Report: After recessionary dip, illegal immigration may be on the rise in U.S.

The steep drop in the number of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. that accompanied the Great Recession has halted and their numbers may be rising again, a new report says.

Using census records and other data, the Pew Research Center estimates the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. grew by nearly 2 percent between 2011 and 2012 to 11.7 million. The count hit a high of 12.2 million in 2007 before falling to 11.3 million in 2009.

The Washington-based nonpartisan group cautioned Monday that the data it is using are insufficient to definitively say whether there has been an actual increase in illegal immigrants. The center added that its 2012 and 2009 estimates are statistically no different.

Improving economic conditions in the U.S. could encourage more illegal immigrants to come here, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.

“When the U.S. economy has been strong, we have seen large numbers of unauthorized immigrants coming,” he said. “And when the economy weakens, there tend to be decreases. The 2007-2009 period certainly reinforces this pattern, with the very large drop in the population coinciding with the onset of the Great Recession.”

The new estimates come as immigration overhaul legislation remains stalled in Congress. The Democratic-led Senate passed omnibus immigration legislation in June. But the GOP-controlled House has refused to take up Senate Bill 744. Instead, Republican House leaders are pushing smaller, more narrowly focused bills dealing with immigration enforcement.

New estimates are also included in the center’s report for California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas, states that are home to 60 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrants. Of these, only Texas had increases but no decreases in its counts of illegal immigrants between 2007 and 2011.

Counts for Georgia and the other states are expected to be released in the coming months. In 2011, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated Georgia was home to 425,000 illegal immigrants in 2010. The center’s report placed Georgia seventh among states for the size of its illegal immigrant population.

The report released Monday also estimates 52 percent of all illegal immigrants in the U.S. — or 6 million — came from Mexico. That number is down from 6.9 million in 2007. Meanwhile, the share of illegal immigrants from other countries has increased over the past two years, from 5.3 million to 5.6 million.

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