Birmingham AL Feb 4 2011 How many unauthorized immigrants — also known as illegal immigrants — live in Alabama?
The Pew Hispanic Center on Tuesday estimated that Alabama may have 120,000 unauthorized immigrants as of March 2010, double the estimate for 2005 and nearly five times greater than the estimated 25,000 in 2000.
But “may have” is the important qualifier — unauthorized immigrants are one of the hardest ethnic groups to count.
Numbers are more solid at the national level, Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer for the Pew Hispanic Center, said in a Tuesday national press conference.
As of March 2010, there were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession. Eight million of those immigrants were in the labor force, making up 5.2 percent of the country’s workers.
Passel said that 2010 number of unauthorized immigrants was virtually identical to the 2009 number.
“With these new estimates it seems that the decline (from 2007) has halted,” he said.
About 58 percent of unauthorized immigrants in the United States are Mexican.
Between March 2009 and March 2010, Passel said, 350,000 babies were born to families in which at least one parent was an unauthorized immigrant, and these children constituted 8 percent of all U.S. births in that period. Children younger than 18 of unauthorized immigrants number about 5.5 million, and about 4.5 million of them were born in the United States.
The Alabama numbers of unauthorized immigrants have large margins of error, because the numbers are developed from a nationwide Census Bureau survey for the Bureau of Labor statistics that contacts just 80,000 households, Passel said.
Alabama’s estimate of 120,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2010 — which would be 2.5 percent of the population — may actually fall anywhere from 75,000 to 160,000.
“We’d like to identify changes in the population more than we did, but we’re limited by the sample size,” Passel said. “We’d also like to analyze why these changes have occurred, but can’t.”
If the 120,000 Alabama estimate is in the ballpark, it was an increase from estimated unauthorized immigrant populations of 60,000 in 2005, 25,000 in 2000, and 5,000 in 1990.
Pew demographers also estimated that 95,000 of the unauthorized immigrants work in Alabama, making up 4.2 percent of the labor force.
While the new estimates suggest that the number of unauthorized immigrants in Alabama continued to grow from 2005 to 2010, it appeared that unauthorized immigrant populations may have leveled off in neighboring Georgia and Tennessee.
Georgia had about 425,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2005, according to Pew estimates, and the same approximate number in 2010. Tennessee had about 130,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2005 and about 140,000 in 2010.
The total number of foreign-born residents in the United States is much greater than the number of unauthorized immigrants.
“There are about 40 million immigrants living in the United States,” Passel said, “and unauthorized immigrants represent about 28 percent of the total.”
The 29 million legal immigrants include 14.9 million naturalized citizens, 12.4 million permanent residents and 1.7 million temporary migrants.
The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants in the United States are people who either entered the country without valid documents, or stayed later than the expiration date of a once-valid visa.