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With fewer jobs, fewer illegal immigrants

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The drop is "small but significant," says the report's author, Rakesh Kochhar. As a percentage, more Hispanic immigrants are active in the labor force than other Americans.

The report also found that the unemployment rate for all Latinos was 7.9 percent in the third quarter of 2008, compared with 5.7 percent during last year's third quarter. The unemployment rate for the total US workforce is 6.1 percent.

It's not clear whether immigrant workers who have dropped out of the labor force are returning home or have just temporarily given up looking for jobs.

The decline in labor force participation is strongest among Latinos who arrived since 2000, according to Pew. Mexico's central bank reported in early 2008 that remittances had flatlined at about $24 billion after several years of large increases.

On the other hand, the number of passengers flying from the US to Mexico fell 4 percent in the past few years, according to the International Air Transport Association. Carlos Rico, Mexico's undersecretary for North American affairs, told the Associated Press last month that applications by emigrants to move their possessions back across the border haven't notably increased.

A long-term shift?

For many years now, the number of Hispanic workers entering the US has been growing at a remarkable pace, dramatically shifting the country's cultural makeup. In the past two years, that pace has slowed.

It's the inflow of undocumented workers that is falling, as legal immigration remains steady, says Mr. Capps, the Washington demographer. A Pew report released earlier this year found that the number of illegal immigrants arriving in the US had dropped to below that of legal arrivals, reversing a decade-long trend.

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