November 20, 2015

What we know about illegal immigration from Mexico

Illegal immigration remains a hotly contested issue as the 2016 presidential campaigns get underway. While Democrats have largely supported a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and backed President Barack Obama’s programs to shield from deportation young people brought to the U.S. as children illegally, Republicans have largely opposed them.

Mexican Unauthorized Immigrant Population Declines Since 2007 PeakMore recently, debate about illegal immigration has focused on those from Mexico, the largest single group of immigrants in the United States. Pew Research Center tracks the origins of unauthorized immigrants, their participation in the labor force and where in the U.S. they are settling.

Here’s what we know about illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico:

1The number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined. In 2014, 5.6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico lived in the U.S., down by about 1 million since 2007. Despite the drop, Mexicans still make up about half (49% in 2014) of unauthorized immigrants. At the same time, unauthorized immigration overall has leveled off in recent years.

2Border Apprehensions in 2014More non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders in 2014, the first time on record this has happened. In fiscal 2014, 229,178 Mexicans were apprehended, a sharp drop from a peak of 1.6 million apprehended in 2000. The decline in apprehensions reflects the decrease in number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S.

3Even as border apprehensions dropped, deportations of Mexican immigrants reached a record high in 2013 of 314,904, up from 169,031 in 2005. This is due in part to a 2005 shift in policy that has increased the chances of being deported following apprehension in the border region, instead of just being sent back without an order of removal.

4Mexican unauthorized immigrants are more likely than unauthorized immigrants overall to work in the construction industry and less likely to work in services. Among Mexican unauthorized immigrants ages 16 and older who were employed in 2012, 19% worked in construction and 13% worked in a wide range of businesses like legal services, landscaping and car washes. By comparison, among unauthorized immigrant workers overall, 16% worked in construction and 22% in services.

5Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up at least 75% of the total unauthorized immigrant population in 10 states: New Mexico (89%), Arizona (84%), Idaho (83%), Wyoming (82%), Colorado (78%), Oklahoma (76%), Wisconsin (76%), Kansas (75%), Oregon (75%) and Texas (75%). Among these states, half saw a decline in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2009 to 2012. Among all states, California saw the largest decline in the number of unauthorized immigrants (90,000) during this time period. The Golden State is also home to 1.6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, the most in the nation.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on July 5.

Topics: Immigration, Immigration Trends, Mexico, Unauthorized Immigration

  1. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a senior researcher focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Penny Melko9 months ago

    Mexicans are being driven out of the U.S. similar to the Palestinians being summarily pushed out of their homeland, now Israel.
    Until 1848 The western U.S. was named Alta California. America’s treatment toward Mexico is beyond shameful.…

    Peace and thank you for your activism. Every voice counts.

  2. Anonymous9 months ago

    Personally I think it is okay for them to stay in the country as long as they don’t bring illegal substances like marijuana alcohol or other illegal substances.

  3. Anonymous10 months ago

    i like this article its awsome and made me learn more ana gonzalez barrera

  4. Anonymous11 months ago

    Just open a path for illegals to be workers. Assimilate to America, learn English, and possible in 5-10 years earn the right to vote.

  5. John Doddridge12 months ago

    We should grant citizenship to every ‘alien’ currently living in the United States. All 11 million people should be offered the choice to taking citizenship classes or taking a citizenship test since so many of our friends are well educated- then all 11 million should be taught to speak enough English they have a command of the language as a first or second language. Job programs should be developed so the underground community can teach itself the foundation of principals of the United States of America. There should be more careful monitoring of the border to insure that people are left out in the desert without water. We need to commit to more ventures with Mexico and help that nation become as solvent as its neighbors to the North. Mexico has the New Worlds oldest history and is already a mixture of several nationalities. Mexico should be encouraged to teach its citizens English as a second language to foster more communication along its border. We don’t need to waste money building a wall to create stability. Walls can only do one thing, fall down. Humpty Dumpf Trump Dumpty, come down off that wall before you hurt yourself!

    1. Anonymous10 months ago

      What about the future? We have a process for legal immigration where you apply for Naturalization, then wait in your home country until approved. Should people in the future adhere to this procedure? How is it fair to keep these people waiting while cheaters arrive and go unchallenged?

  6. Maria1 year ago

    report net zero…. “If it sounds to good to be good to be true” means…question everything.
    I don’t buy this report.

    1. Anonymous11 months ago

      yes, let’s reject it because you don’t like it.

  7. H Thomas2 years ago

    So first off, how do you count a group(illegal aliens) accurately when it is in their best interest not to be identified? So your stats are suspect, even they come from any of the government agencies that track this, especially considering how the numbers are used in the evaluation of those agencies. As for the skew of OTMs(Other Than Mexicans), that is easily accounted for by the fact that it is policy that OTMs are automatically processed for an NTA(Notice To Appear) in other words a hearing. They have been coached that once they are on US soil they should allow themselves to be apprehended in order to get the NTA and any follow on benefits the particular locale will accord them.

