The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition
By the CAP Immigration Team and Michael D. Nicholson
Introduction and summary
Immigration has long supported the growth and dynamism of the U.S. economy. Immigrants and refugees are entrepreneurs,
job creators, taxpayers, and consumers. They add trillions of dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, and their
economic importance will only increase in the coming decades as America’s largest generation—the baby boomers—retires
en masse, spurring labor demand and placing an unprecedented burden on the social safety net. Still, additional benefits to
the U.S. economy and society more broadly could be obtained through legislative reforms designed to modernize the U.S.
immigration system and provide unauthorized immigrants in the country today with a path to citizenship.
Nevertheless, despite the positive impacts of immigrants on the United States’ economy and society, the tenor of the new
administration threatens to move the United States to a more restrictionist policy environment. Increased immigration
enforcement—as well as potential restrictions on legal immigration and refugee resettlement—will impose fiscal costs on
taxpayers and threaten immigrants, their families, and their communities across the country. Stepping up detentions and
deportations will not only cost taxpayers billions of dollars but will also break apart families and place vulnerable individuals—
such as survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States, as well as women and children fleeing
violence in their homelands—in peril.
Below are the latest and most essential facts about immigrants and immigration reform in the nation today. The facts are
broken down into the following sections:
Today’s immigrant population
Demographics and political power of new Americans
Immigrants and the economy
The state of the border and interior enforcement
State and local immigration laws
Public opinion on immigration
Recent developments: new executive orders on immigration
Today’s immigrant population
Approximately 43.3 million foreign-born people live in the United States. Broken down by immigration status, the foreign-born
population includes 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.6 million noncitizens. Of the noncitizens,7 approximately 13.1
million are lawful permanent residents, 11.1 million* are unauthorized migrants, and 1.7 million hold temporary visas.
The number of foreign-born individuals in the U.S. population has more than quadrupled since 1965 and is expected to reach
78 million by 2065. At just 9.6 million in 1965, foreign-born individuals represented 5 percent of the U.S. population. By 2015,
immigrants made up 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population. Still, today’s share of the immigrant population as a percentage
of the total U.S. population remains below its peak in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the U.S. population had immigrated to the
The countries of origin of today’s immigrants are more diverse than they were 50 years ago. In 1960, a full 75 percent of the
foreign-born population residing in the United States was from Europe, while in 2015, only 11.1 percent of the immigrant
population was born in Europe. In 2015, 11.6 million foreign-born residents—26.9 percent of the foreign-born population—
were from Mexico; 2.7 million immigrants were from China; 2.4 million were from India; 2 million were from the Philippines;
1.4 million were from El Salvador; 1.3 million were from Vietnam; 1.2 million were from Cuba; and 1.1 million each were from
the Dominican Republic and South Korea.
More Mexican immigrants are returning home than arriving in the United States. From 2009 to 2014, 1 million immigrants
returned to Mexico while 870,000 arrived in the United States. This decline can be attributed to a drop of unauthorized Mexican
immigrants, which peaked in 2007 at 6.9 million.
Immigrants today are putting down roots across the United States, in contrast to trends seen 50 years ago. In the 1960s, two-
thirds of U.S. states had populations in which less than 5 percent of individuals were foreign-born. From 2000 to 2014, the
foreign-born population in the South increased 60 percent, accounting for 47 percent of overall change to the U.S. population.
Additionally, the Northeast, Midwest, and West had increases of between 25 percent and 35 percent during this time period,
accounting respectively for 16 percent, 10 percent, and 26 percent of the change to the overall U.S. population.
Today, women outnumber men in the foreign-born population. Until the 1960s, immigrant men outnumbered immigrant
women. However, by the 1970s, the number of female immigrants had surpassed the number of male immigrants. In 2015,
51.4 percent of the U.S. immigrant population was female and 48.6 percent was male.
As of 2013, there were almost 1 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, adult immigrants in the United
States. The estimated 904,000 LGBT adult immigrants are more likely to be young and male compared with the overall
More than half of the foreign-born population are homeowners. In 2015, 50.7 percent of immigrant heads of household owned
their own homes, compared with 65.2 percent of U.S.-born heads of household. Homeownership rates are comparable
between native-born and naturalized immigrants, 64.6 percent of whom owned their own homes in 2015.
Immigrants are becoming homeowners at a faster rate than the U.S.-born population. From 1994 to 2015, immigrant
homeownership rose 2.3 percentage points while U.S.-born homeownership remained flat. Jacob Vigdor of the University of
Washington estimates that immigrants contribute $3.7 trillion to housing markets nationwide.
