WASHINGTON — The wave of immigrants entering the United States slowed dramatically last year as the economy faltered and the government stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.
The nation added about a half million immigrants in 2007, down from more than 1.8 million the year before, according to estimates being released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.
“The U.S. is still a beacon for many people who want to come here for all kinds of reasons,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the numbers. “But what this shows is that the economy plays a big part in it.”
The U.S. has added an average of about a million immigrants a year since 1990, including those in the country legally and illegally.
At more than 38 million, the number of immigrants in the U.S. is now at an all-time high. Immigrants made up 12.6 percent of the population in 2007, the largest share since 1920, when the U.S. was nearing the end of its last immigration boom, one that brought millions of people from Europe to the United States.
That wave of immigrants ended with the Great Depression and the onset of World War II.
The immigration figures released Tuesday were from the 2007 American Community Survey, the government’s annual survey of about 3 million households. The survey, which is replacing the long form from the 10-year census, yields reams of demographic, social and economic data about the nation.
Because the estimates come from a survey, each includes a margin of sampling error that makes year-to-year comparisons inexact. Annual immigration changes for many states and cities were within the margins of error, but the national trend was statistically significant: The nation’s immigration boom slowed substantially in 2007.
Fourteen states showed declines in the number of immigrants from 2006 to 2007, including New Jersey, New Mexico, and Vermont. Several major cities also posted decreases, including Atlanta, Las Vegas and Oakland, Calif. Other cities continued to show gains, including Phoenix, Boston and Denver.