Arizona has been at the center of the country's discussions of immigration and immigration reform. While some of the state's harshest anti-immigrant laws and policies have recently been struck down by the courts, it remains a divisive issue. Despite the publicity surrounding this past summer's surge in immigrant children and families from Central America, the number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona has actually decreased in the past few years.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, Arizona is one of 14 states that have seen a shrinking in the population of immigrants without legal status. Southern border states California and New Mexico have also seen a decrease in number of undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, seven other states have witnessed an increase in immigrant populations, including New Jersey and Florida.
The east coast is witnessing an increase in the undocumented immigrant population. From 2009 to 2012, New Jersey witnessed a rise in unauthorized immigrants from 75,000 to 525,000, many coming from India and Ecuador. Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia also saw an undocumented immigrant increase.
The study based their findings on population estimates from 2009 to 2012. The number of unauthorized immigrants also dropped in the western states of Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon. In fact, the overall percentage of the total U.S. population comprised of unauthorized immigrants has decreased over those years from 4.0% to 3.5%. Much of this decline in immigrant populations is attributed to a drop in the number of unlawful immigrants coming from Mexico.
Mexican nationals remain the majority of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. at 52%, though that number has declined since 2009. In 2009, there were an estimated 6.4 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. compared to 5.9 million in 2012. Meanwhile, South American, European, and Canadian unauthorized immigrant populations remained relatively steady in the U.S.
Approximately 60% of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. live in six states, which include California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas. Those states will likely see the greatest impact of the President's immigration reforms. Although, Arizona may also feel the effects of an executive order on immigration due to the high percentage of students with at least one undocumented parent. A reported 11% of Arizona students K through 12 have at least one parent without legal immigration status.
Arizona enacted some of the toughest anti-immigrant laws in the country, including passage of SB 1070 in 2010. Other states followed suit with copycat laws. According to Muzaffar Chishti, a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, “Arizona represented the most bold and consistent attempt by any state to try to assert its authority in the enforcement of immigration laws.”
Most of Arizona's anti-immigration laws have since been struck down. Now, with executive action coming from the White House, deferred status will be extended to thousands of Arizonans. We have yet to see how these policies will work on the ground in a state where the “show me your papers” portion of SB 1070 remains in effect.