    P.S. Federal makes it illegal for a foreigner to receive public aid, but it is circumvented by state agencies because they are not legally allowed to determine “alienage”

  8. Teresa Lyon2 years ago

    I wholeheartedly agree with the statistic on the number of workers in the construction industry. I know many people who have spent most of their adult lives in construction, 2nd and 3rd generations doing construction that are now displaced workers because the construction companies not only get illegal immigrants cheaper, the companies save money by paying cash under the table to avoid unemployment insurance, employer paid obamacare, and payroll taxes. Yes I know this for an absolute fact I have talked to the workers themselves. They are aware that if they are hurt there is no workman’s comp. for them. Contrary to popular belief however the only taxes they pay into the system is no more than any tourist buying day to day items, as they pay no income tax because they “don’t exist”.

    1. Anonymous10 months ago

      Rather like the “offshore” accounts of our mega-wealthy who, with their lawyers, avoid and evade income taxes….hiding millions upon millions of dollars that would other- wise be taxed!? Right?

      And, there is also the possibility that, other than day to day needs, these people spend much of their taxable millions in foreign countries which benefit thru their sales tax programs and the U.S. is the loser once more.

    2. Anonymous10 months ago

      That is why our buildings are falling down now. Our roads look like S–T! Exactly my point

  9. Jose Angel Flores2 years ago

    One of the things that is not documented is the fact that most central and south americans declare themselves Mexicans when they are apprehended at the US-Mexico border and they´re sent back through the International Bridges right away. We´ve seen this happening all the time, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, even Colombians and Venezuelans deported back to Mexico. There are many shelters for migrants and social workers and volunteers in these shelters in North Mexico speak about this all the time. Mexico does not question these migrants for papers when they are “returned”. This should bring down the number of illegal mexicans detained at the border. From personal experience, I remember for years about friends, family and people in my community going to the US, whether legally or illegally, this has not been the case in the past six or seven years, in fact I have not met a single person in my network thinking about moving to the US but I have seen many other coming back after waiting for years to get legalized, unable to get homes, credits, better jobs and prospects, and seeing the increasingly hostile criminalization of illegal aliens, they´re making their way back to Mexico., the great mexican migration to the north is over. Having said this, I have to say, I do have family in the US who are now legal, and the US has been a most generous nation for them, affording them opportunities to improve their lives, which they did not find in our country. As a mexican, it embarrasses me that after so many years there are still Mexicans trying to move to the US, it´s a terrible failure for what we have achieve as a society and something we must reflect on when electing our officials, greatly responsible for failed economic policies.

    1. Magni Togorsak1 year ago

      1. There is rarely any immigration to the US from South America.

      2. Most border guards speak spanish fluently and many are Mexicans, they can identify and are trained to spot the non-Mexicans from the rest.

      3. Central Americans came in large numbers last year but are declining number wise too, as Mexico is an extremely dangerous place to go through on their way to the north.

      1. Adriana Lowry1 year ago

        Did you know that Mexico deports more immigrants from central America and sometimes south America within it’s borders? And does all the dirty work for the u.s.? More central Americans get detained and deported in Mexico than south Americans. You do know that many south Americans come to the u.s. with a tourist visa and end up staying becoming illegal aliens? I am acquainted with many people from central and south America. Regardless of what you think the protocol is at the border to identify people’s nationality when trying to cross. The truth is that people lie in order not to get caught and get sent back to their country of origin. Some of them don’t carry any identification. I bet you didn’t know that there are many places in Mexico were people speak differently and have accents identical to a central American or south American. Also we all come in different shades of brown, white, black and even look asian. We are not a country of one race but very diverse. Unless you know what Mexico is really about then you will begin to understand that the process of identification a group of people is more difficult then what you could even begin to imagine. Mexico is not what the media here in the u.s. has tried to portray, yes it could be dangerous but not nearly as dangerous as central America many people still rather risk their lives than to live in poverty and want to escape the violence in their countries.

  10. Louisa Caucia2 years ago

    Thank you for the latest facts concerning undocumented immigrants. Please send this info to all leading media outlets particularly in Northern and Southern California. It is important that such outlets like the SF Chronicle and LA Times maintain current migration statistics, such as the fact that Mexicans account for 52% of the undocumented population Most news stories continue to suggest that these migrants constitute practically 100% of the entries. Very little is reported about the other 48%. Therefore, such undocumented entries travel under the radar and rarely have to worry about profiling and undue stress. Keep in mind, living in the shadows creates PTSD symptons for the entire family,particulary the children.

