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Illegal immigrants decline in some California counties

August 2, 2011 | 11:54 am

AI Immigration_Fig 4 Despite concerns about illegal immigrants in the California labor market, a new report shows that their number has declined in the most heavily populated areas in California during the last decade.

The population of illegal immigrants in Los Angeles County fell by 8,000 between 2001 and 2008, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California, which uses the term "unauthorized immigrants." In Orange County, the population of illegal immigrants fell by 60,000. And in Santa Clara County, it fell by 61,000.

"After many years of increases, the number of California's unauthorized immigrants has remained stable or even declined slightly recently," says the report, written by Laura E. Hill and Hans P. Johnson. "At the same time, the number living in other states has increased substantially compared to California."

States such as Mississippi, Alabama  and South Carolina have seen significant increases in their illegal immigrant population, as California's stays stagnant or even shrinks.

The report tracks illegal immigrants by ITIN filings, which are federal tax filings for people without Social Security numbers. Economists estimate that about 80% of illegal immigrants have filed federal tax returns.

The PPIC study shows that in 2008, illegal immigrants made up a share of the population in nearly every California county, including Imperial (12.8% of the population), Fresno (5.3%) and Napa (12%).

But those numbers shrank in some areas. Other counties that lost illegal immigrants from 2001 to 2008 include Alameda, Marin and San Francisco, while Riverside, San Bernardino and Kern counties all added them.

The economic effects of these changes remain to be seen. Some economists argue that illegal immigrants increase the economic output of the places where they live, but have flooded the market as low-skilled workers competing for the same jobs. It is unclear whether those low-skilled workers will be willing to do jobs traditionally filled by illegal immigrants in the agricultural and service sectors.

-- Alana Semuels


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Photo: Percent of illegal immigrants in population, by ZIP code, 2008. Source: PPIC