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Originally published February 1, 2011 at 9:24 PM | Page modified February 3, 2011 at 4:18 PM

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Corrected version

Illegal-immigrant numbers in state jump 35% in 3 years

An estimated 230,000 illegal immigrants were living in Washington state last year — 35 percent more than three years earlier, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center. The total represents one of every 20 workers in the state.

Seattle Times staff reporter

They clean the floors of swanky office towers downtown, pick wine grapes in Wenatchee and wash dishes in Belltown restaurants.

An estimated 230,000 illegal immigrants were living in Washington state last year — 35 percent more than three years earlier, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center. The total represents one of every 20 workers in the state.

Researchers at Pew Hispanic, a project of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., used the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey data as a basis for the report.

They found that nationwide, illegal immigrants numbered 11.2 million, virtually unchanged from 2009 and down from a peak 12 million in 2007. Many have attributed the slide to more immigration enforcement and a weaker economy.

While 57 percent are from Mexico, the illegal immigrants hail from across the world, including Canada. They include people who sneaked across the country's borders, as well as those who came legally but overstayed employment, student or visitor visas.

Continued failure by the federal government to address the nation's immigration problems has led states to find fixes of their own.

All but Washington, New Mexico and Utah now deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and some believe that has made Washington a magnet.

This year, state lawmakers here have introduced an unprecedented number of bills aimed at immigrants — legal and illegal — and several proposed cuts to the state budget would hit them hard.

There are measures that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, make English the state's official language and require the Department of Employment Security to verify the legal status of those it refers for employment.

In addition, a group of residents, for the sixth straight year, will circulate petitions for an initiative to severely restrict benefits and services to illegal immigrants in the state.

Uriel Iñiguez, director of the state's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said the fact that the illegal immigrant population nationally hasn't declined shows people aren't going anywhere.

"It's one of the arguments I make all the time — passing laws won't prevent people from being here undocumented," Iñiguez said.

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Even with the restrictions on driver's licenses, he said, "we've not seen an entire outflow of people to wherever they are from. What these laws do, however, is drive this population further underground."

State Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, sponsor of several of the bills, said the state needs to act, since the federal government hasn't.

She said the illegal-immigrant cost to the state is $272 million a biennium for such functions as social services, health and corrections. "The illegal-immigration problem really came to the forefront after what happened in Arizona," Stevens said. "It's the lack of a secure border. If we can't keep them out of our country what's the point?"

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published Feb. 1, 2011, was corrected Feb. 3, 2011. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that illegal immigrants accounted for nearly 5 percent of the state's population, giving Washington the seventh highest rate of illegal immigrants in the nation. A Pew Hispanic Center report, on which the story was based, incorrectly attributed the percentage and ranking to Washington state rather than to the District of Columbia. The center has corrected the information in its online report to reflect that illegal immigrants comprise 3.4 percent of Washington state's population, a rate that does not rank it among the top 10 states.

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