    If possible, I would also like to see current migrant patterns as pertain to San Francisco.
    With the recent discussion surrounding the death of Ms. Steinle by an undocumented Latino, skewed info regarding San Francisco’s undocumented population appears to be
    completely misrepresented. Undocumented Mexicans are not the majority in SF. Instead
    and for many years, SF’s Mission District has been home largely to undocumented Central
    Americans. Also,the fastest growing undocumented population in general and particularly in SF are Asians.

    Furthermore, I feel that undocumented Latinos are taking the brunt of America’s anger regarding loss of jobs. It’s difficult to believe that able bodied Americans are clamouring
    to do field work, gardening or child care as these jobs provide very little glamour, just grueling physical labor. However, Americans, especially in the SF Bay Area, are losing out to highly trained tech workers with H1B visas. Silcon Valley tech titans have not taken the step to create partnerships with high schools, ROP programs or local colleges to train the needed work force. I have yet to read any information as to why this practice continues.
    Thus, many in Bay Area and elsewhere are not getting a fair shake. Anyway, I hope you’ll be able to address some of my concerns. Thank you.

    1. David Lee Sturtz2 years ago

      Pay is based on supply and demand. So if the number of workers is higher to the number of jobs then the jobs will pay less. If the number of workers is less than the number of jobs then the jobs will pay more.

      Poor Americans do those jobs as well. All child care, field work, etc are not done solely by illegal immigrants. Both Poor Americans and legal immigrants get hurt pay wise by this influx of workers who will undercut the pay scale. Workers who should not technically be here.

      This has hurt a lot of people in construction.

      My industry has been decimated by Outsourcing and Offshoring. It has killed wages and kept then static as well as sharp declines.

      This is all done because businesses do not want to pay higher labor.

  11. mary davis2 years ago

    Good information!
    But what is the breakdown of the “other countries besides Mexico” illegal entrants? Are we seeing more Guatemalans? Peruvians? Hondurans? Clearly, the Mexican entries have dropped off, but are the origins of other illegal entrants being tracked?

  12. Daniel Menchaca2 years ago

    These facts were an eye opener for me since the US main stream media tends to lump
    all illegal aliens(scripture term) together. It is a real problem for Mexicans in that the
    negatives of all illegal immigration are thought to be of Mexican origin.

    1. Cynthia Curran2 years ago

      True, I have been telling Republicans that Mexicans have been dropping and Central Americans increasing It unfortunate that oil is down Mexico had a chance to have foreign companies show it to do better oil production. Mexico is now a car factory hub, most that come in illegality are more from the poorer rural states.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        But Latinos consider themselves all one ethnic cultural group in USA, so why are we supposed to differentiate between them for this? To the average native English speaking American citizen there is no ability to identify each group as separate. They are all Latino native spanish speakers from Latin America; a point they drive home ad nauseum.

  13. Claudia Splick Larson2 years ago

    This is why border apprehensions are dropping – They are no longer apprehending them:

    On February 13th, 2013 Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council states under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee “Immigration agents are regularly prohibited from enforcing United States Immigration LAW. According to NEW POLICY, immigration agents can no longer arrest persons solely for entering the United States illegally.”

    “He says that officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement have exposed agents to danger from gang members in detention centers, and that they threatened to discipline agents for detaining illegal immigrants encountered on the street.”

    This is the law they want them to ignore: The removal of an alien who is inadmissible because the individual does not possess valid entry documents or is inadmissible for fraud or misrepresentation of material fact (INA § 235(b)(1)(B)(iii)). The alien may be removed without a hearing before an immigration court.” pg 2, Box 1, right side.…

  14. Keith2 years ago

    Ah, if only there were no history and things were as simple as they presently appear. If Texas land didn’t once belong to Mexico. If U.S. might hadn’t just taken Texas for its own. If U.S. might hadn’t caused Mexico to cede what is presently NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, and parts of CO & WY. But, there is a history, and history links MX and the US. Governments create bounderies, but people know where their ancestors lived, loved, worked, and made homes. It’s not quite simple.

    1. Rick2 years ago

      Ah, if only there were REAL history vs. Progressive LIEberal Indoctrination…
      California and the rest were ONLY “Mexican” for 27 years after they declared their independence from SPAIN… 27 years that saw FORTY different Governments… AND THEN they declared WAR on the U.S. when Texans voluntarily REVOLTED against Mexican Rule.
      They LOST that war, thanks in part to previous defeats at the hands of Native American Indian Tribes, and in defeat sought treaty in which they were PAID $15 MILLION for those lands and compensated another $3.25 MILLION to settle claims from U.S. Citizens against the Mexican Government.
      The residents of those territories had one year to choose whether they wanted American or Mexican citizenship; Over 90% chose American citizenship, which included full voting rights. The others returned to Mexico (where they received land), or in some cases in New Mexico were allowed to remain in place as Mexican citizens…

      1. Anonymous10 months ago

        Ah you conveniently left out that the US army was an occupying force in many large cities of Mexico. That might have something to do as to why they sought a treaty with the US. Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant called the Mexican War “the most unjust war ever undertaken by a stronger nation against a weaker one.” US annexation of Mexican lands was a fruition of Manifest Destiny which had many adherents in US society during the 19th century.

