Illegal immigration appears to be on the rise

Numbers crossing into United States fell during recession

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WASHINGTON — After dropping during the recession, the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally into the U.S. appears to be on the rise again.

The total number of immigrants living in this country unlawfully edged up from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11.7 million last year, with those from countries other than Mexico at an apparent all-time high, according to a report released Monday by Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project.

The change is within the margin of error for this survey, and there will be a more precise census measure released later this year. Still, based in part on other factors such as increased U.S. border apprehensions, the sharp decline in illegal immigration from 2007-2009 has clearly bottomed out, with signs the numbers are now rising, Pew said.

Pew said that among the six states with the largest numbers of immigrants here illegally, only Texas had a consistent increase in illegal immigration from 2007 to 2011, due in part to its stronger economy. Its number was unchanged from 2011 to 2012. Two states -- Florida and New Jersey -- had an initial drop but then increases during the same 2007-2011 period. Three states -- California, Illinois and New York -- showed only declines.

"As a whole, with the recession ending, the decrease in illegal immigration has stopped," said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew.

Analysts said it was hard to predict whether immigrants in the country illegally could eventually exceed the record total of 12.2 million in 2007. Continued modest increases are possible, but another big surge like the one seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s isn't likely, due in part to demographic factors such as Mexico's aging workforce.

"Labor demand in the U.S. is still slack and wages are eroding, whereas there are jobs in Mexico and wages are slowly rising as labor force growth there decelerates," said Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University who is co-director of the Mexican Migration Project. "The pressures for mass migration are diminishing for now, but who knows what kind of disasters lie ahead?"

Analyses of census data from the U.S. and Mexican governments show that the number of immigrants here illegally peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, during the U.S. housing boom, and before the recession hit. It then dropped roughly 7 percent to 11.3 million in 2009, the first two-year decline in two decades, due to the weak U.S. economy which shrank construction and service-sector jobs. Much of the decline came as many Mexican workers who already were here saw diminishing job opportunities and returned home.

Since then, the U.S. economy has shown some improvement, while public opinion regarding immigrants has shifted in some cases in favor of granting legal rights. For instance, some state legislatures this year have passed immigrant-friendly measures such as college tuition breaks and rights to driver's licenses, even as others enacted laws aimed at tightening the system.

In all, the number of Mexicans here illegally stood at roughly 6 million last year, down from the 2007 peak of 6.9 million and largely unchanged since 2010. Mexicans now make up 52 percent of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, down from 57 percent in 2007.

The level of illegal immigration from countries other than Mexico rose to a record 5.65 million, higher than the 5 million in 2009 and apparently surpassing the 2007 peak of 5.25 million. The record number in 2012 is a preliminary determination because of margins of error in the surveys.