By EDWARD SIFUENTES
The Golden State appears to have lost some of its luster among illegal immigrants because of its sluggish economy and high cost of living, analysts say.
California still has the largest number of illegal immigrants of any state, but its share of the nation's illegal immigrant population dropped from 30 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2009, according to a report recently released by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics.
The report also noted an overall decline in the country's illegal immigrant population, from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.8 million in 2009. The report did not include population estimates by county.
Illegal immigration has long been a topic of controversy in North County, where opposing groups have clashed on the streets and in city halls on how to address the undocumented population and its effects on the region.
Two immigration analysts said the country's troubled economy and lack of jobs in key employment industries are probably the reason for the drop in the overall numbers.
"It's quite simply the economy," said Gordon Hanson, an economist at UC San Diego who specializes in immigration issues.
Nationwide, the report found that the illegal immigrant population grew 27 percent between 2000 and 2009, though the numbers fell in the last two years.
The population was 11.8 million in January 2007. It fell to 11.6 million in January 2008 and dropped to 10.8 million in January 2009. That coincides with the downturn in the U.S. economy, according to the report.
The agency relied on data from the American Community Survey, a nationwide sampling conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, to produce the population estimates.
Steven Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington research group that calls for reduced immigration, said the drop is the result of fewer illegal immigrants coming in and more of them going home, primarily because of the lack of jobs.
Even though its share has dropped, California still leads the nation as the state with the largest number of illegal immigrants, according to the report. The state was estimated to be home to 2.6 million of them, according to the report.
Texas, with 1.7 million illegal immigrant residents; Florida, with 720,000; New York, with 550,000; and Illinois with 540,000, are the other states with the largest illegal immigrant populations in the country, according to the report.
While some states have seen their share of illegal immigrants explode, California's numbers have increased only slightly ----- less than 100,000 ----- from 2.5 million in 2000, the report found.
During that same period, the number of illegal immigrants living in Georgia skyrocketed, more than doubling to 480,000 from 2000 to 2009, according the report. A building boom after the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta is one of the reasons analysts say many immigrants migrated to Georgia.
California's troubled economy also explains why people are opting to go to other states, Camarota said. Lack of jobs, high cost of living and deteriorating public services, such as health care and education, are among the reasons illegal immigrants are choosing other states.
"California's labor market hasn't done very well, and it's saturated with unskilled labor," he said.
A recession in California in the early 1990s, and a ready supply of low-skilled jobs in other regions, prompted immigrants to look elsewhere, especially the Southeast, said Jeff Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization that studies the Latino population.
Hanson said it is too early to tell what effect, if any, increased immigration enforcement at the border and at work sites may have had on the decrease of illegal immigrants.
"If they want to say that this is a result of enforcement, that's too soon to tell," Hanson said. "We'll have to wait for the economy to recover and see what happens."
Camarota said beefing up enforcement slowed illegal immigration, but a lot of people are still getting through.
"It doesn't mean that no one new comes in," he said. "We're still talking about 11 million people here illegally."
Source: North County Times