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Study: Number of immigrants in U.S. illegally has stopped falling

September 23, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Mexican immigrants walk through the Arizona desert after crossing the Mexican-U.S. border.
Mexican immigrants walk through the Arizona desert after crossing the… (Omar Torres / AFP / Getty…)

The exodus of immigrants who were in the United States illegally and left the country during the recession has halted--and the tide may actually be turning, a new report says.

An analysis by the Pew Research Center finds that the number of immigrants living illegally in the U.S.--mostly people who arrived without valid documents or overstayed their visas-–has held steady and may even have grown slightly beginning in 2009.

Earlier Pew research found that the numbers plunged by nearly a million during the downturn.

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The new estimates show a slight rebound in this immigrant population between 2009 and 2012, with the ranks growing from 11.3 million to 11.7 million – although still below the 2007 peak of 12.2 million.

Researchers cautioned that it isn’t clear if immigrant numbers are actually rising, because the estimates aren’t exact and the recent increase isn’t statistically significant. However, the population drop seems to have "bottomed out," they wrote.

Pew calculated the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally by subtracting the estimated number of legally authorized immigrants from the number of people living in the U.S. who were born in foreign countries,  as measured in U.S. Census Bureau surveys. The center adjusts the government data to compensate for undercounting.

The flow of such immigrants has differed from state to state, Pew found:

In Texas, their numbers never fell, even during the recession. In California, New York and Illinois, the numbers dropped and have not rebounded. The report zeroed in on the states that draw the biggest numbers of immigrants living in the country illegally.

Immigration flows also differed among different groups. Pew researchers found that the number of such immigrants from Mexico continued to decline. Those from other countries appear to have either held steady or grown slightly in the aftermath of the recession.

Their findings are bolstered by government figures showing that last year, fewer Mexicans were apprehended trying to enter the U.S. illegally across its southern border than in the past, while growing numbers of people from other countries were taken into custody.

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