Over the last two decades, the distribution of illegal immigrants within the United States has changed drastically, experts say.
California has typically drawn the largest percentage of migrant workers in the country. Yet according to a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center, many of them are now searching elsewhere for work.
Currently in the U.S. there are an estimated 8.3 million undocumented migrants. California still claims the largest number of this population at 2.7 million – nearly double the number in 1990 – yet its share of them has declined to 22 percent from 42 percent in 1990.
Outside of the six most popular immigrant destinations (California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York) the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has increased sevenfold – from 700,000 in 1990 to five million in 2008.
Illegal immigration has become much more of a national phenomenon, said Ira Mehlman, the national media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
“Illegal aliens are beginning to take up residence everywhere in the country,” he said.
In 2008, 17 percent of construction workers in the U.S. were undocumented, while 25 percent of farm workers were illegal immigrants.
By comparison, in California just 10 percent of the labor force is undocumented.
“Another factor is that the U.S. economy has been doing poorly and California has been hit the hardest,” Mehlman said.
In other words, the reason for this shift lies in the simple fact that there are jobs to be held elsewhere.
“What we’ve seen over the last 20 years is an increasingly diverse area of settlement,” said Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law.
States that did not see many Mexican immigrants during the 1990s such as Arkansas, Iowa, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia have seen increases in their migrant and immigrant populations primarily because there are available jobs, Johnson said.
In some states, like Pennsylvania, there has been some recent negative reaction to Mexican immigrants, he said.
“At the same time their migrant labor is cherished and provides workers who help the economy,” Johnson said. “Whenever you have migration pattern changes there is some tension, but it tends to calm after some period of time.“
Some tension as a result of illegal immigration comes as a result of the question of child citizenship.
Currently, 73 percent of the children born to unauthorized immigrant parents are born in this country, making them U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment.
Approximately 4 million U.S. citizen children have at least one parent who entered the country illegally, and nearly 75 percent of all children born to undocumented parents are now U.S. citizens.
FAIR and similar organizations have repeatedly moved to establish a policy against illegal workers that would better regulate borders and keep jobs in the hands of American citizens. The group has also advocated against granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.
“In an age when someone can travel from country to country in minutes or hours, it doesn’t make sense to have someone who has no connection whatsoever to this country to be able to become a U.S. citizen,” Mehlman said of children born to the illegal immigrant population.
An initiative in the works in California seeks to deny publicly funded health benefits to those children, and is similar to 1994‘s Proposition 187 that would have deprived public education to the children of illegal immigrants. Though approved by California’s voters, Prop 187 was declared unconstitutional in a federal court.
AARON BRUNER can be reached at email@example.com.