July 22, 2015

Unauthorized immigrant population stable for half a decade

An estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2014, according to a new preliminary Pew Research Center estimate based on government data. This population has remained essentially stable for five years after nearly two decades of changes.

U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Population Levels OffThe recent overall stability contrasts with past trends. The unauthorized immigrant population had risen rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s, from an estimated 3.5 million in 1990 to a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. It then dropped sharply during the Great Recession of 2007-09, mainly because of a decrease in immigration from Mexico.

The overall estimate has fluctuated little in recent years because the number of new unauthorized immigrants is roughly equal to the number who are deported, leave the U.S. on their own, convert to legal status, or (in a small number of cases) die, according to the Pew Research analysis. The new unauthorized immigrant total includes people who cross the border illegally as well as those who arrive with legal visas and remain in the U.S. after their visas expire.

Pew Research estimates that, since 2009, there has been an average of about 350,000 new unauthorized immigrants each year. Of these, about 100,000 are Mexican, a much smaller share than in the past. In the years leading up to the Great Recession, Mexicans represented about half of new unauthorized immigrants.

Due to the slowdown in new illegal immigration since the Great Recession, unauthorized immigrants are less likely than those in the past to be recent arrivals. The share of unauthorized-immigrant adults who have lived in the U.S. for a decade or more has nearly doubled, from 35% in 2000 to 62% in 2012, according to a Pew Research estimate released last year. Only 15% in 2012 had lived in the U.S. for less than five years, compared with 38% in 2000.

Because they are more likely to be long-term residents, unauthorized immigrants also are increasingly likely to live with children born in the U.S. Pew Research Center estimates that in 2012, 4 million unauthorized-immigrant adults, or 38%, lived with their U.S.-born children, either minors or adults. In 2000, 2.1 million unauthorized-immigrant adults, or 30%, lived with their U.S.-born children. (The total number of unauthorized immigrants with adult or minor children born in the U.S. may well be higher, as these figures do not count those whose children live elsewhere.)

The Pew Research estimates are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and American Community Survey, using the widely accepted “residual method.”

The unauthorized immigrant population estimate includes people who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under various federal programs. Last year, President Barack Obama took executive action to expand an existing program and establish a new one that would offer work permits and deportation relief to an estimated 5 million unauthorized immigrants. The actions – which are on hold because of a lawsuit by 26 states – would be open to unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, or who are parents with a child who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, as long as they meet certain requirements.

Topics: Immigration, Immigration Trends, Unauthorized Immigration

  1. Photo of Jeffrey S. Passel

    is a senior demographer at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous4 months ago

    People who haven’t worked the fields should not talk: I was an Ag. Inspector in the Salad Bowl of this country and when Latinos don’t pick the fields that feed all our mouths our country suffers. I saw it suffer and big time growers went to the Capitol to allow for the exemptions this article speaks of.
    Nobody will do that back breaking work. Latinos have a strong work ethic. Underpaid and poorly treated, almost like slaves of this century.

    1. Chris Carlson3 months ago

      Great point!

  2. sm th7 months ago

    just count criminal cases of illegal immigrants

  3. DanO9 months ago

    The weak link in this analysis is key to the conclusion: its source is based on U.S. Census Bureau data. The Bureau’s data rests on the assumption that illegal residents, or those who share a residence with them, will answer honestly as to their legal status. Who, if breaking laws that could end up in deportation, would answer questions honestly? Let me think,”Do I tell the truth and risk deportation or do I lie and reduce my risk of deportation?” Hmmmm, I can figure out the risk/reward payoff on that one without a calculator.

    1. Aaron Lavack8 months ago

      The census is anonymous. There’s no risk of deportation associated with it. I’ve read elsewhere that studies assessing the level of response indicate that it’s pretty good among irregular migrants. I believe they also adjust the total to account for estimated under-response.

      1. Brian Flynn3 months ago

        How ridiculous you are? Have you ever been to Latin America? Do you know its history? If you think that Latin Americans who are breaking the law in US would trust the anonymity of a census survey then I have some beachfront property in Arizona I’m certain you will be interested in.

  4. Michael Abracham9 months ago

    So an estinated 350K new illegal immigrants per year for 6 years, or +2.1 million, yet the population of illegal immigrants has level off at abt 11point-something? THAT doesn’t make sense.

    1. Timothy Hughbanks9 months ago

      What doesn’t make sense is making a comment without bothering to THINK about the factors that might be at work in determining the total illegal immigrant population. While the rate of new illegal immigration has been 350K per year, under the Obama administration the rate of illegal immigrant deportations has exceeded 350K every year, consequently the total population has declined slightly: economist.com/blogs/graphicdetai…

      1. Tom Tharp9 months ago

        No, the deportation rate reported by Obama is almost entirely people turned away at the border. Of the 11.3 million illegals in the interior almost none have been deported. You might yourself THINK. The population of illegal aliens has stabilized because about 300,000 currently leave every year.

