Border Crisis: Fourth in a series
With all the recent headlines about immigration it’s sometimes hard to separate truth from exaggeration. A recent report published by the Pew Research Center helps bring into focus the nature and numbers of immigrants — here legally and illegally — now residing in the United States.
The U.S. ranks No. 1 in the world for its share of immigrants with 44.4 million foreign-born residents (about 13.6% of the population) in 2017, the latest figures available. The immigrant population has nearly quadrupled since 1960, when 9.7 million immigrants represented 5.4% of the U.S. population.
Among the states California leads with 26.9% of its population being foreign-born. It’s followed by New Jersey and New York (tied at 22.8%), Florida (20.8%) and Nevada (19.8%). Immigrants in Alabama, by contrast, represent only 3.6% of the total population.
Where are these immigrants coming from? The countries change from year to year, driven by a complex array of social and economic factors. The origin countries of immigrants to the U.S. have shifted dramatically over the past half-century, Pew reports.
What does a typical immigrant in the U.S. look like? Here are some statistics gleaned from Pew research and U.S. Census data.
- Most are settled: 72.2% have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years.
- Most earn a decent income: 66% are employed and the median annual household income is $56,000 (compared with $61,372 among all U.S. households).
- A relatively small percentage of immigrants are poor: 15.2% live in poverty (compared to 12.3% of all U.S. citizens).
- Many speak the language: 52.2% speak English proficiently.
- They are educated: 31.2% have earned a bachelor’s degree or more (compared to 33.4% nationwide).
- Nearly half — 49.4% — are U.S. citizens.
Almost a quarter of current U.S. immigrants are considered unauthorized, or “illegal,” a number including those under temporary legal protection from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and pending asylum cases.
A total of 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants were in the U.S. in 2017, according to Pew, or about 3.2% of the total U.S. population.
Despite the current political focus on illegal crossings of the U.S.–Mexico border the majority of illegal immigrants in the U.S. arrived legally by air and overstayed their temporary visas. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) reports that 62% of the unauthorized immigrants in 2016 were overstays.
CMS points out that the number of unauthorized immigrants has substantially fallen — from 11.7 million in 2010 to 10.7 million in 2017.
“The sharpest declines occurred among undocumented Mexican migrants,” CMS reports. “At the same time the number of Central American migrants crossing the border without inspection has increased markedly as tens of thousands of women and children in particular flee violence in their home countries.
“Yet visa overstayers still account for most of the new undocumented immigrants who join the U.S. population each year. Most visa overstayers come from Mexico, India, China, Venezuela and the Philippines,” CMS reports.
Mexicans still top the U.S. unauthorized population, but between 2010 and 2017 their numbers decreased by 20%, according to CMS. During the same period unauthorized immigration from Venezuela increased 124% and from India, 72%.
The top origin countries and regions for the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population are, according to Pew researchers:
- Mexico — 4.95 million
- Central America — 1.9 million
- Asia — 1.45 million
- South America — 775,000
- Europe and Canada — 500,000
- Caribbean — 475,000
- Africa — 250,000
- Middle East — 130,000
The typical unauthorized immigrant adult has lived in the U.S. for 15 years, Pew reports. They make up about 4.6% of the American labor force.
While many immigrants come to the U.S. for economic opportunities recent upticks in illegal immigration can be traced to political upheaval and violence in their home countries.
Fear of violence
“It is an outdated notion that people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are primarily looking for economic opportunity in the United States and therefore should wait in line for a visa,” writes Sarah Bermeo for the Brookings Institution. “For people fleeing these countries waiting for a visa can result in death, rape or forcible recruitment into crime.”
Doctors Without Borders and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are among the humanitarian organizations confirming that fear of violence in home countries is forcing many immigrants to find safe haven in the United States.