Illegal Immigrants Dispersing

By: - April 14, 2009 12:00 am

(Updated 2:15 p.m. EDT, April 14, 2009)

The estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States are settling in states such as Georgia and North Carolina where relatively few lived 20 years ago, according to a report released today.

The findings could have financial implications for already stressed state and local governments.

California leads the nation with 2.7 million illegal immigrants, but the state’s share of the national total has dropped from 42 percent in 1990 to 22 percent last year, said the report by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center . Instead, larger numbers of illegal immigrants are scattering to new-destination states especially in the Southeast, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Mountain states.

Overall, the report said, the rapid growth of illegal immigrant workers has come to a halt. The center said in a report last year that that the nation’s illegal immigrant population grew fast between 1990 and 2006, but has since become stable. About 4 percent of the U.S. population are illegal immigrants, the report estimated.

Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas have held onto their appeal to illegal immigrants, the report said. Six in 10 of these came from Mexico to the U.S. The rest, in order, migrated from Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

The Pew Hispanic Center, which is part of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., periodically examines trends in what specialists call the unauthorized immigrant population, or foreign citizens living in the United States illegally. The Census Bureau does not ask people to give their immigration status, so demographers make estimates based on the total foreign born population minus the estimated legal resident population.

State and local officials watch such trends carefully because state and local governments pay for the services provided to illegal immigrants, especially education, health care and public safety.

The center, looking at children of illegal immigrants for the first time, estimated that this group makes up a growing share of K-12 students. The report said the children of illegal immigrants comprise 6.8 percent of K-12 students, up from 5.4 percent in 2003.Most of these children are themselves U.S. citizens since they were born here.

As a group, illegal immigrants are less educated, have little or no health insurance and earn less money on average than the rest of the population, the report said. That means they are likely to need more education services than other groups, are likely to use public hospitals and emergency clinics and contribute less in sales and income tax revenue. Some studies say illegal immigrants cost more in services than they contribute, although the amount states spend on them is relatively small.

“The education profile of adults who are unauthorized immigrants differs markedly from that of U.S.-born adults and from that of other immigrants because unauthorized immigrant adults ages 25-64 are disproportionately likely to have very low education levels,” the report said.

Six in 10 illegal immigrants lack health insurance, the report said, more than double the uninsured share among legal immigrants and four times the uninsured share among U.S.-born adults.

Release of the report occurs as illegal immigration is gaining attention at the federal level. It also coincides with the worst financial crisis to hit state and local governments since the 1981-82 recession. Obama administration officials recently said the president wants to keep a campaign pledge to examine the immigration system this year, including finding a way for illegal immigrants to become legal. Obama won the Latino vote decisively last fall.

Illegal immigrants’ geographical disbursement was just one of the findings. The Pew report also said that illegal immigrants are relatively young compared to the rest of the population. Most illegal immigrants live with immediate family members – spouses or children, the report said. Almost half live with their own children under 18, and nearly half of illegal immigrant households consist of a couple with children, the report said.

“One of the most striking features to me…is that it is a population largely made up of young families,” said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. About 1 percent of illegal immigrants are 65 or older, compared to 12 percent of the U.S.-born population and 16 percent of legal immigrants.

The report also found that an estimated 8.3 million of the nation’s 154 million people in the labor force are illegal immigrants, according to 2008 estimates. That is a share of about 5.4 percent, up from 4.3 percent in 2003. Illegal immigrant workers make up about 10 percent or more of the workforce in Arizona, California and Nevada, but less than 2.5 percent in most Midwest and Plains states.

Those workers are likely to hold low-skilled jobs, such as construction, where their share has risen from 10 percent in 2003 to 17 percent last year. Illegal immigrant workers also hold high numbers of farming, building services, grounds keeping and maintenance jobs, said the report, which was written by Passel and D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at the Pew Research Center. is part of the Pew Center on the States, an arm of the The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Stephen Fehr

Stephen Fehr is a senior officer with Pew’s government performance portfolio. He is a lead writer on many of the products generated by the portfolio, specializing in state and local fiscal health.