Washington DC


Immigration Facts
Summary Demographic State Data (and Source)
Population (2012 CB est.) 632,323
Population (2000 CB est.) 572,059
Foreign-Born Population (2012 CB est.) 90,323
Foreign-Born Population (2000 CB est.) 73,561
Share Foreign-Born (2012) 14.3 %
Share Foreign-Born (2000) 12.3%
Naturalized U.S. Citizens (2012 CB est.): 201,312
Share Naturalized (2012) 39.8 %
Legal Immigrant Admission (DHS 2001 – 2012) 27,629
Refugee Admission (HHS 2000 – 2012) 4,549
Illegal Alien Population (2010 FAIR est.) 35,000
Costs of Illegal Aliens (2009 FAIR) $311,914,509
Projected 2050 Population (2006 FAIR) 835,000

State Population

According to the Census Bureau, the population of Washington DC in 2012 was 632,323 residents.

Between 2000 (population 572,059) and 2012, the state's average annual population change was 4,920 residents. That was an annual average change of 0.8 percent. The comparable national annual rate of change was 0.9 percent.

Between 1990 (population 606,900) and 2000, the state's annual average population change was -3,484 residents. The annual average rate of change was -0.6 percent compared to the national rate of change of 1.2 percent.

Foreign-Born Population

According to the Census Bureau the foreign-born population of Washington DC was about 90,323 persons in 2012. This estimate meant a foreign-born population share of 14.3 percent. The chart above shows the long-term change in the state's foreign-born population based on Census Bureau data.

Foreign-Born Change

Between 2000 and 2012 the Census Bureau estimate indicates an average annual rate of change in the foreign-born population of about 1,368 people, compared to the state's annual average population change of about 4,920  people. That is a 27.8  percent share of the state's population change (not including the children born in the United States to illegal aliens). The foreign-born population grew by 22.8 percent between 2000 and 2012.

Immigration also contributes to population growth through the U.S.-born children of immigrants. Nationally the share of births to the foreign-born is about double their share of the population. A 28.6 percent share of the state's current births is large enough to account for about 2,525 births a year. Combining the average increase in the foreign-born population and estimated immigrant births suggests that immigration may account for about 3,895 persons added to the state's population annually, i.e., nearly 79.2 percent of the state's overall population increase.

As of 2012 about 55.1 percent of Washington DC's foreign-born population had arrived in the state since 2000. This compares with the national average 40.9 percent. In 2000, 51.0 percent of the state's foreign-born population that had arrived since the previous Census.

Foreign-Born Characteristics

An indicator of the change in Washington DC's immigrant population may be seen in data on the share of the population over five years of age that speaks a language other than English at home. Between 2000 and 2012, the share of non-English speakers changed from 16.8 percent to 16.6 percent. In 2000, 42.3 percent of those persons in also said they spoke English less than very well. In the 2012 estimate, the share was 34.4 percent that spoke English less than very well. In 2012 Spanish speakers were 47.9 percent of those who spoke other than English at home, and 57.0 percent of those who spoke English less than very well.

The chart above shows the regional composition of the state's foreign-born population and how it has changed from between 2000 and 2012.


Census Bureau data in 2012 indicate that 201,312 residents of Washington DC, or 39.8 percent of the foreign-born population in Washington DC, were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared to 22,050 residents, or 30 percent, in 2000.

Nationally, 40.3 percent of the foreign-born population was naturalized in 2000, and 45.8 percent in 2012.

Net International Migration (NIM)

Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), the Census Bureau estimated that between 2000 and 2012, the change in Washington DC's population resulting from net international migration has been about 5,370 people. It was 32.4 percent of total change (not including the children born to the immigrants after their arrival in the United States). 1   The remainder was due to net domestic migration and natural change (births minus deaths).


  1. A negative percentage results when there was an overall population decrease. A percentage greater than 100 percent results when domestic migration is negative, i.e, a net loss from interstate migration.

