Dec. 06, 2012 -- Illegal immigration to the United States has rapidly declined over the past several years, leading to a sigificant drop in the nation's undocumented population.
The number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States fell to an estimated 11.1 million in 2011 from about 12 million in 2007, according to an analysis of Census data released Thursday by the Associated Press. About 80 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico and Latin America.
Hispanic immigration to the country was trumped by the number of immigrants from Asia for the first time since 1910, according to the AP. About 28 percent of foreign-born people in the U.S. are undocumented, while about 31 percent are legal permanent residents with green cards and another 37 percent are naturalized U.S. citizens.
There was a surge in the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the U.S. economy was stronger than it is today. Many undocumented children were brought to the country during that time and are now entering young adulthood. The decline in illegal immigration likely has to do with a weakened U.S. economy and strong enforcement, as well as an aging Mexican population.
As the AP notes, those brought to the country in the past several decades "include migrants who arrived here as teens and are increasingly at risk of 'aging out' of congressional proposals, such as the DREAM Act, that offer a pathway to citizenship for younger adults."
Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer with the Pew Research Center and a former Census Bureau official, told the AP that Mexican immigration, which has helped fill agricultural jobs as well as healthcare and other low-wage jobs, has leveled off, and it's not likely to rise again.
Passel came up with the estimates for undocumented immigrants by subtracting the estimated legal immigrant population from the total foreign-born population, reports the AP, since the Census Bureau does not ask people about their immigration status.
Mexicans make up about 55 percent of undocumented immigrants, Latin Americans from other countries represent another 25 percent and Asians make up 10 percent, according to the AP.
Migration from Mexico is now at zero because fewer Mexican workers are entering the country, and some are returning having been hit hard by the sluggish economy. The construction industry was hit especially hard, and many undocumented Mexicans came to the U.S. seeking construction jobs during the mid-2000s housing boom.
As the AP points out, foreign-born residents are aging, with 44 percent now older than 45. There has also been a decline in the number of births to immigrant mothers.
While undocumented immigrants cannot vote, the Hispanic community threw its weight behind President Obama during the recent presidential election, and immigration played a key role. Latinos supported Obama's decision to allow undocumented immigrant youth to stay in the country through temporary deportation relief, and were turned off by Republican presidential contender's "self-deportation" comments.
Record Hispanic turnout in the election has catapulted immigration reform to the forefront of the political debate, with many Democrats and even some Republicans calling for a path to citizenship for the nation's undocumented population.