Immigration Issues

How Many Illegal Immigrants? (2011)

FAIR estimates that in 2010 the illegal alien population is almost 12 million persons. Government and academic sources estimate the illegal immigrant population at about 11 million residents.

It is difficult to have an exact figure for the illegal alien population, because their illegal presence prevents any accurate enumeration, but all estimates coincide in the fact that the illegal alien population grew rapidly during the early part of the past decade by as much as half a million persons per year — before leveling off and declining slightly at the end of the decade.

Composition and Distribution of the Illegal Immigrant Population

 

In 2000, the INS absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 estimated the illegal alien population at 7 million. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the 2000 population of illegal aliens at about 8.7 million residents. By 2005 the DHS estimate had increased to 10.76 million and by 2007 to 11.78 million. The DHS estimate subsequently decreased as border control efforts increased and job opportunities decreased. In 2010 the DHS estimate of the illegal alien population was 10.79 million.

Another often cited estimate of the illegal alien population is from the Pew Hispanic Center, a research institute. Its estimates have been roughly similar to those of the DHS. For example, in 2005 the Pew estimate of the illegal alien population was 10.8 million increasing to 11.96 million in 2008 and then falling to 11.2 million in 2010.

FAIR’s estimate of the illegal alien population in 2007 was 13 million. Thus our estimates have paralleled those of DHS and Pew, but have been slightly higher. Our view is that the official estimate of the illegal alien population is understated because it excludes recently arrived illegal aliens and illegal aliens that have been given a temporary reprieve from deportation in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.

Other Estimates

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

In 2005, an independent estimate by analysts of the Bear-Stearns investment firm said the illegal immigrant population "...may be as high as 20 million people."1 This estimate dismissed lower official estimates as being flawed by the non-response of illegal immigrant to Census takers. However, this conclusion missed the fact that the official estimates were 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 immigrant 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 immigrants arriving each year.2 That estimate was based on a mistaken assumption that a million illegal immigrants were being apprehended each year and three times as many avoided apprehension. The actual number of persons apprehended was at that time considerably lower than one million because the same individual often may be apprehended multiple times during the year.

Nationality of Illegal Aliens

The nationalities of the illegal immigrant population in 2000 as estimated by DHS and the Census Bureau and in 2010 by DHS are as follow:

           2000 CB     2000 INS     2010 DHS   
   Mexico     3,871,912     4,808,000     6,640,000   
  El Salvador     336,717     189,000     620,000  
   Guatemala     238,977     144,000     520,000  
  Honduras     n/a     138,000     330,000  
   Philippines     155,239     85,000     280,000  
  India     200,306     70,000     200,000  
   Ecuador     105,197     108,000     180,000  
  Brazil     n/a     77,000     180,000  
   Korea     182,621     55,000     170,000  
  China     226,896     115,000     130,000  
   All others     3,387,556     1,211,000     1,550,000  
          8,705,421     7,000,000     10,800,000  

Although the 2000 estimates by nationality vary, they coincide in identifying Mexico as by far the largest source of the illegal alien population with Central American countries also primary sources for this population.

Distribution of Illegal Aliens by State

The following table shows estimates of the illegal immigrant population by state by DHS3 and the Pew Hispanic Center4 as well as the current estimates by FAIR. (Numbers are thousands).

  State     FAIR     Pew     DHS  
   Alabama     125     120           
  Alaska     10     <10          
   Arizona     390     400   470  
  Arkansas     55     55          
   California     2,635     2,550   2570  
  Colorado     195     180          
   Connecticut     120     120           
  Delaware     30     25          
   Washington DC     35     25           
  Florida     820     825   760  
   Georgia     450     425   460  
  Hawaii     30     40          
   Idaho     30     35           
  Illinois     550     525   490  
   Indiana     120     110           
  Iowa     65     75          
   Kansas     70     65           
  Kentucky     50     80          
   Louisiana     60     65           
  Maine     5     <10          
   Maryland     295     275           
  Massachusetts     190     160          
   Michigan     115     150           
  Minnesota     100     85          
   Mississippi     30     45           
  Missouri     60     55          
   Montana     5     <10           
  Nebraska     40     45          
   Nevada     200     190   260  
  N. Hampshire     15     15          
   N. Jersey     410     550   370  
  N. Mexico     100     85          
   N. York     750     625   460  
  N. Carolina     410     325   390  
   N. Dakota     5     <10           
  Ohio     110     100          
   Oklahoma     85     75           
  Oregon     170     160          
   Pennsylvania     180     160           
  Rhode Island     35     30          
   S. Carolina     70     55           
  S. Dakota     5     <10          
   Tennessee     120     140           
  Texas     1,810     1,650   1770  
   Utah     100     110           
  Vermont     5     <10          
   Virginia     260     210           
  Washington     275     230          
   W. Virginia     5     <10           
  Wisconsin     95     100          
   Wyoming     5     <10           
  Total     11,900     11,200   10,790  



  1. Robert Justich and Betty Ng, "The Underground Labor Force is Rising to the Surface," Bear Sterns, January 3, 2005.
  2. Barlett, Donald and James Steele, "Who Left the Door Open?," TIME Magazine, September 12, 2004.
  3. The estimates by DHS are provided only for the 10 states with the largest illegal alien populations.
  4. Pew Hispanic Center estimates of the illegal immigration population are stated as a range, e.g., California 2.35 million to 2.75 million as well as mid-point estimate, e.g. California 2.55 million.

Updated December 2011