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Pew Report Indicates Illegal Immigration Is Leveling Off

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Everyone is waiting to hear what President Obama is going to say today about immigration. His highly anticipated executive action could affect millions of undocumented immigrants in this country. We wanted to get a sense of who this country's unauthorized immigrants are and where they come from. We found some answers to that in a new report by the Pew Research Center. The study's author, Jeffrey Passel, says immigration from one country is down significantly.

JEFFREY PASSEL: Nationally we did see a decrease in the number of unauthorized Mexicans in the country. The numbers of new arrivals from there have plummeted to levels that we really haven't seen in maybe 40 years. And that was offset by an increase in the numbers from Central America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

RATH: And any sense what's behind those demographic shifts within the unauthorized immigrant population?

PASSEL: There's been a flow of immigrants back to Mexico. It was really quite large in 2007 and 8. And it's still significantly bigger than the inflow. In the case of other countries it's been a kind of slow, steady increase in the numbers. And what we're seeing are people who come here with Visas and overstay. So that phenomenon still seems to be going on in the case of Asia, the Caribbean and Europe.

RATH: Now looking at the map that accompanies the study it's hard not to notice there are no states that are actually on the border - on the southern border that show an increase, and some of them that actually should show a decrease. So that leads one to ask, is stricter border enforcement behind that?

PASSEL: It's hard to determine whether the smaller inflows are due to stricter enforcement at the border or whether the enforcement and other factors are deterring people from coming. In other words they're not even trying to come. What we can say is that if we look at the apprehensions, the number of people caught at the border, the numbers have gone up slightly in the last couple of years. But the number of Mexicans caught trying to sneak in has actually continued to drop.

RATH: One other thing that's striking me in the report is that while unauthorized immigration in this period has leveled off and is actually down as you mentioned from historically high levels the number of children with at least one parent who's an unauthorized immigrant - that's been steadily going up over years and years.

PASSEL: Yes. The vast majority of children of unauthorized immigrant parents are born in the U.S. We estimate about 80 percent of the children of unauthorized immigrants are actually U.S. citizens because they were born here. And what's going on there is that we're seeing more and more unauthorized immigrants who've settled in the U.S. and have been here a long time. And they form families and they have children.

RATH: Jeffrey Passel is a senior demographer with the Pew Research Center. Jeffrey, thanks very much.

PASSEL: Glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.