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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

How Many Illegal Aliens?

by Dan Stein of The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)

FAIR estimates that in 2007 the illegal alien population is above 13 million persons. Government and academic estimates indicate that as of 2006 there were 11 to 12 million illegal aliens living in the United States. The Center for Immigration Studies estimated the illegal alien population at 10 million as of November 2004.

It is difficult to have an exact figure because the illegal nature of their presence prevents any enumeration, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 8.7 million illegal aliens were here in 2000, and immigration officials estimate that the illegal alien population grows by as many as 500,000 every year.

Estimated Distribution of the Illegal Alien Population

The nationalities of the illegal alien population in the Census Bureau estimate and INS estimate for 2000 are as follow:

Region/Country

CB Est.

INS Est.

North and Central America

5,312,990

 

Mexico

3,871,912

4,808,000

Cuba

216,297

 

Dominican Republic

17,942

91,000

El Salvador

336,717

189,000

Guatemala

238,977

144,000

Canada

156,231

47,000

Haiti

48,003

76,000

Honduras

 

138,000

Jamaica

37,666

 

Trinidad & Tobago

44,178

 

Otr N&C America

345,067

 

South America

624,419

 

Argentina

35,958

 

Brazil

 

77,000

Colombia

174,786

141,000

Ecuador

105,197

108,000

Peru

68,174

61,000

Otr S America

240,304

 

Europe

1,113,683

 

France

36,477

 

Germany

113,327

 

Greece

15,507

 

Ireland

-2,233

 

Italy

62,456

 

Netherlands

17,885

 

Poland

92,684

 

Portugal

33,874

 

Spain

23,816

 

U.S.S.R. (incl. Est., Lat., Lith.)

344,877

 

United Kingdom

123,246

 

Yugoslavia

110,280

 

Other Europe

141,487

 

Asia

1,363,419

 

Middle East

114,818

 

Iran

30,823

 

Israel

24,372

 

Otr M E (incl. Afghanistan)

59,623

 

South & East Asia

1,248,601

 

China (incl. Taiwan)

226,886

115,000

India

200,306

70,000

Japan

118,357

 

Korea

182,621

55,000

Philippines

155,239

85,000

Otr S&E Asia

365,192

 

Africa

243,342

 

Oceania

47,568

 

Australia

16,777

 

Other Oceania

30,791

 

All Other

 

795,000

Total

8,705,421

7,000,000

The estimate by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issued in February 2003 put the number of resident illegal aliens at seven million (as of Jan. 2000), 4.8 million of whom were Mexican and 2.2 million of whom resided in California. That estimate included the annual rate of increase in the illegal alien population -- 350,000 with 73,200 (31.6%) of that annual increase taking up residence in California. So, by 2003, the illegal alien population would have increased to over eight million.

The method by which the INS arrived at this estimate was based on data collected as a result of the 1986 amnesty and then relied on Census data and INS legal immigration data and airline arrival/departure records for updating the estimate. The estimate included only aliens who continued to reside illegally in the United States for more than one year. Left out of the estimate were aliens doing seasonal work illegally in the United States and all aliens during the first year of overstaying the terms of an authorized nonimmigrant entry, as well groups of illegal alien residents who were issued work permits under programs such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

The 2000 Census, like all previous censuses, made no attempt to determine the immigration status of foreign-born residents. Nevertheless, the results of the Census did contribute to a re-evaluation of the size of the illegal alien population. Most analysts agree that the illegal alien population now numbers more than 10-11 million persons as is shown below.

The first estimates that challenged the INS estimates appeared from labor force researchers at Northeastern University.[1] They estimated in 2001 that the illegal alien population could be as large as 11 million. They later revised that estimate upward to 12 million.

The director of the Census Bureau, when asked about the much higher estimate of the illegal alien population agreed that the 2000 Census data indicated that the illegal alien estimate of the INS was too low, but did not offer a different estimate.

In the August 2001 issue of Demography, immigration researchers estimated the current total population of illegal aliens at 7.1 million, of whom 3.9 million were Mexicans. Also in August, a demographer at the Urban Institute issued an estimate that the illegal alien population was 8.5 million, with 4.5 million of them being Mexican.

The Census Bureau issued an estimate in January 2002 that the illegal alien population in 2000 was 8,705,421. That estimate was based on the discrepancy between the number of foreign-born residents and the number of legally admitted immigrants. Included in that number may be aliens residing in the United States under provisions that preclude their deportation, but who are not legal permanent residents, such as beneficiaries of Section 245(i) petitions, or asylees who have not been in the country long enough for adjustment of status, or Central American beneficiaries of the NACARA legislation. The Census Bureau estimate is preliminary and subject to modification after review of the methodology by interested parties.

An independent estimate by analysts of the bear-Stearns investment firm said the illegal alien population “…may be as high as 20 million people.”[2] This estimate dismisses lower official estimates as being flawed by the non-response of illegal alien to census takers. However, this conclusion misses the fact that the official estimates are instead based on a comparison between the growth in the foreign-born population and new legal immigrant arrivals. This allows the trend in the illegal alien population to be observed despite non-response in the Census.

