Immigration Statistics

Some readers aren’t going to be surprised by the numbers; some will be shocked. A few may even cynically respond that they can’t be true, but they are.

The Pew Foundation has published a series this week on immigration, using data from the Federal Government. Key findings include:

  • There are 34 million legal immigrants living in the US, most having entered the country on either H1-B visas (for workers with special skills, primarily IT) or student visas.
  • There are 10.4 million undocumented immigrants in the US. More than 80% of these are people staying in the US after their visas expired — meaning their entry to the country was legal. Two-out-of-three undocumented immigrants have lived in the US for more than 10 years.
  • The number of undocumented peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, and has been gradually declining since that time.
  • 8 million of the immigrants are either working or actively looking for work.
  • Currently, 5.4 million of undocumented immigrants were born in Mexico.
  • Since 2009, the number of undocumented immigrants leaving the US to return to Mexico has exceeded the number entering the US from Mexico.
  • While Mexico remains the largest single source of undocumented immigrants, these immigrants come from a number of other areas, including:
    • Central America (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica)
    • Asia
    • South America
    • Canada and Europe
    • The Caribbean
    • Africa
    • The Middle East
  • These undocumented immigrants have 5 million children many/most of whom are by guarantees in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution legal US citizens. The Amendment clearly states that anyone born in the US is a citizen.
  • Finally, almost all of these immigrants are located in 6 states — California, Texas Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Bottom line:

  • Some politicians say there’s a crisis involving undocumented immigrants crossing the border with Mexico. The data say that’s not how most of these immigrants enter the US and the numbers of undocumented immigrants is declining, and has been for almost a decade. So why is there a crisis now?
  • The people complaining the loudest about illegal immigration live in states that are largely unaffected by it — places like Alabama, Kentucky and Kansas. Of course, the same was true with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The most militant reactions came from people in the center of the US who were remote from both locations. That’s more an observation about the the psychology of the US public than it is a comment on either issue.


  1. 2019 Pew Research Center 1615 L Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20036

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