Fewer than 1 in 5 immigrants live in poverty. In 2015, the poverty rate for immigrants was 17.3 percent, compared with 14.3
percent for the U.S.-born population.
Working-class, immigrant-headed households with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line rely less on
public benefits and social services than comparable U.S-born households. In 2015, working-class, immigrant-headed
households with children received 9.3 percent of their overall income from public programs such as the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program and Social Security, in comparison with U.S.-born-headed households, which received 15
percent of their income from such programs. Research consistently shows that working-class immigrants use social
programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income at similar or lower rates than native-born households.
As immigrants and their descendants integrate into American society, many aspects of their lives improve. Their education
outcomes increase, they move to higher paying jobs, and they earn more money. Immigrant men have higher employment
rates than U.S.-born men, and their wages rise the longer they are in the United States. On average, children of immigrants
meet or exceed the educational attainment of third-plus generation natives. These children earn even higher wages,
experience greater upward mobility in their professions, and are less likely to live in poverty than their parents.
The 20 million adult U.S.-born children of immigrants have higher incomes than their parents. The median annual household
income of second-generation Americans in 2012 was $58,100, just $100 below the national average. This is substantially
higher than the median annual household income of their parents at $45,800.
Compared with all Americans, U.S.-born children of immigrants are more likely to go to college, less likely to live in
poverty, and equally likely to be homeowners. Thirty-six percent of U.S.-born children of immigrants are college graduates—
5 percent above the national average. Eleven percent of adult U.S.-born children of immigrants live in poverty—below the
national average of 13 percent—and 64 percent are homeowners, 1 percent below the national average.
Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population. A 2017 study by the Cato
Institute found that the 2014 incarceration rate for immigrants—both authorized and unauthorized—ages 18 to 54 was
considerably lower than that of the U.S.-born population. While the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 11.1
percent to 13.5 percent from 2000 to 2015, FBI data indicate that violent crime rates across the country fell 16 percent, while
property crime rates fell 21 percent during the same time period.
Unauthorized immigrant population
In recent years, the unauthorized population has declined slightly after continued growth for decades. In 2014, there were an
estimated 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants residing in the United States. This population reached a high of 12.2 million
in 2007 but saw a gradual decline during the Great Recession.
Mexicans account for half of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States, but the unauthorized Mexican population is
declining. In 2014, 5.8 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico resided in the United States, compared with 6.4 million in
2009 and 6.9 million in 2007. From 1980 to 2014, the number of Mexican legal residents in the United States grew faster than
their unauthorized counterparts.
Unauthorized immigrants are increasingly entering the United States legally and overstaying visas rather than crossing the
border. In 2014, 42 percent of the unauthorized population—around 4.5 million individuals—were visa overstayers. Two-thirds
of new unauthorized arrivals in 2014 entered the United States on legal nonimmigrant visas and overstayed their visas’ validity
period. Visa overstays have exceeded unauthorized border crossings every year from 2007 through 2014, and, over this
period, a total of 600,000 more individuals overstayed visas than entered the United States by crossing the border. According
to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, the three largest source countries of visa overstayers are Canada,
Mexico, and Brazil.
Six states are home to the majority of the unauthorized population. As of 2014, 21 percent of the nation’s unauthorized
population lived in California; 15 percent lived in Texas; 8 percent lived in Florida; 7 percent lived in New York; 5 percent lived
in New Jersey; and 4 percent lived in Illinois.
The majority of unauthorized immigrants are long-term residents of the United States. In 2014, the median length of residence
for unauthorized immigrants in the United States was 13.6 years—more than double its length in 2000. In 2014, 66 percent of
unauthorized immigrants had been living in the United States for 10 years or longer.
Many unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face
lengthy bars to re-entry if they leave. 3 million unauthorized immigrants could qualify for a green card by virtue of having a close
relative who is a U.S. citizen, but they are unable to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident from within the country
because they have never been admitted or paroled into the country. Leaving the United States in order to obtain an immigrant
visa abroad would trigger lengthy re-entry bars of three or 10 years that were put in place in 1996, so many remain in
unauthorized status today.
Unauthorized immigrants are often part of the same family as authorized immigrants and native-born Americans. There are 7
million people living in mixed-status families—those with at least one unauthorized immigrant—including 9.6 million adults
and 5.9 million children who are U.S. citizens.
Unauthorized immigrants are overrepresented in the labor force relative to the size of the overall population. In 2015, 7 million
unauthorized immigrants worked in the United States. They represented 4.9 percent of the U.S. labor force, although they
comprised only 3.5 percent of the U.S. population.
