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Study offers clues about US illegal immigration patterns

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The Obama administration's priorities have been shifting on the enforcement of immigration laws, ending dramatic work place raids and having immigration officers focus deportation proceedings primarily against those who have broken other laws. But enforcement actions, for their part, have more of a chessboard effect as mostly young Hispanic workers make risk-reward settlement decisions for themselves and their young families.

After falling from its 2007 peak, the number of illegal immigrants in the US rose from 11.1 million to 11.2 million between March 2009 and March 2010, according to the new Pew study. Because of a wide margin of error in counting illegals, Pew did not overtly call the count an increase over he previous year.

The Pew survey, based on Labor Bureau and Census records, shows an immigrant population in flux – highly mobile and opportunistic, but susceptible to the demands of both the US economy and society, says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

"Both the economy and enforcement impact people's decisions, and what we're seeing now is a kind of limbo period where the economy isn't getting worse and enforcement isn't getting any stronger, but it's not really being totally abandoned either," says Mr. Krikorian.

Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the Department of Homeland Security doubled the number of border patrol agents between 2004 and 2011, with over 20,000 agents now working the border. An estimated 850,000 illegal border crossers in 2005 shrank to only 350,000 in 2008. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has seen another 36 percent reduction in the number of border apprehensions, according to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

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