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May 27, 2015

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Illegal immigration declines with tighter border security, fewer jobs

The number of illegal immigrants in the United States and Nevada has dropped significantly in recent years, according to a new report.

The report, released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center, an independent research group, says the number of immigrants estimated to be illegally entering the United States has dropped by nearly two-thirds.

The change has led to an 8 percent decrease in the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the country, from a high of 12 million in March 2007 to 11.1 million in March 2009.

States in the Southwest and Southeast had the largest declines in their unauthorized immigrant populations, with Nevada, Florida and Virginia experiencing decreases statistically large enough to be significant on their own, the report said.

Nevada’s population of illegal immigrants decreased by 50,000 from 2008 to 2009, the report says. The state had an estimated unauthorized immigrant population of 180,000 in 2009.

Illegal immigrants make up 6.8 percent of Nevada’s population, putting it just behind California, where they represent 6.9 percent of the population.

Illegal immigrants also make up a higher share of the labor force in Nevada than in any other state, according to the report.

Illegal immigrants account for 9.4 percent of Nevada’s labor force. In California, it is 9.3 percent.

The Pew report, based on an analysis of census data, says that while illegal immigration has fallen in recent years, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation was nearly a third larger in 2009 than in 2000 and three times as large as in 1990.

Otto Merida, the president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, said he has noticed decrease in the number of Hispanics.

The shrinking population, he said, is likely a result of the combination of increased border enforcement, employers checking applicant’s legal status and the economy.

“The measures that were taken at the border are a little bit more effective than in the past. They’re making it more difficult for people to cross the border,” he said. “It’s getting to be more difficult and then, at the same time, jobs are very scarce.”

Merida said the unemployment rate in the Hispanic community is probably higher than it is for the general population, despite people leaving to find jobs other places.

“People have left town. They have gone not only to Mexico but perhaps to other states where they might find more opportunities,” he said.

While the result is fewer people are applying for each job opening, the larger impact is a negative one on the local economy, Merida said.

“There are less people using services, going to restaurants, going to the movies, going to all the things that any person would do,” he said. “There is less money here circulating, so it does have an economic impact in Southern Nevada.”

UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Sylvia Lazos, who is co-director of the Research Center for Social Justice and has studied the local Hispanic community, also said a decrease in the immigrant population impacts the economy.

“Certainly immigrants were providing a lot of consumption locally, and I think we’re seeing a lot of local businesses struggling that were based on consumption,” she said. “Because we are contracting, that consumption is not there anymore. You see a lot of empty apartments as well.”

John Tuman, the chair of UNLV’s political science department and director of the Latin American Studies Program, also said the loss of immigrants has contributed to Southern Nevada’s sluggish economy.

“The fact that it seems to be taking us longer to recover compared to nearly every other state is partially related to what’s been happening in the adjustment here and the out-migration,” he said.

But that out-migration is not necessarily the result of stepped-up enforcement, the professors said.

“Economic factors are more important than the enforcement,” Tuman said.

Immigrants typically focus on places where jobs are available and where they have a support network of family and friends, Lazos said.

Las Vegas was especially attractive to immigrants because of its formerly booming construction industry, she said.

“We know many immigrants were employed around the construction industry, and we know the construction industry here has basically crashed,” Lazos said.

Immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized, were especially consolidated in the housing and light industrial segments of the construction industry, and those are areas that have been hardest hit here, Tuman said.

Many immigrants tried to hang on in Las Vegas and the U.S. as long as they could, because economic problems in their home countries meant things were no better there, Tuman said.

“Initially, the outflows were to other states, but there has actually been migration back to Mexico,” he said.

And it’s likely those immigrants won’t be returning until jobs come back, Lazos said.

“Construction is probably not going to come back the way that it did before, so I think that would also indicate that we have probably seen the heyday of immigrant population in Las Vegas come and go,” she said.

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