11.3 million unauthorized immigrants

There were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014.

The population has remained essentially stable for five years, and currently makes up 3.5% of the nation’s population. The number of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, when this group was 4% of the U.S. population.

In 2013, approximately 41.3 million immigrants lived in the United States, an all-time high for a nation historically built on immigration. The United States remains a popular destination attracting about 20 percent of the world’s international migrants, even as it represents less than 5 percent of the global population. Immigrants accounted for 13 percent of the total 316 million U.S. residents; adding the U.S.-born children (of all ages) of immigrants means that approximately 80 million people, or one-quarter of the overall U.S. population, is either of the first or second generation.

Data on the nativity of the U.S. population were first collected in the 1850 decennial census. That year, there were 2.2 million immigrants in the United States, representing almost 10 percent of the total population.

Between 1860 and 1920, the immigrant share of the total population fluctuated between 13 and 15 percent, peaking at 15 percent in 1890, mainly due to high levels of European immigration.

Restrictive immigration legislation in 1921 and 1924, coupled with the Great Depression and World War II, led to a sharp drop in new arrivals. As a result, the foreign-born share steadily declined between the 1930s and 1970s, reaching a record low of approximately 5 percent in 1970 (9.6 million). Since 1970, the share and number have increased rapidly, mainly as a result of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia made possible by changes to admission rules adopted by Congress in 1965. Since 1970, the number of U.S. immigrants more than quadrupled as it grew from 9.6 million in 1970 to 41.3 million in 2013.

Mexicans make up about half of all unauthorized immigrants (52%), though their numbers have been declining in recent years.

There were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2012, down from 6.4 million in 2009, according to Pew Research Center estimates. Over the same time period, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and a grouping of countries in the Middle East, Africa and some other areas grew slightly (unauthorized immigrant populations from South America and Europe/Canada did not change significantly).

The predominance of immigrants from Latin American and Asian countries in the late 20th and early 21st centuries starkly contrasts with the trend seen in 1960 when immigrants largely originated from Europe. Italian-born immigrants made up 13 percent of all foreign born in 1960, followed by those born in Germany and Canada (accounting for about 10 percent each). In the 1960s no single country accounted for more than 15 percent of the total immigrant population.

Six states alone account for 60% of unauthorized immigrants —
California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

But the distribution of the population is changing. From 2009 to 2012, several East Coast states were among those with population increases, whereas several Western states were among those with population decreases. There were seven states overall in which the unauthorized immigrant population increased: Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Meanwhile, there were 14 states in which the population decreased over the same time period: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oregon. Despite a decline, Nevada has the nation’s largest share (8%) of unauthorized immigrants in its state population.

Unauthorized immigrants make up 5.1% of the U.S. labor force.

In the U.S. labor force, there were 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants either working or looking for work in 2012. Among the states, Nevada (10%), California (9%), Texas (9%) and New Jersey (8%) had the highest shares of unauthorized immigrants in their labor forces.

About 7% of K-12 students had at least one unauthorized immigrant parent in 2012.

Among these students, about eight-in-ten (79%) were born in the U.S. In Nevada, almost one-in-five students (18%) have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent, the largest share in the nation. Other top states on this measure are California (13%), Texas (13%) and Arizona (11%).


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