Illegal Immigrants Move from America’s Edges to the Center

Danny King|DailyFinance

Unauthorized immigrants have long been relegated to the fringes of the U.S. labor market. But according to a recent Pew Research Center study, that contingent is moving toward the center — at least in the geographic sense.

Illegal immigrants are moving away from New York, Florida and the Mountain West states like Arizona, Utah and Nevada, and moving toward states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a report released last week.

Between 2007 and 2010, Florida’s illegal immigrant population fell by 2.3% to 825,000, marking the largest percentage drop for a single state, while the number of undocumented immigrants in New York fell 2% to 625,000. Arizona, Utah and Nevada’s collective illegal immigrant population fell 1.6% to 700,000.

Meanwhile, the undocumented immigrant population in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma rose by 2.4% to 1.8 million people over the same time period. California continues to host the largest population of illegal immigrants by far, accounting for 2.55 million, or 23% of the country’s total last year, according to the report.

Where the Jobs Are

The migration trends of illegal immigrants may offer a more accurate, up-to-the-minute portrayal of how regional economies are doing than the movement trends of U.S. citizens, who are more likely to be tied down by permanent jobs and family obligations.

“At the national level, ups and downs in the unauthorized immigrant population tend to be associated with economic changes, so it makes sense that this could be a major factor at the state level, too,” says D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center and one of the report’s authors.

For instance, Nevada over the past decade has experienced a classic boom-and-bust economic cycle, with a surge in real estate activity being followed by a steep drop in both housing prices and tourism to Las Vegas. Utah has also seen its economy slow.