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Arizona more than a decade ago was the flashpoint over illegal immigration in the country as the number of apprehensions along the state’s border with Mexico soared to historic numbers.
The state had a robust undocumented immigrant population at the time, but it has since decreased significantly.
At its peak in 2008, Arizona was home to 560,000 undocumented immigrants, the fifth largest undocumented immigration population in the United States, according to estimates compiled by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.
The number since has dropped by almost 230,000, according to the most recent estimates available from 2018. It’s the largest drop among the states with the largest undocumented population. Those same estimates, also from DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics, put the nationwide undocumented population at 11.4 million.
But calculating the exact number is difficult, according to that office, because there are no records of the number of undocumented residents in the country. So they must rely on estimates using available data from sources such as the U.S. Census to calculate the foreign-born population, and then subtract the number of visa or green card holders using data from the DHS.
Why is Arizona’s undocumented population getting smaller?
The reason for the significant drop in the undocumented population in Arizona can be attributed to the state’s politics in the early 2000s.
In 2010, the Arizona Legislature passed Senate Bill 1070. It became the culmination of a concerted effort by the state’s lawmakers and other elected officials to take on illegal immigration, and along the way, it transformed the state and forever altered the number of undocumented immigrants living in Arizona.
The hardline SB 1070, dubbed by critics as the “show me your papers” law, required police to check the immigration status of anyone they encountered. The Legislature acted on other measures that targeted undocumented immigrants, such as ending bilingual education or barring them from accessing in-state tuition or state resources.
How does Arizona’s undocumented population rank among other states?
Championed by then-Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who led a series of raids on undocumented immigrants that turned into a racial-profiling lawsuit, the idea behind many of those efforts was to create an environment so hostile to undocumented immigrants that they would opt to “self-deport” or leave the state.
SB 1070 in particular received wide criticism and after the bill became law, Arizona became the target of boycotts. But it seemed Pearce’s intent worked, and in the months and years after the undocumented immigrant population plummeted.
The most recent estimates available from the DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics place the number of undocumented immigrants living in Arizona at 330,000, as of 2018. Whereas once it ranked fifth among U.S. states, it now ranks ninth.
How many Dreamers live in Arizona?
Arizona also is home to one of the largest populations of Dreamers, undocumented youth brought to the U.S. illegally as children. There are about 22,000 active Deferred Action or DACA recipients in the state, out of 579,000 nationwide, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
However, the American Immigration Council estimates there are a total of about 37,000 undocumented immigrants in Arizona who would be eligible for DACA if the program accepted new applications. A judge in Texas struck down DACA on Sept. 13, barring new applications, but allowing those with active status to continue renewing it.