The number of illegal immigrants living and working in the shadows in the United States dropped to 10.8 million in January last year, from a high of 11.8 million two years earlier, as the U.S. economy faltered, according to a U.S. government report.

MEXICO-USA/IMMIGRANTS

The study by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was released earlier this month, found that the “number of unauthorized residents declined by 1.0 million between 2007 and 2009, coincident with the U.S. economic downturn.”

The report, which drew on DHS and Census Bureau figures, found that unauthorized immigrants from Mexico accounted for 6.7 million of the total, followed by 530,000 migrants from El Salvador, 480,000 from Guatemala and 320,000 from Honduras.

Illegal immigration is a divisive issue in the United States, where Hispanics are also the largest legal immigrant group and are an increasingly weighty voting bloc.

President Barack Obama, who was backed overwhelmingly by Hispanics in his election in 2008, supports an overhaul of immigration laws that would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants in good standing, while cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers as well as hardening the porous border with Mexico.