Illegal immigration fell sharply in ‘08

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. dropped by nearly 1 million from 2007 to 2009 as the Bush administration ramped up enforcement efforts and the economy took a dive, according to figures the Homeland Security Department released Tuesday.

Illegal immigrants totaled 10.8 million in January 2009. That was down from a peak of 11.8 million in 2007, and 11.6 million in January 2008. The drop was powered in large part by a drop in illegal immigrants from Mexico, which saw a decline of nearly 400,000.

The data comes as President Obama and congressional Democrats seek to push a new immigration bill legalizing illegal immigrants.

The numbers suggest a steady trickle of illegal immigrants have left the country over the last two years, and that the flow of new illegal immigrants has also lessened.

After the last effort to pass an immigration bill failed in mid-2007 the Bush administration announced it would step-up enforcement, including high-profile raids and granting powers to enforce immigration laws to some state and local police departments. Also, the economy entered a recession in December 2007.

Late last year Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said enforcement has proved to be effective, and the government has shown it can secure the borders. She argued the time is now ripe to move to a broader legalization bill.

But those who favor a crackdown on immigration say there are still millions of illegal crossings on the southwest border each year, which belies claims the border has been secured.

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