Donald Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration from Mexico a centrepiece of his presidential campaign, but new analysis shows that the number of unauthorised immigrants from south of the US border has fallen.
The report from the Pew Research Center showed that the number of illegal Mexican migrants has decreased from its 2007 peak even as the US sees rising inflows from countries further afield including India.
Having launched his campaign last year with claims that immigration from Mexico was bringing drugs, crime and rapists into the country, Mr Trump has taken a hardline approach to the issue, promising to build a wall with Mexico and deport unauthorised immigrants from the country.
The Pew report casts the US immigration story in a fresh light, suggesting that even though Mexico remains the largest single source of unlawful immigrants in the US, growth is driven by arrivals from other parts of the world including Asia.
“The US unauthorised immigrant population — 11.1m in 2014 — has stabilised since the end of the Great Recession, as the number from Mexico declined but the total from other regions of the world increased,” the Pew report found.
Separate data from the US Border Patrol show the number of apprehensions of Mexican migrants fell to the lowest on record in the most recent fiscal year, ended September 2015. There were 188,122 apprehensions at US borders, an 18 per cent decline from the prior year and the lowest on record since 1969, in a sign of declining flows of unauthorised migrants.
Immigration is a critical issue in the November presidential election, with the two main candidates taking markedly different approaches. Mr Trump has talked of forced deportations of unlawful migrants and banning Muslims from entering the US, while Mrs Clinton has been wooing Hispanic voters by proposing to create pathways to citizenship for people without legal status.
Trump supporters are acutely concerned about immigration — with a Pew survey last month showing that 66 per cent of his backers see it as a “very big problem”. That contrasts with Hillary Clinton’s supporters, only 17 per cent of whom say the same.
Last month Mr Trump struck a moderate tone in meetings with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, only to resume his harsh rhetoric in a rally in Phoenix, Arizona as he gave mixed signals over exactly whom he would seek to deport if he became president.
The number of unauthorised immigrants from Mexico in the US peaked in 2007 at 6.9m and has since declined, hitting 5.8m in 2014. That still leaves Mexico as the biggest source of illegal immigrants, at 52 per cent of the total in the US.
The Pew research showed that the total number of unauthorised immigrants grew in six US states from 2009 to 2014. In five of those states — Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington — growth was driven by rising numbers from nations other than Mexico. Over the same period, seven states saw declines in illegal immigrant populations, driven by reductions in the number of unauthorised immigrants from Mexico.
The period saw an overall 500,000 drop in the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico. The number of unauthorised immigrants from Central America, Asia and Africa increased at the same time, the Pew research showed.
India was a key driver. The number of Indian unauthorised immigrants in the US grew by 130,000 from 2009 to 2014, the biggest increase, reaching 500,000. Guatemala and Honduras both saw 50,000 increases over that spell of time.
After Mexico, the second biggest source of unlawful immigrants is El Salvador, with 700,000, but there are also significant populations from China and the Philippines.
Unauthorised immigrants from Middle Eastern countries were estimated at 140,000, meaning they account for just 1 per cent of the total — a share that has not changed in a decade.
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