Number of undocumented immigrants dwindling, study shows

Enforcement, economy cited

A slowing economy and greater enforcement were two reasons Colorado’s illegal immigrant population fell by 25 percent between 2007 and 2010, according to the Pew Center for Hispanic Studies.

A study by the center found the 240,000 “unauthorized immigrants” in Colorado in 2007 shrunk to 180,000 in 2010.

“There has been an uptick in enforcement over the last dozen years or so,” Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, said Wednesday.

In 2007, the issue of illegal immigration struck a chord statewide, and the Legislature agreed to set up a unit within the Colorado State Patrol to work with the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“My understanding from talking with the CSP immigration enforcement is that the level of enforcement is still there,” said state Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction.

King and Western Slope law enforcement agencies feuded with the federal agency in 2007 because of stops made by the State Patrol in which suspected illegal immigrants ultimately were released.

The message that Colorado was conducting enforcement got out to people who were considering entering the state illegally, King said. The federal agency, meanwhile, also was cowed a bit, he said.

“It’s embarrassing when there is talk about letting people go and that’s your job,” King said.

The movement of illegal or unauthorized immigrants and their settlement patterns over the years also seemed “closely related to economic conditions,” Passel said.

Illegal immigrants first drawn to California began looking elsewhere in the United States when the California economy slipped, Passel said.

“Over the ‘90s, new destinations emerged, and from 1990 to 2007 the growth was faster away from California to new areas, and Colorado was one of them,” Passel said.

There were 11.2 million illegal immigrants living in the United States in March 2010, a number that was the same as a year earlier, the study said. That number was down from the peak of 12 million in 2007. The study concluded illegal or unauthorized immigrants accounted for 3.7 percent of the population in 2010, and it noted that births to illegal immigrants accounted for 8 percent of newborns in the United States between March 2009 and March 2010.

“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,” the study said. “Mexicans remain the largest group of unauthorized immigrants, accounting for 58 percent of the total.”

As the population of unauthorized immigrants moved from Colorado, as well as the other intermountain states of Arizona, Nevada and Utah, the numbers increased in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas, Passel said. Those latter three states also are seeing an economic boost from the energy industry, but Passel said his study doesn’t suggest the two phenomena are connected.

The study notes immigration “tended to decrease in previous periods of economic distress.”

Even though the number of illegal immigrants slipped below the levels of 2007, it has tripled since 1990, when it was 3.5 million and grown by one-third since 2000, when it was 8.4 million, the study said.

The Hispanic Center based its findings on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the center’s own analysis of the demographic characteristics of the illegal-immigrant population.


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