Maryland and Virginia, with a combined total population of 525,000 undocumented immigrants, could be substantially affected if President Obama offers deportation relief to some groups of undocumented immigrants, according to a report issued by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday.
But the extent to which undocumented immigrants in the region will benefit depends on the details of the order.
If the president decides as expected to focus on helping undocumented parents of children who are U.S-born, school statistics suggest that the Washington region will have a lower percentage of eligible applicants than the national average, Pew said.
Nationwide, at least 4 million such parents could benefit from such a policy, and states with large numbers of illegal immigrants — led by California, with 2.45 million, and followed by Florida, New York and New Jersey, each with over half a million — would be the most heavily affected by a presidential order.
The Pew report, issued in anticipation that the president will take such action imminently, says that Maryland and Virginia have experienced among the largest increases in number of illegal immigrants nationwide since 2009, with both populations rising by 15 percent during that time.
Nationwide, however, the illegal immigrant population is declining or remaining stable, officials at Pew and a second research institute said Tuesday, noting that the undocumented population has decreased in 14 states and risen in only seven since 2007, which was the peak year.
According to a profile of the illegal immigrant population to be published Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute, 3.4 million unauthorized immigrants have lived in the United States from five to nine years, and an additional 5.4 million from 10 to 20 years.
“We are seeing an unauthorized population that is deeply settled here,” said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of U.S. immigration policy at the policy institute. “They have real roots in communities over a big chunk of time.”
Obama’s expected order would reportedly be aimed at undocumented immigrants who have multiple ties to the United States, in terms of work, family and years of residence.
Jeffrey Passel, one of the authors of the Pew report, said state-by-state data showed that concern over illegal immigration has not always been proportional to the size of the local undocumented population. Alabama, for example, has passed strict laws aimed at driving out illegal immigrants, yet only 1.2 percent of its populace is undocumented — one of the lowest levels in the country.
“Nationwide, the numbers are going down, and we are not seeing increases,” Passel said, adding that the main cause was a steady decline in the number of Mexicans seeking to enter the United States, now at a 40-year low. The Obama administration has also carried out a massive campaign to deport illegal immigrants who break other U.S. laws, in part to bolster support for legalizing those who have clean records.
According to Pew, while nine states have more unauthorized immigrants than Maryland and Virginia, only six have higher percentages of them. In Maryland, the percentage is now 4.3 percent of all residents; in Virginia, it is 3.5 percent. The report was based on statistics from 2012.
Maryland now has 250,000 unauthorized immigrants and Virginia has 275,000, the report estimates. In the District, there has been no growth in illegal immigrants, who number about 20,000 and comprise 3.1 percent of the population, Pew said.
In the Washington area, the largest undocumented immigrant group by far is from El Salvador, followed by other Central Americans and Mexicans; in most of the country, Mexicans are the largest such group.
Nationwide, the Pew report says that about 4 million of an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants live with U.S.-born children, a factor that is expected to be the major criterion for granting deportation relief.
The Migration Policy Institute put the number of potentially eligible parents at the slightly lower figure of 3.46 million, but it said that could increase to 5 million if Obama decides to count recently legalized children as grounds for deportation relief. About 700,000 illegal youths have applied so far, according to Rosenblum.
The president has not yet decided whether to do so, but he is said to be considering making more undocumented immigrant youths eligible for deportation relief by liberalizing the terms of his 2012 order, such as raising the maximum current age from 30 and lowering the minimum arrival age from 16.
Passel, the senior demographer at Pew, said that the number of U.S.-born children with illegal parents is “just not that big.” He said that with an average of 6.9 percent of children having an illegal parent, about 1 of every 15 schoolchildren would fall into that category.
Despite the large populace of undocumented immigrants in the Washington area, however, only a small percentage of school children in either state have an illegal parent. In Maryland, only 5.7 percent of children in kindergarten through 12th grade have an illegal parent; the number is 5.5 percent in Virginia and 4.9 percent in the District. By contrast, Nevada has 18 percent and California and Texas each have 13 percent.
Officials at Pew said the report did not include unauthorized minors from the U.S.-Mexico border who were sent to live with parents or other relatives this year. Federal government agencies have said about 3,000 of a total of 37,000 such minors have been relocated to the Washington area.
In terms of the labor force, Pew reported that about 200,000 unauthorized immigrants in Maryland and about 200,000 in Virginia were working or seeking work. In Maryland this constituted 6.1 percent of the labor force and in Virginia 5.1 percent, which is also the national average.