WASHINGTON — The number of illegal immigrants in the United States fell by seven percent last year to 10.8 million, coinciding with the country's financial crisis, a Department of Homeland Security report said Tuesday.
The majority of the country's illegal immigrants come from Latin America, with 62 percent from Mexico (6.7 million), followed by those from El Salvador (530,000), Guatemala (480,000) and Honduras (320,000).
Together with Filipinos (270,000), Latin Americans accounted for 85 percent of all illegal immigrants in the United States in 2009, the DHS report said.
"The number of unauthorized residents declined by 1.0 million between 2007 and 2009, coincident with the US economic downturn," said the report, based on census data and extrapolations from the total foreign population in the country.
Of the nearly 11 million undocumented people living in the United States in January 2009, 37 percent, or four million, arrived since January 2000, 44 percent since the 1990s and 19 percent since the 1980s, the DHS said.
The cutoff date of January 1, 1980 in the DHS's estimated tally of illegal immigrants corresponds to a grandfather clause in the 1986 US immigration reform law that extended residency to anybody living in the United States prior to that date.
In overall numbers, a little more than 31 million foreigners were living in the United States -- legally and illegally -- in January 2009, the report said.
California was the state with the most illegal immigrants, 2.6 million, followed by Texas with 1.7 million and Florida with 720,000.
"Between 2000 and 2009, the Mexican-born unauthorized immigrant population increased 2.0 million or 42 percent," said the report, confirming earlier independent studies of that nationality.
However, the biggest jump in illegal immigrants from a single nationality went to Hondurans, who saw their number almost double (a 95 percent increase) in the past decade.
Beside the US and global financial crisis, other reasons the report adduces for the drop in the undocumented population include tougher border enforcement and a national crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Since his inauguration a year ago, US President Barack Obama has been prodding Congress to take up immigration reform after two failed attempts in 2006 and 2007.
© AFP 2013