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Nevada maintains highest percentage of unauthorized immigrants

The White House

The number of unauthorized immigrants in Nevada has dropped by roughly 20,000 people between 2009 and 2012. That's according to a new study just released from the Pew Research Center. Despite that decline, Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that Nevada still has the highest percentage of this population nationwide.

More than 7 percent of Nevada residents, or about 210,000 people, are in the country illegally. Other states with a large share of  unauthorized immigrants include California, Arizona, and Texas. 

Nevada has been a draw for many of these people because of its job opportunities in the tourism and construction industries. But Jeff Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Research Center, says that changed during the recession:

"A lot of the jobs that the unauthorized immigrants from Mexico were doing nationally and in Nevada haven't been doing well. One of the big ones was residential construction, and that dried up for several years, so there weren't jobs for people."

Passel says that in Nevada and nationwide there are now fewer unauthorized immigrants from Mexico specifically. That's partly because they've  returned home voluntarily or been deported. Since 2007, fewer have been coming to the U.S. from that country as well.

"The Mexican economy's not doing badly," he explains, "and ours was doing very badly for awhile, and over the long run, there's actually a lot fewer Mexicans in the prime migration age group because fertility rates have dropped so much in Mexico."

That prime migration age group is from 16-24 years old, and Passel says it has shrunk because there were fewer births in Mexico during the mid-90's than in prior decades which means there's less competition for Mexicans entering their own workforce today. Passel notes as well that crossing the border is more difficult, dangerous and costly than it used to be several years ago.

Despite the drop in illegal immigration from Mexico, the U.S. maintained about 11.2 million unauthorized residents from 2009 to 2012 because the amount of people coming here from Asia, Central America, and other areas is growing.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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