Posted on October 22, 2020

Immigrant Population Growth Slows

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies, October 22, 2020

Recently released Census Bureau data from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) shows the number of immigrants (legal and illegal), referred to by the Census Bureau as the “foreign-born”, grew more slowly from 2017 to 2019 than in prior years. {snip} The lower level of net migration likely reflects efforts by the Trump administration to enforce immigration laws and other changes. The new ACS numbers show immigration through mid-2019 and are therefore unaffected by Covid-19.

Among the key findings in the new data:

    • In the first two years of the Trump administration (2017 to 2019), growth in the immigrant population (legal and illegal) averaged only about 200,000 a year, in contrast to 650,000 a year from 2010 to 2017. {snip}
    • The data released so far indicates that net migration among immigrants — the difference between the number of immigrants coming vs. those leaving — averaged 525,000 a year between 2017 and 2019, compared to about 953,000 a year between 2010 and 2017. {snip}
    • The slowdown in growth and net migration almost certainly reflects policy changes rather than a deterioration in the economy, as unemployment was low and job creation reasonably strong from 2017 to 2019. Covid-19 did not have an impact until 2020.
    • The slowdown in growth is entirely due to a decline in non-citizens in the country; the number of naturalized citizens continues to grow. This is probably an indication that some illegal immigrants left or fewer arrived, primarily from Mexico. It may also indicate that more long-term visitors are headed home instead of overstaying their visas. {snip}


  • While the ACS data only shows population trends through July 1, 2019, the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a much smaller survey, does show the immigrant population continued to decline through August 2020.{snip}
  • Trump administration policies that may have caused the slowdown include:8
    • A significant reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the country;
    • Requiring immigrant self-sufficiency through reform of the public charge rules;
    • Modest administrative changes that may have had a cumulative effect;9
    • Agreements with Mexico and Central American countries to offer safe haven to people seeking asylum;
    • Increased barriers and fencing at the border;
    • More worksite enforcement against illegal workers and some employers; and
    • Efforts to end TPS and DACA, which may have increased out-migration and/or discouraged new illegal immigration.
  • Although the pace of increase has slowed down, the nation’s immigrant population still hit a new record of 44.9 million in July 2019, an increase of about 204,000 over 2018. {snip}
  • As a share of the U.S. population, immigrants (legal and illegal) comprised 13.7 percent in 2019, the highest percentage in 109 years. {snip}
  • In addition to immigrants, there were 17.1 million U.S.-born minor children with an immigrant parent in 2019, for a total of 62 million immigrants and their children in the country — accounting for about one in five U.S. residents.


  • The sending regions with the largest numerical increases 2010 to 2019 were South Asia (up 1.22 million); East Asia (up 1.16 million); Sub-Saharan Africa (up 767,000); the Caribbean (up 755,000); Central America (up 730,000); South America (up 650,000); and the Middle East (up 535,000).13 {snip}