Posted on April 15, 2009

Illegal Immigration Slowdown in California

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2009


A study released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center has documented a change in trend: After years of rapid growth, illegal immigration is slowing down in California, with the state’s share of the nation’s estimated 11.9 million undocumented migrants dropping to 22% from 42% in 1990, the study showed.

The state still has the largest concentration of illegal immigrants in the nation, with 2.7 million–a figure that has nearly doubled since 1990.

But, in a trend that began with California’s recession in the 1990s, more migrants are bypassing the state for other areas of the country. The number of illegal immigrants outside the nation’s six traditional “first stop” states of California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York has increased sevenfold, to nearly 5 million in 2008 from 700,000 in 1990, according to Jeffrey S. Passel, the study’s coauthor and a Pew Center senior demographer.

The study, based on March 2008 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, comes amid renewed momentum for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would include a legalization program for undocumented migrants. President Obama is expected to make a speech on immigration reform next month and launch public forums about the issue during the summer. Meanwhile, the nation’s leading labor groups have reached a compromise about a guest worker program.

Passel said one of the study’s most striking findings was the number of young families among the illegal immigrant population. Nearly half of the households headed by undocumented immigrants have young children, twice the rate of native-born households. And nearly three-fourths of their children were U.S.-born citizens.

The children of undocumented immigrants make up about 10% of California students in kindergarten through 12th grade.


Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the slowdown in illegal immigration was welcome news–but not for the right reasons.

“It’s slowing down because the economy has tanked, not because the state is doing much to stop it,” he said. “What you’d like to see is illegal immigration decline because we have rational policies in place that make it clear to people that you’re not going to benefit by coming to the U.S. or California illegally.”


The study, co-written by D’Vera Cohn, a Pew Research Center senior writer, found that three-quarters of illegal immigrants are Latino, mostly from Mexico. On average, they tend to work in low-skilled jobs such as farming and construction, earn markedly less than the median national income and have lower educational levels than U.S.-born residents.

For instance, 47% of illegal immigrant adults ages 25-64 have less than a high school education compared with 8% for U.S.-born residents. The immigrants’ 2007 median household income was $36,000, compared with $50,000 for the U.S.-born, and they did not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they lived in the United States, unlike legal immigrants, the study found.

[Editor’s Note: “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States,” by Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn can be read here.]