A new report released last week says the United States is no longer the beacon for illegal immigration that it was when the economy here was expanding rapidly.
New figures from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate there were 11.1 million illegal immigrants living in the country last year. That is virtually unchanged from the 11.2 million estimate for 2010 and in line with the 11.1 million figure the year before that.
The figure peaked at 12 million in 2007 after rising steadily for at least a decade. Pew puts the number of illegal immigrants in the country in 2000 at just 8.4 million.
And the 11.1 million figure is identical to what it was in 2005, in the early stages of the economic boom.
Last Thursday’s report could have political implications.
It suggests that, at least for the time being, people are not crossing the border illegally in large numbers. That, according to Pew researchers, is driven largely by a decrease in the number of new immigrants from Mexico which is the largest source of migrants.
At its peak in 2000, Pew estimates about 770,000 immigrants arrived each year from Mexico, mostly illegally. By the end of the decade, that had slowed to about 140,000.
And Pew figures that the number of Mexicans and their children who moved back home from this country in the last half of the decade is about twice as much as the first half.
What that means is less need for the debate about illegal immigration to focus on enhanced border security and more on what to do about the people who are already here -- and, by all indications, have been here for some time.
The Obama administration already has staked out its position, saying those who arrived as children but were not yet 30 should not be deported. While the action does not provide the group — potentially 1.7 million according to Pew — any legal status, it sets the stage for potential congressional action.
In fact, outgoing U.S. Rep. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., along with fellow lame-duck Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas proposed something similar to what the president already has enacted.
It also could have implications for some businesses who have depended on a steady flow of foreign-born workers, legal and otherwise, to fill the jobs they have: If immigrants are not arriving from Mexico, the United States will have to depend on people from elsewhere.
Pew had no Arizona-specific numbers. But staffers said that, given the static figures nationwide, it is likely that the illegal immigrant population here is little different than their 2010 estimate.
That report pegged the likely number of those without documents in the state at 400,000. But researchers acknowledged the figure could be anywhere from 275,000 to 500,000.
D’Vera Cohn, a writer with Pew Hispanic, said reports anticipated for release next year are likely to have state-by-state numbers.
Coming up with an exact number requires a bit of massaging of the numbers that the U.S. Census Bureau provides on an annual basis through its sampling. That data is then adjusted to compensate for undercounting.
Those numbers do include, though, estimates of foreign-born population.
But since the Census Bureau does not ask about legal status, Pew uses numbers that it does have from other sources, like naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary legal residents and refugees, to figure out what’s left. And that is presumed to be the total of illegal immigrants.