Number of undocumented immigrants in Utah hits a 10-year low

The number of undocumented immigrants in Utah is decreasing and has hit its lowest point in a decade, according to a new study.

The Pew Research Center estimates that 95,000 immigrants without papers lived in Utah in 2016, a reduction from 100,000 in 2015 — and down from a peak of 110,000 in 2007.

However, the latest estimate — based on U.S. Census Bureau data — has a margin of error of 10,000 people, plus or minus. So Pew cautions that the latest apparent one-year drop could be a statistical illusion.

But longtime Utah Latino activist and leader Archie Archuleta affirms there has been a decrease.

“It’s true that the numbers have shrunk," Archuleta said. "Things have slowed down.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas [Communities United], a group that aids immigrants, agrees.

“Mexicans are not coming to the United States anymore," Garza said. “It has been a couple of years now that net immigration has been at zero.”

Latino leaders give several reasons for the decrease in undocumented immigrants in recent years.

“Mexico seems to have picked up its economy a bit,” Archuleta said, so fewer Mexicans try to immigrate without papers to find jobs here.

Tribune File Photo Archie Archuleta, Utah Coalition of La Raza.

Second, he says anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric by President Donald Trump also scared many immigrants.

“Trump does cause people not to be here or to leave to be safer,” Archuleta said.

Garza said many unauthorized immigrants — including “Dreamers,” children brought to the U.S. by their parents — have been working on receiving legal permanent residency, and that also has reduced the overall number of the undocumented.

In an unusual twist, while the number of undocumented immigrants appears to be dropping, the study says more of them are now in the Utah workforce.

An estimated 75,000 undocumented immigrants are now working in Utah, up from 60,000 in 2007, according to the study.

Archuleta says a reason for that increase may be that Utah’s low unemployment rate in recent years led some employers to turn more to undocumented workers.

“People who were on the fringes to begin with who couldn’t get jobs, suddenly are getting jobs because everyone’s employed,” Archuleta said. “It’s a simple question of you need help, and you don’t have help, you will pick up those you wouldn’t use before.”

Garza adds that his group gets “calls from companies all over the valley wanting workers. … There is very low unemployment here, and a lot of companies are looking for workers. Specifically, we get a lot requests from companies seeking bilingual workers.”

The new study estimates that undocumented immigrants now account for 3.2 percent of Utah’s population and 4.8 percent of its workforce. It estimates that 38 percent of Utah’s 250,000 foreign-born residents are unauthorized immigrants.

The new study also estimates that 75 percent of Utah’s undocumented immigrants come from Mexico. In a distant second place are those from El Salvador, accounting for 5 percent of such immigrants, followed by Peru at 4 percent.

The new study says the number of unauthorized immigrants clearly decreased in 12 other states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon.

The number clearly increased in three states: Louisiana, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Nationally, the study said the number of unauthorized immigrants also dropped to its lowest point in a decade.

Migrants run from tear gas launched by U.S. agents, amid photojournalists covering the Mexico-U.S. border, after a group of migrants got past Mexican police at the Chaparral crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. The mayor of Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis in his border city and says that he has asked the United Nations for aid to deal with the approximately 5,000 Central American migrants who have arrived in the city. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

New estimates said 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the nation in 2016, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 — and now is at the lowest point since 2004.

It said the lower numbers result from a sharp decrease in such immigration from Mexico. However, it said Mexico is a gateway for a growing number of undocumented immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the only region producing more unauthorized immigrants in 2016 than in 2007. All three of the Central American countries have been wracked by violent crime and drug trafficking, as noted in U.S. State Department travel advisories.

The new numbers come shortly after U.S. officials fired tear gas on some members of a caravan of Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States, but Trump has vowed to keep out illegal immigrants.