There are more than a quarter of a million LGBT unauthorized adult immigrants in the United States. The estimated 267,000
LGBT unauthorized adult immigrants—as of 2013—are younger and more likely to be male relative to all unauthorized
immigrants. Around 71 percent of LGBT unauthorized adults are Hispanic, and 15 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander.
As of September 2016, more than 752,000 young people have received work permits and a reprieve from deportation through
the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative launched by the Obama administration in 2012.44 They make up
less than half of the estimated 1.7 million young people eligible to apply as of 2016.
Two parts of the November 2014 executive actions on immigration would have offered an additional 3.9 million unauthorized
immigrants temporary reprieve from deportation and permission to work legally in the United States. The Deferred Action for
Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, initiative would have shielded 3.5 million unauthorized
immigrants with U.S.-born children, and a proposed expansion to DACA would have permitted an additional 330,000 young
adults to apply. These initiatives are currently on hold after the Supreme Court deadlocked, failing to lift an injunction issued by
a federal district court in Texas and affirmed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
More than 6.1 million U.S. citizens live with unauthorized family members who would be eligible for reprieve under DAPA.
While DAPA is on hold, the DAPA-eligible family members of these citizens remain vulnerable to deportation
Demographics and political power of new Americans
The Asian American population is growing faster than the Latino population
While the Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities grew at the same rate during the 2000s, the Asian
American and Pacific Islander community grew by a larger share from 2010 to 2015. In 2015, 17.6 percent of people—56.5
million—in the United States were Latino, and 5.5 percent—17 million—were Asian American or Pacific Islander. Both groups
grew 44 percent from 2000 to 2010. From 2010 to 2015, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community grew 17 percent,
compared with 11 percent growth of the Latino community.
Latinos and Asian Americans have overwhelmingly supported Democrats in the past two elections
President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 with the support of 71 percent of Latino voters and 73 percent of Asian
American voters.50 Obama’s support for comprehensive immigration reform and the Development, Relief, and Education for
Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act of 2010 helped draw in many Latino and Asian American voters.
Latino and Asian American voters largely supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump in
the 2016 election. Seventy-nine percent of Latino voters supported Clinton and 18 percent supported Trump. Asian Americans
voted similarly, with 79 percent supporting Clinton and 17 percent supporting Trump.
The fast-paced growth of the Latino electorate and the slow or negative growth among non-Hispanic whites will change the
voter makeup in the United States by 2020. By then, eligible Latino voters are predicted to make up 14 percent of the
electorate, up from 12 percent in 2014. Eligible white voters are projected to decline from 70 percent of the electorate in 2014
to 66 percent in 2020.
Much of the growth in the number of Latino eligible voters can be attributed to the relative youth of the Latino population. In
2016, 44 percent of Latino eligible voters were Millennials.55 The median age of the Latino population in 2014 was 28, and 47
percent of the U.S.-born Latino population was under 18.56 Between 2008 and 2016, 3.2 million Latinos turned 18 and
became eligible to vote.
Millions of lawful permanent residents are eligible to become U.S. citizens and vote. A total of 8.5 million* lawful permanent
residents, or green card holders, were eligible for naturalization as of January 2014.58 In 2015, nearly 730,000 people
naturalized and became eligible to vote. Barriers to naturalization, including the $680 application fee, effectively deny many
residents the chance to become U.S. citizens and exercise their right to vote.
A partial naturalization fee waiver introduced by the Obama administration in 2016 could help 1 million individuals become
citizens. This U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, rule reduces naturalization application fees to $320 for
individuals with a family income between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines—that is, between
$36,450 and $48,600 annually for a family of four. An estimated 1 million individuals, or 12 percent of those eligible to
naturalize, are eligible for this partial fee waiver.
Immigrants and the economy
The economic impact of immigrants
Immigrants added an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2016.62 Immigrants are overrepresented in the labor force and
also boost productivity through innovation and entrepreneurship.
In 2010, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and their children. This includes 90
companies founded by immigrants and 114 companies founded by children of immigrants. These companies employ more
than 10 million people worldwide.
Over the long run, the net fiscal impact of immigration is positive. From 2011 to 2013, children of immigrants contributed
$1,700 per person to state and local budgets, and immigrants’ grandchildren contributed another $1,300. Across three
generations, immigrants’ net contribution, per person, was $900.
