Despite significant job growth and an economic recovery over the last few years, the undocumented population in the United States has continued to decline. According to a new report by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) released last week the undocumented population has decreased every year from 2009 to 2014, falling below 11 million for the first time since 2004.
The undocumented population fell from 12 million in 2008 to 10.9 million in 2014, a decline of just under 10 percent in 6 years. The undocumented population from Mexico is the main driver of the decline falling by over 600,000 people in the last 5 years from 6.6 million in 2010 to 6 million in 2014.
Interestingly, while the undocumented population declined nationwide, it fell especially in Illinois where the state lost 23 percent of its undocumented population in 5 years. Yet 11 states including, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and Michigan saw an increase in their undocumented population.
These numbers largely echo numbers reported by the Pew Research Center last year. While Pew estimates the undocumented population of 2014 at 11.3 million, they also see a decline of about a million people from the 2007 high of 12.2 million. While there is some disagreement between the studies regarding the size of each state’s undocumented population both studies note increases in the undocumented population of Virginia and Pennsylvania and decreases in states with large immigrant populations like New York, Illinois, and California.
The CMS study also looks at the potential effect state immigration laws had on the undocumented population in those states. According to the report “restrictive state immigration laws in 2010-2011 had little impact on undocumented population trends” with the exception of Alabama and possibly Georgia.” In Alabama after the state passed HB 56, its anti-immigrant legislation in 2011, the states undocumented population went from 90,000 in 2010 to 60,000 in 2012, a 33 percent decline in two years. Even though that law has been largely struck down by the courts, the undocumented population has remained steady since 2012. The same generally holds true for Georgia, where after anti-immigrant legislation was passed, the undocumented population fell by 40,000 (over 10 percent) in a single year.
While both reports leave out specific reasons for the decline in the population nationwide, according to the Washington Post, “experts have attributed it to a combination of tighter U.S. border security measures and economic and demographic changes in Mexico.”The altered dynamics have changed the makeup of the undocumented population. This would appear to make sense as border apprehensions, the main measurement for illegal border crossing, by Customs and Border Protection are at historic 40-year lows.
Yet despite this downturn, the harsh rhetoric around immigration continues. The undocumented population now represents around 3% of the total U.S. population, yet the tax dollars spent on border security are at their height and the political debate remains centered on how to control, deport and diminish this small population, two-thirds of which have lived in this country for a decade or longer. It’s time we took a more pragmatic, affordable approach to normalizing the status of the undocumented individuals living among us.
Photo by Nick Aldwin.