Immigrant Admissions

Recent "green card" recipients who intend to reside in Washington DC were -8 percent above admissions just after adoption of the current immigration system in 1965. During the 1965 to 1969 period, annual admissions averaged about 3,056 persons. During the most recent five years, annual admissions averaged about 2,804 persons. Immigrant admissions data are from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

The chart above shows recent immigrant admissions and the cumulative amount of immigrant admissions since FY'65. The cumulative total of immigrant admissions to Washington DC between fiscal years 1965 and 2012 has been 148,549 persons.

The data for fiscal years 1989-91 were artificially raised by the inclusion of former illegal aliens who were amnestied in 1986. According to INS data (1991) the number of amnesty applicants from Washington DC was 6,032 (4,570 pre-1982 residents and 1,462 agricultural workers). These data were published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and reported in "Report on the Legalized Alien Population," March 1992.

Admissions by Nationality: FY'96 - FY'05

The table below furnishes INS data by nationality on the immigrants who were admitted for residence in Washington DC between 1996 and 2005.

The INS data are for nationals of the countries with the largest number of immigrants admitted or adjusted to legal residence each year since 1996. The absence of data means that the total number of admissions to the United States by nationals of that country was not enough to merit detailed reporting in that year.

The Department of Homeland Security website has detailed data on immigrant admissions since FY'03 by year and by source country and intended state of residence. (See http://www.dhs.gov/files/statistics/publications/yearbook.shtm) then select the desired year, click Legal Permanent Residents, data and then select "supplemental table 1."

Chart of Immigrant Admission by Fiscal Year


Washington DC has received 4,549 refugees over the most recent ten fiscal years including 14 refugees in fiscal year 2012. The chart above shows the annual admissions over the last ten years and the cumulative total of those admissions using data complied by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. government program that distributes new refugees among the states is the only immigration program that provides state governments the opportunity to participate in deciding how many newcomers will come to that state each year.

Illegal Aliens

Washington DC Fiscal Costs
Due to Illegal Aliens
           ($M) (Pct.)
K-12 educ. $153.20 49.1%
LEP educ. $32.90 10.5%
Medicaid+ $12.60 4.0%
SCHIP $6.00 1.9%
Justice $31.10 10.0%
Welfare+ $27.30 8.8%
General $48.90 15.7%
Total $311.90  
Tax receipts $7.90  
Net Cost $304.00  
Source: "The State Cost Studies"

FAIR Estimate - FAIR estimates the illegal alien population of Washington DC as of 2010 was about 35,000 persons. This is part of an overall estimate of the U.S. illegal alien population of about 11,900,000 persons.

DHS Estimate - The current estimate by DHS of the illegal alien population in Washington DC was n/a in 2012. The DHS estimate is available for only the 10 states with the largest illegal alien populations. The DHS estimate of the national illegal alien population in 2012 was 11,430,000.

Other Estimates - The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the illegal alien population of the state at 25,000 as of 2010.

Fiscal Cost of Illegal Aliens

FAIR's most recent estimate of the cost outlays due to illegal immigration and tax receipts from illegal aliens in Washington DC are as shown on the right:

Limited English Proficiency Students

Data are not available nationally on immigrant students (either legally or illegally resident in the United States) who are enrolled in primary and secondary schools (K-12). However, a large majority of these students enrolled in Limited English Proficiency/English Language Learning (LEP/ELL) instruction programs may be assumed to be children of either legal or illegal immigrants with a predominance of children of illegal aliens.

In Washington DC, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 ( 7,069) was 136.5 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier. By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 89.9 percent of enrollment a decade earlier.

Population Projection

FAIR projected Washington DC's population in 2050 likely would be between 794,000 million and 835,000 million with current levels of immigration. Alternatively, the population could be lower (630,000) if immigration were reduced to a level where it balanced the number of U.S. residents leaving to reside outside of the United states, i.e., zero-net immigration. See "Projecting the U.S. Population to 2050: Four Immigration Scenarios," FAIR 2006.