TIME Magazine in a feature article in 2004 published an estimate of three million illegal aliens arriving each year.[3] However, that estimate was based on a mistaken assumption that a million illegal aliens are being apprehended each year and three times as many avoid apprehension. The actual number of persons apprehended is considerably lower than one million because the same individual often may be apprehended multiple times during the year.

The following table shows estimates of the illegal alien population by state by the INS, DHS[4] and the Pew Hispanic Center[5] as well as the current estimates by FAIR. (Numbers are thousands).

State

INS'92

INS'96

INS'00

DHS'05

DHS'06

Pew'02-4

Pew'05

FAIR'07

Ala.

3

4

24

 

 

28

40

55

Aka.

2

4

5

 

 

5

5

10

Ariz.

95

115

283

480

500

500

425

475

Ark.

4

5

27

 

 

28

40

50

Cal.

1,600

2,000

2,209

2,770

2,830

2,400

2,625

3,470

Col.

35

45

144

 

 

225

250

270

Ct.

22

29

39

 

 

70

85

115

Del.

2

3

7

 

 

28

23

20

D.C.

21

30

10

 

 

28

25

35

Fla.

270

350

337

850

980

850

863

810

Ga.

26

32

228

470

490

225

400

440

Hi.

6

9

2

 

 

28

28

30

Idaho

12

16

19

 

 

28

35

35

Ill.

220

290

432

520

550

400

400

775

Ind.

11

14

45

 

 

70

70

110

Iowa

5

6

24

 

 

70

70

55

Kans.

15

20

47

 

 

70

55

90

Ky.

5

6

15

 

 

28

45

40

La.

18

22

5

 

 

28

35

25

Maine

2

3

3

 

 

5

5

5

Md.

33

44

56

 

 

225

250

150

Mass.

65

85

87

 

 

225

200

250

Mich.

28

37

70

 

 

125

125

200

Minn.

6

7

60

 

 

70

88

125

Miss.

3

4

8

 

 

28

40

20

Mo.

12

16

22

 

 

70

50

65

Mont.

1

1

2

 

 

5

5

5

Neb.

6

8

24

 

 

28

45

45

Nev.

19

24

101

240

 

125

175

170

N.H.

2

2

2

 

 

5

20

15

N.J.

105

135

221

380

430

350

388

490

N.M.

29

37

39

 

 

70

63

70

N.Y.

410

540

489

560

540

650

600

1,110

N.C.

20

22

206

360

370

300

350

385

N.D.

1

1

2

 

 

5

5

5

Ohio

18

23

40

 

 

125

111

115

Okla.

17

21

46

 

 

70

63

85

Ore.

27

33

90

 

 

125

150

170

Pa.

27

37

49

 

 

125

150

140

R.I.

9

12

16

 

 

28

30

35

S.C.

4

5

36

 

 

28

55

75

S.D.

1

1

2

 

 

5

5

5

Tenn.

10

13

46

 

 

125

125

100

Texas

530

700

1,041

1,360

1,640

1,400

1,500

1,740

Utah

13

15

65

 

 

70

83

125

Vt.

2

3

2

 

 

5

5

5

Va.

42

55

103

 

 

225

275

205

Wash.

42

52

136

 

280

225

225

255

W.V.

2

2

2

 

 

5

5

5

Wis.

6

8

41

 

 

125

93

90

Wyo.

1

2

2

 

 

5

5

5

Total

3,865

4,947

7,013

10,760

11,550

10,080

10,803

13,175

Amnesty proposals for granting legal residence to these illegal aliens take various forms, and the number of proposed beneficiaries vary depending on the proposal. For example, in the 1986 general amnesty, illegal aliens other than those in agricultural work were eligible only if they had been living in the United States for four years (since 1982). Thus, the nearly three million beneficiaries did not include illegal aliens who had arrived during the previous four years (unless they presented fraudulent evidence of having arrived earlier, as many of them did).

Although the number of illegal aliens in the country can only be estimated, and it is unclear what form currently proposed amnesty provisions might take, it is safe from the above analysis to conclude that any new amnesty would likely involve as many as four times as many illegal aliens as benefited from the 1986 amnesty.


Endnotes

[1]"Feds Undercount Illegal Aliens," NewsMax.com, (March 16, 2001).

[2] Robert Justich and Betty Ng, “The Underground Labor Force is Rising to the Surface,” Bear Sterns, January 3, 2005.

[3]Barlett, Donald and James Steele, ”Who Left the Door Open?,” TIME Magazine, September 12, 2004.

[4]The most recent estimates by DHS only show the estimate for the 10 states with the largest illegal alien population

[5] Pew Hispanic Center estimates of the illegal immigration population are stated as a range, e.g., California 2.5 million to 2.75 million.  The chart shows the mid-point of the estimate, e.g. California 2.625 million.


About The Author

Dan Stein is the Executive Director of The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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