  15. Steve2 years ago

    Yes, illegal immigration from Mexico might be decreasing from its insane numbers, but that does not mean that there are less Mexicans in the U.S. or that they are not coming into our country. Our chain-link immigration system has basically made it that every Mexican can get into the country if they want through some type of status. You can even get into the country by being the sibling of someone who is married to a United States citizen. With the mass influx of Mexicans who entered illegallly and gained status during the past 20 years, along with the rising anchor baby generation, if you are Mexican and can’t get into the U.S. through a legal channel, you are just not trying.

    Our immigration system since it changed to family reunification program has brough Mexico and central America to us. (along with some Carribean nations)

    1. anes2 years ago

      Mexicans, a.k.a. native American Indians are illegal immigrants in America? Did the Quakers get their green card issued by the Indian authorities when they landed and settled permanently?

      1. Margaret Bartley2 years ago

        It’s our land. We stole it fair and square.

        1. Anonymous1 year ago

          USA purchased that land from Mexico. It was not stolen. Do native Cree, Blackfoot, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Potowatomi, Peoria or Crow Indians consider Mexicans the same as the Native American tribes indigenous to the areas in USA those tribes controlled? No.

    2. jose2 years ago

      Steve, Let’s keep it real;
      “If you are Mexican an can’t get through a legal channel”, there are 121 million Mexicans in Mexico which are not trying nor can they get legal status.
      “Our immigration system since changed to family reunification”, the largest group of immigrants for the last two years were from China, then India and Last Mexico.
      Last you are right the last 20 to 30 years the immigration from Mexico was insane, it was because the Mexican economy collapse three times, then Nafta put out of business the Mexican farmers but for the last 5 years the net Mexican immigration has been zero and as this article show the undocumented population has decline.
      So what would you want to do with the undocumented population that harvest your food, build your infrastructure, clean your houses, take care of your love ones, etc?????

      1. Mark Mayer2 years ago

        NAFTA is a big factor in the drop in immigration from Mexico. It did cause some pain early on, as you note. Many of Mexico’s agrarian poor were affected. But in the years since then, billions of dollars of investment have poured in from U.S. and multinational companies. Mexico has a thriving automotive industry and thanks to recent reforms, the energy sector is up next.

        Mark my words, the day is not far off when we will want liberal immigration agreements with Mexico so that American workers can find jobs in Mexico!

        1. jose2 years ago


          Mexico co-manufacture with the US, every car that Mexico export have US made parts, that keeps the cost competitive and stop manufacture leaving to China where there is virtually no US made parts on their exports.
          You are right the largest American colony in the world is Mexico over one million Americans choose to live in Mexico, to retired, open near shore factories and as you point out the energy sector is next.
          Alejandro Inarritu state at the Oscars “I pray that Mexico can form a government we deserve, and for the Mexicans who live an America and are the latest wave of immigration get the same dignity and respect that immigrants did before them and build this incredible immigrant nation.”

        2. John Jackson2 years ago

          Mark – I see NAFTA as one of the two greatest drivers for illegal immigration. One was Reagan’s increasing the amount of time you had to stay OUT OF THE COUTRY to a full year. If you are seasonal employment, a full year brings you back AFTER harvest season. As a result many brought their families along and stayed.
          NAFTA opened Mexican and Central America farms to American agribusiness and financed the advent of American style production techniques (machinery) on to these farms. This surplussed hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of farmworkers. Some of them stayed in Mexico and found work in the auto industry but many of them had no choice but to seek more gainful employment here in the U.S.A.

      2. Anonymous1 year ago

        I hire a white American citizen woman to clean my house once every 2 weeks and she is grateful for the work.

    3. gabe2 years ago

      Oh, the injustice! Those people have no right to live here. We sailed over on our ships and claimed this land as our rightful property. Why don’t they just go away!?

      1. Mr wright2 years ago

        Yeah, a land that belonged, yo the native americanas in the first place, so that makes you and inmigrant too, so what are You complying about??

      2. Actiq1 year ago

        Kennewick man is all I have to say. Do some research.

      3. Anonymous10 months ago

        Most people who immigrate have to. They probably are looking for freedom and a place to make money. Isn’t the United States of America a place where people can come in search of freedom?