Everything You Knew About Unauthorized Immigration Is Wrong: It’s Declining and Most People Have Lived Here for 15 Years or Longer

November 28, 2018, 12:14 AM UTC

Amid the hubbub of political divisions over immigration, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has dropped by 1.5 million since a peak in 2007 to 10.7 million in 2016, and is at the lowest level in 12 years, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

Nearly that entire difference is due to 1.5 million fewer Mexicans without authorization remaining in the country between 2007 and 2016. All other countries combined remain at their 2007 peak, just above 5 million. For context, lawful immigrants increased 22% in that period, or 6 million people, totalling 34.4 million by 2016.

Most of the people without authorization aren’t recent arrivals. The research, which relied on a variety of federal data through most of 2017, found that half of adults had been in the U.S. for 15 years. Most recent arrivals who remained without authorization in the U.S. likely arrived legally, typically with a legitimate visa, and overstayed the authorized period.

Only 20% of all unauthorized immigrants in 2016 had arrived in the previous five years, down from 32% in 2007.

On top of the lower numbers within the U.S., both border apprehensions and deportations have declined. People stopped after crossing the border have declined steadily from 1.7 million a year in 2000 to just over 300,000 in the fiscal year ending September 2017. Deportations peaked at 433,000 in 2013 under the Obama administration, and declined to above 300,000 annually by September 2016.

Most declines begin at the start or near the end of the George W. Bush administration, and with the exception of a brief increase in deportations under Barack Obama, have all continued to fall. Most data analyzed by Pew predates the Trump administration or its new policies.

The report also found that unauthorized immigrants are a declining portion of the U.S. workforce, dropping as both a percentage of all U.S. workers and in absolute numbers employed. Such immigrants dropped from a peak of 5.4% of the workforce in 2007 to 4.8% in 2016.

Even as the number of people in the U.S. without authorization has declined, the population of children living with such immigrants has increased—and the large majority were born in the U.S. and are thus legal residents, even if their parents aren’t.

In 2007, 4.5 million children under 18 lived with unauthorized immigrant parents in the U.S., and 1.5 million of that total were themselves unauthorized. By 2016, that total had risen to 5.6 million children under 18, but only 675,000 are here without authorization.

From 2007 to 2016, the percentage of unauthorized immigrant parents with at least one U.S.-born child in their household rose from 32% to 43%.