US Illegal Immigrant Population Falls Below 11 Million

US Border Patrol agents detaining undocumented aliens on Mexican border
Border Security Remains Key Issue In Presidential Campaigns. John Moore / Getty Images News

Saying it does not take a stance in the whole immigration debate, a New York based think tank reports that the U.S. illegal immigrant population has now fallen below 11 million, continuing a nearly decade-long trend.

According to its report issued on January 20, 2016, the independent Center for Migration Studies states that the U.S. undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003, and has been falling steadily each year since 2008.

“One reason for the high and sustained level of interest in undocumented immigration is the widespread belief that the trend in the undocumented population is ever upward,” states the report. “This paper shows that this belief is mistaken and that, in fact, the undocumented population has been decreasing for more than a half a decade.”

However, just to put the center’s report into perspective, a 1993 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report estimated that in 1990, “there were probably no more than 3.4 million illegal aliens resident in the United States.”

Fewer Entering From Mexico

The report’s authors contend that the shrinking illegal immigrant population is being driven mainly by steady decline in illegal immigrants from Mexico, along with significant declines in illegal immigrants from South America and Europe.

Since 2010, the number of illegal immigrants entering from Mexico has fallen by 9%, the report shows. However, about six million of the 10.9 million total illegal immigrant population originally came from Mexico. Over the same period illegal immigration from South America dropped by 22%, and by 18% from Europe.

From 1980 to 2014, the number of Mexican immigrants living as legal permanent residents in the U.S. grew faster than the number of Mexican illegal immigrants, stated the report.

At the same time, notes the center’s report, illegal immigration from Central America – including families with children and unaccompanied children – increased by 5%.

Often fleeing persecution by repressive governments, many of the illegal immigrants from Central American are seeking asylum in the United States.

Have State Illegal Immigration Laws Been Effective?

Could state laws intended to restrict illegal immigration, like the high-profile one enacted in Arizona, actually be helping to reduce illegal immigration? According to the center’s report, such laws “did not have a lasting impact” on the size of the illegal immigrant population.

Of the 10 states with the highest populations of illegal immigrants, only Texas and Virginia gained illegal residents from 2010 to 2014, noted the report. Over the same period, all other states, including California – with its nation-leading 2.6 million illegal residents and non-restrictive immigration laws – saw reductions in their illegal immigrant populations.

While the number of illegal aliens in Arizona has dropped in recent years, the number of naturalized U.S. citizens living there had increased steadily, according to the report. “From 2008 to 2014, the undocumented population in Arizona dropped by 65,000, and the naturalized citizen population increased by 85,000,” it states.

“With the exception of Alabama and possibly Georgia, restrictive state immigration laws in 2010-2011 had little impact on undocumented population trends,” concluded the center’s report.

As if the immigration issues could possibly become any more muddled, the center’s report comes as the Department of Homeland Security – the agency that’s supposed to prevent it – reported that more than 525,000 foreign nationals had overstayed their temporary U.S. visas during 2014 and that at least 482,000 of them are believed to still be residing illegally in the United States.

Homeland Security, however, framed its report as evidence of a job well-done, noting that it examined about 45 million temporary visas during 2014, meaning 98.8% of the temporary visa visitors had left the country on time.