News / USA

Nevada, Other US States, See Drop in Illegal Immigrants

Mike O'Sullivan

The Pew Hispanic Center reports that the number of illegal immigrants in the United States has dropped as a result of tougher border enforcement and the struggling U.S. economy. Our correspondent reports from Las Vegas on how immigrants - both legal and illegal - are faring in the western state of Nevada.

At a Spanish-speaking church in suburban Las Vegas, local residents who face tough economic times get free groceries.   

The Las Vegas unemployment rate is approaching 15 percent, more than five points above the national average.

The collapse of the housing market is one reason. Many immigrants who came for construction jobs are out of work.  So are others who once worked in the city's casinos.

Losing their jobs is especially hard on illegal immigrants who work in construction and often move state to state, says business analyst Stephen Brown.

"Unfortunately, for the people within that sector, things are really weak throughout the nation," said Stephen Brown.

Church member Gloria Hernandez says many immigrants have gone home.

"Many people.... mainly to Mexico," said Gloria Hernandez. "We have helped many members, not members, really, but people who come from the street, you know, from the neighborhood, who have lost their jobs and their homes, and have come back to Mexico."

The Pew Hispanic Center reports a drop in illegal immigrants throughout the United States, down by nearly one million from the peak of 12 million in 2007.  Las Vegas saw a drop of 50,000.

Pew Hispanic Center Associate Director Mark Hugo Lopez says the loss of construction jobs has discouraged some from coming.

"Also, however, it's likely that increased border enforcement, more difficulty with crossing the border, it's become more challenging," said Mark Hugo Lopez. "All of these are reasons why folks may be deciding to either not come to the United States, which may explain the decline in the flow, but with the current economic situation, some folks may be deciding to leave as well."

Nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants were deported in 2009, many to Mexico. Ciria Perez heads an association of immigrants from the Mexican state of Chihuahua. She says many Mexican families are now split apart.

"We now find many broken homes where one of the parents was deported back to Mexico and the other parent has to struggle without employment, with kids, children that are born in the United States," said Ciria Perez.

Fermin Ramirez is a Las Vegas representative for an advisory group to the Mexican government called the Institute of Mexicans Abroad.  He says many others leave voluntarily.

"Instead of coming to this place, we are going to go back because we are better over there," said Fermin Ramirez. "We have no papers, we have no jobs, might as well go back to Mexico.  That's basically the idea of many families."

But law professor Sylvia Lazos of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas says many struggling, illegal migrants stay for the sake of their American born children, who are U.S. citizens.  She says she hopes for immigration reform for their sake.

"Because even though we've had a drop in unauthorized immigrants, what we're seeing is a very stable population of first-generation kids who demand our attention and care so that they're assimilated and can have the kind of opportunities that we want them to have to be successful in American life," said Sylvia Lazos.

Analysts say the Mexican economy is closely tied to the U.S. economy, and that both countries are awaiting recovery.  

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