Pew: Illegal Immigrant Population Declines To Great Recession Level

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015 dropped to its lowest level since 2009, according to new findings from the Pew Research Center.

Pew estimated the illegal immigrant population to be approximately 11 million in 2015, down from 11.3 million in 2009, the officially recognized end of the Great Recession.

A preliminary estimate for 2016, taken from U.S. census data collected in March 2016 during former President Obama’s last year in office, put the number of illegal immigrants at 11.3 million. Pew says the 2016 data don’t conclusively show whether the total unauthorized immigrant population continued to decrease, held steady or increased that year because the margin of error is larger.

The category of illegal immigrants includes those who enter the country without permission and those who overstay their legal visas, Pew says. A decline in the illegal population happens when aliens are deported, leave voluntarily, convert to legal status or die.

Pew called the 2.7 percent decline “small but statistically significant,” but noted that the illegal immigrant population is still well above historical levels over the last three decades. The number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015 was roughly three times the amount in 1990, when it was 3.5 million. (RELATED: Pew: HALF Of All Federal Arrests Are For Immigration-Related Crimes)

During the Great Recession, the illegal immigrant population started to decline from a decade high of 12.2 million in 2007 and then leveled off over the following years. Illegal arrivals from Mexico tapered off during that period but were balanced by a growing number from Central America and Asia, which kept the total roughly between 11 and 11.5 million.

Mexicans have long composed the largest bloc of illegal immigrants, Pew says, but their numbers have been shrinking since 2007, when there were an estimated 6.9 million living in the U.S. without permission. In 2015, the number of Mexican illegal aliens fell to 5.6 million — about 51 percent of the total illegal immigrant population.

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