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Number Of Undocumented Immigrants In State Levels Off

Mark Spencer

September 02, 2010

The number of undocumented immigrants in Connecticut appears to have leveled off at 110,000 since 2007, ending 20 years of dramatic increases in the population, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

In 1990, there were about 20,000 undocumented immigrants in the state, according to Pew estimates based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That number grew to about 75,000 in 2000 and 85,000 in 2005 as immigrants moved to Connecticut from other parts of the country or came directly to the state to join family and friends who had established themselves here.

"That growth has stopped," said Jeffrey S. Passel, Pew's senior demographer.

Nationally, the number of undocumented immigrants dropped 8 percent, from a peak of 12 million in March 2007 to 11.1 million in March 2009. The most dramatic decreases were seen in the Mountain West region and the South Atlantic region, particularly Florida and Virginia.

D'Vera Cohn, the report's senior writer, said no state showed a statistically significant increase in its undocumented population.

Although the report's authors say their statistical analysis could not address the reason for the change in long established trends, they noted that it coincided with the beginning of the economic recession in late 2007 and increased enforcement of immigration laws.

Orlando Rodriguez, senior policy fellow for Connecticut Voices for Children, said he was not surprised by the numbers, since immigrants come to the U.S. primarily for jobs. Undocumented immigrants in Connecticut may be doing better than those living in areas most affected by the economic downturn, said Rodriguez, the former manager of the Connecticut State Data Center.

"Connecticut has not been hit as hard as other states by the Great Recession," he said. "It doesn't mean that we're not suffering, it just means we're not as bad off as other places."

In 2009, 59 percent of undocumented immigrants lived in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and New Jersey. The report says that number is down from 80 percent in 1990, as immigrants have moved to other areas of the country, including Connecticut.

Passel said undocumented immigrants are more likely to move to another state in search of work than those born in the U.S. or legal immigrants. Although some undocumented immigrants have returned to their home countries, others may be leaving states such as Florida to move to areas where they think there is more work.

Brazil had enough confidence in the stability of the Brazilian community in Connecticut that it opened a consulate in Hartford in January. Ambassador Ronaldo Dunlop, Brazil's consul general in Connecticut, said the number of Brazilians in the state hasn't changed much during the last few years, although some people may have left as economic conditions deteriorated here and improved in Brazil.

"People are always going from one place to another searching for better opportunities," Dunlop said.

As opportunities in the U.S. have waned, increased enforcement along the southern border has made entering the country illegally more expensive and dangerous.

During the first half of the decade, about 850,000 new undocumented immigrants came in each year, increasing the population from 8.4 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2005.

That number dropped to about 550,000 a year from 2005 to 2007 and then to about 300,000 annually in 2008 and 2009.

Rodriguez said Connecticut has a relatively large number of undocumented immigrants from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Columbia, and the prospect of their leaving during bad times and returning later is daunting.

"If they were to leave, they're afraid they won't get back in," he said. "So even if they may not have a job, they don't leave."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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