Undocumented Population Estimates

Due to the difficulties derived from applying census and survey questions to unauthorized immigrants, there is not a definitive account of the size of this population. However, there is fairly reliable information available that is derived from estimates. The Hispanic Trends area of Pew Research Center utilized government data to generate an approximation that provides a better picture of unauthorized immigrants’ main characteristics and trends across time.

According to Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, in 2014 the number of undocumented immigrants in the country was 11.1 million. From roughly 3.5 million in 1990, the number of unauthorized immigrants increased at a fast pace, registering a peak of 12.2 million people in 2007. Since that year, and as a consequence of the Great Recession, the numbers have tended to stabilize around 11-11.5 million.

In terms of the immigrants’ respective countries of origin, by 2014, half of the population was originally from Mexico (5.8 million). However, since 2007, the number of people immigrating from Mexico has decreased while the number of immigrants from Asia, Central America and sub-Saharan Africa has increased.

In the vast majority of states, the population of unauthorized immigrants did not change between 2009 and 2014. The estimated population increased in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, New Jersey and Louisiana. In all states but Louisiana, the overall increase in the estimated population was due to the arrival of immigrants from countries other than Mexico. In the states where the undocumented population estimate declined (California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina), the change was due to a decline in the population of Mexican undocumented immigrants.

Another interesting finding is that the larger share of the unauthorized immigrant population is comprised of people that have been living in the U.S for 10 years or more (66%), which reflects a decline in the number of new undocumented immigrants, especially those immigrating from Mexico.


Daniela Oliva

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