A new report by the federal government estimates that the number of illegal immigrants living in Arizona has fallen by 200,000 since 2008.
Experts say the primary factor behind the exodus was a lack of jobs during the recession, but also noted that tighter border enforcement and tough immigration laws were contributing factors.
The Arizona Republic reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s report had estimated that there were 360,000 illegal immigrants in the state as of January 2011.
That’s down 110,000 from a year earlier and down 200,000 from the peak in 2008.
In 2008, there were an estimated 560,000 illegal immigrants living in Arizona.
The report suggests that the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona is at its lowest level since 2000, when an earlier DHS report estimated that there were 330,000 illegal immigrants in the state.
The latest report is based on 2010 census data, while the earlier figures came from 2000 census data.
A Homeland Security official cautioned against making direct comparisons between the estimates released Friday and earlier estimates by the agency because they are based on census data a decade apart.
Although there is no question Arizona’s illegal immigrant population has decreased sharply, it’s difficult to say by how much, said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, which studies the nation’s immigrant population.
That is because the 2010 census counted fewer Latinos in Arizona than previously estimated. As a result, the number of illegal immigrants in the state may not have been as large as once thought, Passel said.
Lisa Magana, a political science professor and immigration expert at Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies, said the illegal immigrant population in Arizona has decreased primarily because of the economy. Fewer jobs in construction and the tourism industry spurred many illegal immigrants to leave and fewer to arrive, she said.
Magana said tighter border security and a series of state immigration-enforcement laws, such as Arizona’s 2010 immigration enforcement law, aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of Arizona also played a role.
Republican state Sen. Steve Smith from the community of Maricopa said illegal immigration remains a major problem in the state.
This year, he introduced two bills that would have required schools and hospitals in Arizona to keep track of illegal immigrants. Both bills died.
Smith said he has no plans to back off from sponsoring illegal-immigration-enforcement bills, despite the decrease in the state’s illegal immigrant population. He said that as the economy rebounds so will illegal immigration.
“I will continue to introduce any legislation that will help us get a handle on this problem,” he said.
Arizona now ranks ninth out of the 10 states with the largest number of illegal immigrants.
California ranks first with the most illegal immigrants in a state, followed by Texas, Florida and Illinois.