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Monday, April 20, 2009

Migrant numbers reflect a shift


73 percent of the children of illegal immigrants are U.S.-born citizens, while 1 in 10 Texas children has an undocumented parent

SUSAN CARROLL | Houston Chronicle
April 14, 2009

A growing share of the children of illegal immigrants are U.S.-born citizens, illustrating a sensitive, demographic shift in the makeup of America’s undocumented migrant population.

The Pew Hispanic Center released a report Tuesday estimating that about 73 percent of the children of illegal immigrant parents were U.S.-born citizens in 2008, up from roughly 63 percent in 2003. During that time frame, the estimated number of children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents increased from 2.7 million to 4 million. The report estimates that at least one in 10 Texas school children has a parent in the country illegally.

Pew’s estimates were based largely on March 2008 Census Bureau survey data, which was adjusted to account for census undercounting and legal status.

The report’s findings highlight an emotional issue in the immigration debate: mixed status families of undocumented parents and U.S.-born children. High-profile immigration enforcement raids across the country in recent years have generated stories of American schoolchildren coming home to find out their parents had been picked up by immigration officials.

The demographic shift will have significant implications through the summer as the immigration reform debate heats back up. Last week, the Obama administration indicated it was gearing up to tackle reform, including creating a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

“These are American citizens, and we’re rounding up and deporting their parents,” said Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg, calling the overall immigration strategy “totally bankrupt,” and in need of repair.
‘Emotional matter’

Advocates for stricter immigration controls also acknowledged the sensitivity of the debate when it comes to the issue of the growing number of citizen children with illegal immigrant parents. Steven Camarota, director for research for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington D.C., said Pew’s data on U.S.-born children “reminds us that the longer that we don’t enforce the law, the more difficult it becomes.”

“The more there are U.S.-born children present, it certainly complicates things, if not as a practical matter ... as a political and emotional matter.”

For example, some anti-illegal immigration groups have proposed eliminating birth-right citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Texas ranks second

The new Pew report offers a demographic snapshot of the nation’s undocumented population, which researchers said tripled in size from 1990 to 2006, before finally stabilizing at roughly 12 million in 2008.

Texas ranked No. 2 in the country in terms of the size of the illegal immigrant population, with about 1.45 million. The state had a higher proportion of illegal immigrants in the workforce — almost 8 percent in Texas compared with 5.4 percent nationally. The proportion of Texas school children with an undocumented parent was also above the national estimate of one in 15.

One of the report’s key findings — that the undocumented population is made up largely of young, working families — bucks the traditional stereotype of illegal immigrants as day laborers and single men standing on street corners, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer for the Pew Hispanic Center.

“This is a different picture than we usually see of undocumented immigrants,” Passel said.

Passel estimated that only about a quarter of the nation’s undocumented population is now made up of men without a spouse or children. According to the report, illegal immigrants are far more likely than people born in the U.S. to live with a spouse and children. Some 47 percent of undocumented households involved a couple with a child in 2008, compared with 21 percent of U.S.-born homes, according to the report.
A shift in patterns

Vanderbilt Sociology Professor Katharine M. Donato said the Pew Center’s findings highlight a marked shift in illegal immigration patterns, which in turn have changed the demographics of the nation’s undocumented population.

Donato said the U.S. immigration system used to be largely cyclical, with workers — legal and undocumented — returning to their home countries on a regular basis, until the massive buildup of agents and infrastructurealong the Southwest border in early 1990s.

Facing more dangerous treks and steeper smuggling fees, many illegal immigrants opted instead to bring their families to the U.S. and settle in here, which accounts for the growth in the share of births in the U.S., she said.

A LOOK AT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Key findings in a new detailed Pew Hispanic Center report on the illegal immigrant population in the U.S.

One in five illegal immigrants — and a third of their children — live in poverty, compared with 10 percent of U.S.-born adults.

Among illegal immigrants ages 18 to 24 who have graduated from high school, 49 percent are enrolled in college or have attended college, compared with 71 percent of U.S.-born high school graduates.

The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born Americans. Researchers found that unlike other immigrant groups, those in the country illegally do not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.

• Among illegal immigrants ages 18 to 24 who have graduated from high school, 49 percent are enrolled in college or have attended college, compared with 71 percent of U.S.-born high school graduates.

• The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born Americans. Researchers found that unlike other immigrant groups, those in the country illegally do not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.

The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born Americans. Researchers found that unlike other immigrant groups, those in the country illegally do not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.

More than half of adult illegal immigrants, roughly 59 percent, had no health insurance during all of 2007.

The report found that the undocumented population had dispersed widely since 1990, with recent and rapid growth in the Southeast.

SOURCE: Pew Hispanic Center

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