A new study by the Pew Research Center says, despite all the political debate about immigration, the number of illegal immigrants now living in the U.S. is at its lowest level in 14 years, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"In fact, we are now at 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the country," reseacher Mark Lopez told News Radio 1200 WOAI's Michael Board. "That is the lowest number we have seen since 2004."
Figures compiled by Pew show illegal immigration into the U.S. steadily increased during the economic boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, then peaked at 12.2 million right before the start of the Great Recession in 2008, and has been gradually falling ever since.
Lopez says there are two major factors behind the gradual drop.
"Part of the reason the U.S. government has more Border Patrol Agents than ever working at the U.S. Mexico border," he said, adding that illegal immigrants from Mexico have fallen sharply, as Mexico's economy improves, providing more opportunities for people to stay in their home country.
Researchers also cite the fear of smuggling gangs, who frequently kidnap, rape, and extort migrants traveling through their territory in northern Mexico, and there are concerns about the financial cost of having to deal with immigrant smugglers.
Pew says it is illegal migration from a variety of other nations, from Central America to Africa to China which is driving the numbers today. In fact, in some places, illegal immigrants from South and East Asia now outnumber illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Pew also reported that since the Great Recession of 2008, the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. work force has fallen from 8.2 million to 7.8 million, due also to a number of factors, including increased use of E-Verify, ICE workplace raids, and other factors which discourage employers from hiring illegals.
Interestingly, while the number of illegal immigrant men in the U.S. workforce has fallen, the number of illegal immigrant women holding jobs has held steady.
Not surprisingly, the professors which hire the most unauthorized immigrants are agriculture, where 24% of the work force is illegal, and construction, with 15%. Both industries say they could not continue to operate, especially in today's low unemployment economy, without illegal immigrants.
Overall, 4.8% of people in the U.S. workforce are illegal immigrants.66% of illegal immigrants now living in the U.S. have been here for ten years or more, while only 18% are newcomers, here for less than five years.
IMAGE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER