Twenty-one states had statistically significant changes in their populations of unauthorized immigrants from 2009 to 2012. They comprise seven states where the number of unauthorized immigrants increased and 14 where the number decreased.
These state-level changes are masked by the stability at the national level, according to the Pew Research estimates. The overall number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2012—standing at 11.2 million—was unchanged from 2009, the final year of the Great Recession. The population had fallen since its peak of 12.2 million in 2007, when the recession began.
States that Grew or Declined
The seven states where unauthorized immigrant populations grew from 2009 to 2012 were Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In two of these states, Maryland and Virginia, the state-level trends also broke with the national-level trend for 2007 to 2012. During those years, the number of unauthorized immigrants fell in the U.S. overall, but continued to grow in both Maryland and Virginia. In Maryland, the estimated number of unauthorized immigrants grew to 250,000 in 2012, compared with 220,000 in 2007. In Virginia, the estimated number grew to 275,000 in 2012 from 250,000 in 2007. (In the adjacent District of Columbia, the 2012 population of 20,000 was not statistically different from the totals in 2009 or 2007.)
The 14 states where populations of unauthorized immigrants decreased from 2009 to 2012 were Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oregon.
As detailed in Chapter 2, a decline in unauthorized immigrants from Mexico was responsible for the decreases in 13 of the 14 states; in Massachusetts, the decline was due to decreases in unauthorized immigrants from other countries. In six of the seven states with increases in unauthorized immigrants, the changes were driven by increases in unauthorized immigrants from countries other than Mexico. In Nebraska, the increase was driven by a small but statistically significant gain in unauthorized immigrants from Mexico.
Although state trends varied from 2009 to 2012, there was no change in which six states had the largest unauthorized immigrant populations. The six—California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois—accounted for 60% of unauthorized immigrants in 2012. California alone had an estimated 2.4 million unauthorized immigrants in 2012, about one-in-five (22%). Texas ranked second, with 1.7 million unauthorized immigrants, 15% of the total. No other state had more than a million.
Long-Term Trend Comes to a Halt
Until the recent slowdown in growth, the unauthorized immigrant population had risen rapidly over nearly two decades—and the sharpest growth rate had been in states without major concentrations of unauthorized immigrants. As a result, there had been a marked shift in the distribution of unauthorized immigrants across the nation.
From 1990 to 2007, the unauthorized immigrant population increased from 3.5 million to 12.2 million, growth of about 250% or an average of more than 500,000 people a year.
The population of unauthorized immigrants increased in every state, but growth was slower in the six states with the largest numbers of such immigrants than in the rest of the nation as a whole.2
California, the state with the largest number of unauthorized immigrants in both 1990 and 2007, experienced the largest numerical growth, but its 88% increase from 1990 to 2007 lagged far behind other large states and nearly all smaller states. As a group, the other five largest states (Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas) experienced growth in their unauthorized immigrant population at the national average of 250%. Meanwhile, though, the unauthorized immigrant population in the rest of the country increased almost sevenfold, from 700,000 in 1990 to 4.7 million in 2007.
These growth differentials led to a marked shift in the distribution of unauthorized immigrants across the country. The share in California dropped to 23% in 2007 from 42% in 1990. The share in the other large states was unchanged at 38%, but the share in the rest of the country essentially doubled, to 39% in 2007 from 20% in 1990. With the overall decreases in the unauthorized population since 2007, these shifts came to a halt.
Unauthorized immigrant populations can grow at the state level for the same reasons they do nationally, when immigrants cross the U.S. border without authorization, or when they overstay a legal visa after it expired. Some states also may have experienced growth in their populations because unauthorized immigrants moved there from other states. A major factor contributing to losses in California, Illinois and New York from 2009 to 2012, according to Pew Research Center analysis, was movement of unauthorized immigrants to other states.
Unauthorized immigrant populations can decline when fewer new immigrants arrive, when a greater number decide to leave the country or through deaths (although there are relatively few deaths because unauthorized immigrants tend to be younger than the population overall). Government action also plays a role: Numbers can decline through deportations or when unauthorized immigrants obtain legal status.
The nation’s foreign-born population totaled 42.5 million in 2012, or 13.5% of U.S. residents. In addition to the nation’s 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants, it was made up of 11.7 million legal permanent residents (27.4% of immigrants in 2012), 17.8 million naturalized citizens (41.8% of immigrants) and 1.9 million legal residents with temporary status (4.5% of immigrants).
Among all immigrants, the share who were unauthorized in 2012 ranged widely by state, from 6% (Maine) to 45% (Arkansas). The states with the largest shares were in the South and Mountain West, some of which are relatively new destinations for unauthorized immigrants.
Unauthorized Immigrant Population Share
Unauthorized immigrants accounted for 3.5% of the U.S. population of nearly 316 million in 2012, down from a peak of 4.0% in 2007. The share varied from less than 1% in 10 states to 7.6% in Nevada. California (6.3%) and Texas (6.3%) also are among the top-ranked states in this regard.
Most of the states with the largest numbers of unauthorized immigrants also have relatively high shares of unauthorized immigrants. The six states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas—also are among the states with the 10 highest shares of unauthorized immigrants in the overall population. Similarly, states with relatively lower numbers of unauthorized immigrants tend to have lower shares in the overall population.
Nationally, unauthorized immigrants made up about a quarter of the foreign-born population (26%) in 2012. That share peaked in 2007, at 30%, when the size of the unauthorized immigrant population also peaked.
One-in-Twenty People in the Labor Force
In the U.S. overall, unauthorized immigrants account for one-in-twenty people in the labor force, or 8.1 million people in 2012, but the share is markedly higher in some states, especially those with high shares of unauthorized immigrants in the population.
The share of unauthorized immigrants among adults ages 16 and older who are working or looking for work is highest in Nevada (10.2% in 2012); Nevada also has the highest share of unauthorized immigrants in the overall population (7.6%). The share in the labor force also is relatively high in California (9.4%) and Texas (8.9%), which rank second and third in the unauthorized immigrant share of the total population.
Unauthorized immigrants are more likely than the overall U.S. population to be of working age and less likely to be young or older (Passel and Cohn, 2009). That is one reason that the unauthorized immigrant share of the labor force is higher than its share of the population overall.
Students with Unauthorized Immigrant Parents
Children with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent made up 6.9% of students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in 2012. Most (5.5% of all students) are U.S.-born children who are U.S. citizens at birth. The rest (1.4%) are unauthorized immigrants themselves.
Among elementary and secondary school students with unauthorized immigrant parents, the U.S.-born share has grown since 2007 while the share who are themselves unauthorized immigrants has declined. In 2007, for example, when the unauthorized immigrant population was at its peak, 7.2% of elementary and secondary school students had unauthorized immigrant parents: 4.5% were born in the U.S. and 2.6% were themselves unauthorized.
This trend is parallel to a general rise in the number of U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants and a decline in juvenile unauthorized immigrants (Passel, Cohn, Krogstad and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2014). As long-term residents make up a growing share of unauthorized immigrants, they are more likely to have U.S.-born children. Among unauthorized immigrant adults in 2012, 4 million (or 38%) lived with U.S.-born children, either minors or adults. In 2000, 2.1 million, or 30%, did.
Young unauthorized immigrants have declined in number in part because some have turned 18 and become adults with unauthorized status.
The share of students with unauthorized immigrant parents varies widely by state. The 2012 share was in double digits in four states—Nevada (17.7%), California (13.2%), Texas (13.1%) and Arizona (11.0%). In seven states, the share in 2012 was less than 1%.