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Illegal immigration dips in California, but people are coming from more places

One of several businesses adorned for Diwali on Pioneer Blvd. in Artesia, Calif., along the commercial strip known as Little India. Nov. 13, 2012
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
FILE: A business along the Indian business corridor on Pioneer Blvd. in Artesia, California, is adorned for the Indian holiday of Diwali in November 2012. According to a new report, as fewer unauthorized immigrants arrive from Mexico, more are coming from Central America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asian counties, including India.

A new Pew Research Center report finds the size of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States has stayed roughly the same over the past five years, with an estimated 11.1 million in the country as of 2014.

What has changed is the countries where unauthorized immigrants are increasingly coming from.

Mexico still ranks as the leading source country for unauthorized immigrants, with a population of 5.8 million in the U.S. as of 2014, but it has declined since peaking in 2007, according to the report released Tuesday.

Meanwhile, unauthorized immigration from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Central America has been rising. India, for example, accounted for about 130,000 unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2009. By 2014, an estimated 500,000 lived here illegally.

Jeff Passel, a Pew Research demographer, said many unauthorized immigrants from Asia enter the country with authorized work and tourist visas.

"Some of those people are staying past the expirations of their temporary visas, and we think that is what's going on in the case of Asia,” he said.

California's unauthorized immigrant population has declined slightly, from an estimated 2.5 million in 2009 to a little more than 2.3 million in 2014, according to the report.

California still has the nation’s biggest unauthorized immigrant population, but it is not the destination it once was. The state is one of seven that has seen a drop in illegal immigrants since 2009.

Half a dozen states have watched their unauthorized immigrant populations grow, including Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.
The decline in California's unauthorized immigrant population isn't large enough for some who want tighter immigration rules.

“They’re going to need homes to live in, which will probably create more urban sprawl. They are going to need cars to drive or public transportation to take, which will congest the roads. They are going to use natural resources - [adding to the] water shortage," said Joe Guzzardi, an activist with Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that seeks to limit immigration.

"So wherever they might come from, it's really not important," he said.