  5. phil10 months ago

    We’ve been treated to a couple years straight of news reports of floods of illegals that the Federal gubberment has been taking in and redistributing around the country and PEW says the numbers are flat or decreasing. I call Bravo Sierra.

  6. Charlotte1 year ago

    No it didn’t, it only accepted it as the deal struck to create the agreement — otherwise there would have been no subsequent debate, compromise, or war. “promote” implies it advocated it. Clearly it did not.

  7. John Malverne1 year ago

    And you are paying for every penny of their health care and the educational costs for their children, just to name a few.

    1. Chris Carlson3 months ago

      That’s an ignorant comment based on pure assumption. Back up your comments with empirically based research if you think I’m wrong. No one is paying for their health care, expect themselves. They don’t get welfare. That’s a common misperception. You can’t get welfare benefits without a social security card.

  8. Matt Foskett1 year ago

    This clearly shows that when employers stop hiring unauthorized immigrants, they stop coming. Yet we don’t enforce existing rules against those employers who hire unauthorized immigrants.
    Business, mostly voting Republican, clearly wants to continue hiring this cheap labor. Until that ends unauthorized immigration will continue.

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      Don’t assume its all republicans. Boy howdy a lot is american of south american back grounds. Get facts

  9. Lila Starr1 year ago

    11.3m illegal actors in America is a travesty…of course the 4.2m illegal children born in the U.S. we are paying for their births and health care–and they are exploiting the loophole that their children will become citizens b/c of our dated rules…Travesty

    1. Mark Lewis1 year ago

      According to the Hamilton Project, a study by the non partisan Brookings Institute using government data undocumented immigrants contribute twice as much to the U.S. Economy in taxes as they use in public programs, about $48 billion a year. But don’t let the facts get in your way.

      1. sashamanda1 year ago

        That study used CBO data, which 1) did not consider state and local costs of public services including education, public safety, healthcare, and federal programs administered at the state or local level, 2) did not consider substantial remittances to the “home” country, 3) only considered the 20 years of contributions to Social Security and Medicare and did not consider the withdrawals. Given the low earnings of the majority of immigrants, they will receive far more in payments than they ever pay in.

        1. Mark Lewis1 year ago

          Almost nothing said by sashamanda is true and also leaves out numerous other factors such as positive impact of immigrants on consumer pricing, job creation and innovation. Don’t believe me? Try actually reading the study.

      2. Charles Breiterman3 months ago

        ML, Brookings is clearly Dem oriented. Specifically, looking over the Hamilton Project reveals exclusively Dem speakers including Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Alice Rivlin, Jennifer Granholm, Barack Obama (when he was a Senator) and so on. I went to one of their talks and all the speakers had a pro-illegal immigration stance. So your claim is highly deceptive or ignorant. Turning to the study, to which of the 8 – 10 immigration studies listed on the Hamilton Project website do you refer? Even Paul Krugman has written in the NYT that low-skilled immigrants do not pay back in taxes the benefits that they receive. I am nearly certain that any study which says otherwise is nonsense, but I will look it over if you give me the name of the study. The whole game of illegal immigration for employers is to get the benefits of cheap, compliant labor, while shifting the costs of such labor onto the rest of society. A business doesn’t pay healthcare costs, state unemployment insurance fees, or workers’ comp insurance et cetera for workers that “do not exist”.

    2. Matt Foskett1 year ago

      Those “dated rules” you speak of is the US Constitution.

      1. Mark Lewis1 year ago

        The U.S. constitution also promoted slavery.

        1. DanK12 months ago

          Fortunately, it was amended… As should be done when needed… We just don’t disregard the law because we feel like it.

    3. Bert Hall1 year ago

      Re: “dated” rules. The US government regards anyone born in the USA as an “American Person” for tax purposes, even those of us who live and work in other countries. Millions of people have to pay US taxes because of an accident of birth. They use no US services, but have to pay for them. These people are the counterparts to the one-sided “anchor babies” hysteria. Perhaps indeed the rules are “dated,” but they are in the Constitution. I for one would be happy to see them changed if that would eliminate my US tax liability — but you might want to think about the bigger picture before you cry “travesty.”

      1. DanO9 months ago

        Taxation and citizenship are two completely separate issues. Taxation of U.S. citizens’ income irrespective of it source or the residency of said citizens is not a constitutional issue; it’s a broken tax policy issue. Anchor baby birth and citizenship is a question of constitutional interpretation and cannot be justified or rationalized by taxation policy. That is, arguing that a poor tax policy offsets a defective interpretation of what constitutes citizenship is ludicrous.