The estimated illegal immigrant population in the U.S. fell nationally from 11.6 million in 2010 to 11.5 million in January 2011, with 360,000 illegal immigrants living in Arizona, according to a March Department of Homeland Security report.
The estimate of illegal immigrants living in Arizona is based on new census data from 2010.
A report released in 2011, based on census data from 2000, showed the state’s illegal immigrant population peaked at 560,000 in 2008 followed by a steady decrease.
According to the 2011 report, the population of illegal immigrants living in Arizona in 2010 was estimated to be at 470,000.
Estimating the number of illegal immigrants is tricky, but the national decrease can be attributed to the economy and increased enforcement of immigration policies, said Takeyuki Tsuda, an associate professor who teaches courses for the Immigration Studies certificate at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
Most experts credit economic factors rather than increased border patrol and campaigns against illegal immigration with the decline, he said.
Tsuda said creating difficulty for immigrants to live and work inflicts a disadvantage to recovery.
Making it difficult for them to live and work creates a disadvantage to efforts in recovery, he said.
However, U.S. law makes it difficult to acknowledge that the economy needs immigrants, he said.
“I think the U.S. government has no choice but to enforce our immigration laws,” Tsuda said. “Every nation has the right to control its borders.”
Adding to the economic factor, the anti-immigrant environment Arizona created in the last few years encourages immigrants who are able to get jobs elsewhere to move to more immigrant-friendly states, Tsuda said.
Facing accusations of violating immigrants’ human rights, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the decrease in immigrant population and the increase in border security are still not enough.
“You do have illegals in our country that do commit murders and crimes,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio said the possibility of drug cartel violence in Mexico crossing into the U.S. concerns him.
Maricopa County is the only county in Arizona strictly enforcing the state laws aimed at controlling the unauthorized immigrant population, he said.
Arpaio said current federal policies aim to control the border but do not allow law enforcement to operate.
“Even though the border has been enhanced, the problem still exists,” he said.
The conversation about immigration is nothing new, Arpaio said, calling the March report an appeal to conservatives.
“I look at it as an economic problem, diplomatic problem and law enforcement problem,” Arpaio said.
Rob McElwain is a Phoenix resident who protests Arpaio’s efforts every day at his lunchtime with signs posted on the corner of Washington and First streets.
He said increased law enforcement may have led to a decrease in the illegal immigrant population, but enforcing anti-immigration laws is not effective.
“It’s effective as war is,” he said. “War is effective in scaring people away.”
Law enforcement should be more understanding about immigration, McElwain said. Most Mexican immigrants in Arizona are indigenous to the region, he said.
“This is an issue of migration, not immigration,” McElwain said. “It’s just pure politics.”
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