the federal government but also at state and local levels. Immigration also is subject to pressure by demographic and economic conditions in sending countries. This analysis does not attempt to quantify the relative impact of these forces on levels of unauthorized immigration.

Read the full report at

About The Author

Jeffery S. Passel A nationally known expert on immigration to the United States and the demography racial and ethnic groups, Passel formerly served as principal research associate at the Urban Institute's Labor, Human Services and Population Center. Passel has authored numerous studies on immigrant populations in America, focusing on such topics as undocumented immigration, the economic and fiscal impact of the foreign born, and the impact of welfare reform on immigrant populations.

D’Vera Cohn is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center. She was a Washington Post reporter for 21 years, mainly writing about demographics, and was the newspaper’s lead reporter for the 2000 Census. After leaving the newspaper in 2006, she served as a consultant and freelance writer for the Pew Hispanic Center, Brookings Institution and Population Reference Bureau. She also has advised the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism on demographic topics, and has spoken at national journalism conferences about how reporters can make use of demographic data in stories. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she is a former Nieman Fellow.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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