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Number of children born to illegal immigrants jumps

Study details increase in US over five years

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post / April 15, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The number of US-citizen children born to illegal immigrants has dramatically increased over the past five years from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008, according to a study released yesterday.

The report by the nonpartisan, Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center also found that more than a third of such children were in poverty in 2007, compared with about 18 percent of those born to either legal immigrants or US-born parents. Similarly, 1 in 4 US-born children of unauthorized immigrants went without health insurance in 2008, compared with 14 percent of those born to legal immigrants and 8 percent born to US-born parents.

The findings suggest that the impact of the unprecedented spike in illegal immigration over the past three decades will continue to be felt for years to come, even as the size of the illegal immigrant population itself appears to have leveled off since 2006 at about 10.4 million adults and 1.5 million children. Children born on US soil are automatically granted US citizenship.

The study, which analyzed census statistics, found that US-born children now account for 73 percent of all children of illegal immigrants. And children of illegal immigrants - including those born overseas - now account for 6.8 percent of elementary and secondary school students nationwide and more than 1 in 10 students in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Texas.

(The Census Bureau does not ask people their immigration status. So the authors used a technique that essentially estimates the number of legal immigrants using other government records such as visas issued, then subtracts that population from the total number of foreign born counted by the census to come up with the number of illegal immigrants.)

The spike in births to unauthorized immigrants is largely due to their relative youth compared with the general population, while many of the challenges faced by their US-born children can be explained by the parents' far lower rates of education and lack of access to jobs where legal status is stringently checked. According to the study, among unauthorized immigrants ages 25 to 65, nearly a third have less than a ninth-grade education compared with 13 percent of legal immigrants and 2 percent of US-born residents.

The findings also reinforced the unprecedented geographic dispersal of illegal immigrants since 1990 across southeastern states with little prior history of immigration.

Massachusetts is home to an average of 190,000 illegal immigrants, according to the Pew study. The latest estimate marks a decline from 2005, when roughly 220,000 illegal immigrants were thought to be living here, but still much higher than the 1990 count of 55,000.

Overall, illegal immigrants make up 3 percent of the state's population, and roughly 20 percent of all immigrants in Massachusetts. About 4.3 percent of the state's labor force, or 140,000 immigrants, are undocumented, compared to with the national average of 5.4 percent.

Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report.