WASHINGTON (AP) An independent report released today finds illegal immigration to be on the wane.
The issue has sparked political and social turmoil in communities across the nation. But a report from the Washington-based non-profit Pew Hispanic Center finds the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States has slowed significantly the past few years. It says the numbers have fallen below the number of those entering the country legally.
The report estimates there were 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the United States as of March. That would be a decline of 500,000 from the center's estimate a year ago. However, the change was not statistically significant because of the large margins of error.
The Pew study doesn't address why the decrease occurred, but other researchers cite the nation's struggling economy and stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.
Census data released last month showed that overall immigration slowed dramatically in 2007, although the Census Bureau doesn't distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.
Many researchers, including the federal government, estimate there are about 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. That's a big increase from the start of the decade, when the Pew Hispanic Center estimated there were about 8.5 million.
The Pew report estimates that about 800,000 illegal immigrants entered the United States in an average year from 2000 to 2004.
Since then, the average has dropped to about 500,000 a year.
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