A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States

Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Hispanic Center, April 14, 2009

Unauthorized immigrants living in the United States are more geographically dispersed than in the past and are more likely than either U.S. born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children. In addition, a growing share of the children of unauthorized immigrant parents–73%–were born in this country and are U.S. citizens.

These are among the key findings of a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, which builds on previous work estimating the size and growth of the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population. A 2008 report by the Center estimated that 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States; it concluded that the undocumented immigrant population grew rapidly from 1990 to 2006 but has since stabilized. In this new analysis, the Center estimates that the rapid growth of unauthorized immigrant workers also has halted; it finds that there were 8.3 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. labor force in March 2008.

Based on March 2008 data collected by the Census Bureau, the Center estimates that unauthorized immigrants are 4% of the nation’s population and account for 5.4% of its workforce. Their children, both those who are unauthorized immigrants themselves and those who are U.S. citizens, make up 6.8% of the students enrolled in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

About three-quarters (76%) of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants are Hispanic. The majority of undocumented immigrants (59%) are from Mexico. Significant regional sources of unauthorized immigrants include Asia (11%), Central America (11%), South America (7%), the Caribbean (4%) and the Middle East (less than 2%).

These estimates are based mainly on data from March Current Population Surveys, conducted by the Census Bureau, through 2008, augmented with legal status assignments and adjusted to compensate for undercount; some estimates are from the 1990 and 2000 Censuses. For more details, see the report’s Methodology appendix.

View the full report.

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