Research shows that immigrants complement, rather than compete with, U.S.-born American workers—even lesser-skilled
workers. Researchers such as Ethan Lewis, Will Somerville, and Madeleine Sumption find that U.S.-born workers and
immigrants have different skill sets and tend to work in different jobs and industries, even when they have similar educational
backgrounds. Immigrants tend to complement the skill sets of American workers, thus enhancing their productivity.
The impact of immigration on the wages of U.S.-born individuals is small but positive over the long run. Economist Heidi
Shierholz estimates that from 1994 to 2007, immigration increased average wages of U.S.-born individuals 0.4 percent, or
$3.68 per week.68 Immigrants consume goods and services, creating jobs for natives and other immigrants alike. These
results are consistent with those of other studies by economists such as David Card, Gianmarco Ottaviano, and Giovanni Peri.
Immigration also appears to have a minimal impact on average African American wages and employment. The work of
scholars such as Lonnie Stevans, Robert LaLonde, Robert Topel, Franklin Wilson, Gerald Jaynes, and David Card suggests
that immigration had little effect on the wages and employment of African American men between 1960 and 2010, regardless
of their level of education.
As Baby Boomers retire en masse over the next 20 years, immigrants will be crucial to filling these job openings and
promoting growth of the labor market. From 2020 to 2030, 7 million U.S.-born individuals, on net, are expected to leave the
labor force. 2 million immigrants and 6.9 million children of immigrants are projected to join the labor force during the same
period.72 Looking further, from 2015 to 2065, immigrants and their descendants are expected to account for 88 percent of U.
S. population growth. As such, immigrants and their children will be critical both in replacing retiring workers—preventing
labor market contraction—and also in meeting the demands of the future economy.
The price of inaction and the cost of mass deportation
Unauthorized immigrants contribute significantly to Social Security and Medicare. In 2010, unauthorized immigrants paid $13
billion into Social Security and received only $1 billion in services—a net contribution of $12 billion. Further, from 2000 to 2011,
unauthorized immigrants paid $35.1 billion more into Medicare than they withdrew.
Unauthorized immigrants pay an estimated $11.7 billion a year in state and local taxes. This includes more than $7 billion in
sales and excise taxes, $3.6 billion in property taxes, and nearly $1.1 billion in personal income taxes. Granting all
unauthorized immigrants legal status would boost their tax contributions an additional $2.2 billion per year. Immigrants—even
legal immigrants—pay to support many of the benefits they are statutorily barred from receiving.
The DACA initiative has resulted in big economic gains. DACA increased recipients’ average hourly wages 42 percent, and
many moved into jobs with better pay and working conditions. A further 6 percent started their own businesses. With better
jobs and higher wages, many individuals are buying cars and homes, leading to more state and local revenue in the form of
property and sales taxes.
Ending DACA and kicking recipients out of the labor force would cost the United States $433.4 billion in GDP and decrease
Social Security and Medicare contributions by $24.6 billion over the next decade.79 As of November 2016, 645,000 DACA
recipients are employed. Through this employment, DACA has broadened the payroll tax base, increasing Social Security and
Legislative reform that includes a path to citizenship would create extensive economic benefits. Such reform would increase
the GDP $1.2 trillion over 10 years and create 145,000 jobs annually. Americans’ income would increase by a cumulative
Immigration reform would translate into a significant decrease in the federal budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional
Budget Office found that S. 744—the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which
passed in the Senate—would have reduced the budget deficit $135 billion in the first decade after the bill’s passage and an
additional $685 billion in the second decade, when most unauthorized immigrants would become eligible for citizenship.
By contrast, the removal of unauthorized immigrants from the workforce would lead to a 2.6 percent decline in GDP—an
average annual loss of $434 billion. Such a policy would reduce the GDP $4.7 trillion over 10 years. Mass deportation would
additionally cost the federal government nearly $900 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. Further, industries could lose large
shares of their workforces, up to 18 percent for some.
Mass deportation of unauthorized workers would create income losses for large and important industries such as financial
activities, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade. Annual long-run GDP losses in those industries would reach $54.3
billion, $73.8 billion, and $64.9 billion, respectively.
If mass deportation of unauthorized workers were to occur, states with the most unauthorized workers would experience the
largest declines in GDP. California would lose an estimated $103 billion, or 5 percent, annually. Texas would lose $60 billion,
New York $40 billion, and New Jersey $26 billion.
Mass deportation of the unauthorized immigrant population would also cost the federal government billions of dollars.
Deporting the entire unauthorized population would cost $114 billion over 20 years—an average of $10,070 per person
removed—including the costs of detaining these individuals while they wait for removal, processing them through the
immigration courts, and transporting them abroad.
To be continued ....