About 11.5 million illegal immigrants were in the U.S. last year, a figure that was essentially unchanged from 2010, according to the latest estimate the Homeland Security Department released Friday.
Homeland Security's demographers said recent economic and security trends appear to have halted what had been a steady rise in illegal immigration, but haven't significantly reversed it.
"It is unlikely that the unauthorized immigrant population increased after 2007 given relatively high U.S. unemployment, improved economic conditions in Mexico, record low numbers of apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants at U.S. borders, and greater levels of border enforcement," the demographers said in their report.
Of the current illegal population, only 14 percent have entered the U.S. since 2005. That means the vast majority have been in the country for years, putting down the kinds of roots that immigrant-rights advocates say should earn them the chance to achieve citizenship. Those favoring stricter enforcement balk at that, however, saying it amounts to rewarding those who have broken the law the longest.
The data show that Mexicans still account for most illegal immigrants, at 6.8 million, or about 59 percent. But they are a higher percentage of late arrivals, making up 68 percent of those who came here between 2000 and 2011.
The demographers used Census Bureau data to make their estimates for the population, which was measured as of January 2011.
They provided numbers going back into the middle of the last decade, but warned that changes in census numbers make it impossible to do an exact comparison with figures before 2010.
In January 2010 the demographers estimated there were 11.6 million illegal immigrants.
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