Foreign Students

Data compiled by the Institute of International Education (IIE) record the number of foreign students attending post-secondary school in Washington DC as 9,232 in 2013.

The chart above illustrates the change in the number of foreign students attending school in Washington DC since 1997.

For information on foreign student issues see: Foreign Students in the United States.

Immigration Impact

Sanctuary Policies

City or County


Mayor’s Order 2011-174 (October 21, 2011)

  • “Public Safety Agencies and their officials and employees shall not inquire about a person’s immigration status or contact United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the purpose of initiating civil enforcement of immigration proceedings that have no nexus to a criminal investigation. It shall be the policy of Public Safety Agencies not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, or others who call or approach the police seeking assistance.”
  • “No person shall be detained solely on the belief that he or she is not present legally in the United States or that he or she has committed a civil immigration violation. The Department of Corrections shall not send lists of foreign-born inmates to the Department of Homeland Security.”

Amicus Brief (March 23, 2012)

  • Washington joined an amicus curiae brief that urged the Supreme Court to strike down provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070.

D.C. Code § 24-211.07, District compliance with federal immigration detainers (August 8, 2012)

  • “Upon written request by an ICE agent to detain a District of Columbia inmate for suspected violations of federal civil immigration law, the District shall exercise discretion regarding whether to comply with the request and may comply only if: (1) There exists a prior written agreement with the federal government by which all costs incurred by the District in complying with the ICE detainer shall be reimbursed; and (2) The individual sought to be detained:(A) Is 18 years of age or older; and (B) Has been convicted of: (i) A dangerous crime as defined in § 23-1331(3) or a crime of violence as defined in § 23-1331(4), for which he or she is currently in custody; (ii) A dangerous crime as defined in § 23-1331(3) or a crime of violence as defined in § 23-1331(4) within 10 years of the detainer request, or was released after having served a sentence for such dangerous crime or crime of violence within 5 years of the request, whichever is later; or (iii) A crime in another jurisdiction which if committed in the District of Columbia would qualify as an offense listed in § 23-1331(3) or (4); provided, that the conviction occurred within 10 years of the detainer request or the individual was released after having served a sentence for such crime within 5 years of the request, whichever is later.”

Environmental and Quality of Life Profile

Crowded Housing: An estimated 6.883 of D.C.'s housing units are crowded (at least one person per room), or 2.7 percent of the District's total housing units. Of those, 2,980 are severely crowded, with 1.5 or more persons per room.1 Nationwide, children in immigrant families were three times as likely to live in crowded conditions as children in native families (27 percent to 9 percent).2

Poverty: D.C. is joined by two states as the only areas of the country in which natives are more likely to be in poverty than the foreign-born. About 12.7 percent of foreign born households were poor in 2007, compared to 17.0 percent of natives.  Another 8.4 percent of the foreign-born and 8.2 percent of native households were not in poverty but had incomes less than 1.5 times the poverty line.3

Air Quality: The District of Colombia received a grade of "F" from the American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2010" report.4

Traffic Congestion: The District's urban area, which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia, was the second-most congested city in the U.S. in 2007, only behind Los Angeles. Commuters wasted an estimated 62 hours and 42 gallons of fuel while stuck in traffic. These two factors amounted to a $2.8 billion cost of congestion. Nationwide, the amount of travel in urban areas that was not congested dropped from 74 percent in 1982 to 45 percent in 2007. Prevalence of severe congestion nearly tripled, and the peak period of work-related congestion dubbed "rush hour" has more than doubled in length since 1982.5 About 41 percent of D.C. commuters had a commute of 45 minutes or longer in 2008.6

Illegal Residents: An executive order prohibiting police from asking about immigration status has allowed many area gang members and other criminals to gain sanctuary from immigration laws.7 In the summer of 2003, D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey held a news conference to reiterate that the city's officers are not permitted to ask about immigration status during routine police procedures.8

  1. American Community Survey, Three-Year Estimates 2006-2008. Data retrieved using ACS Custom Table tool.
  2. "Wisconsin Children in Immigrant Families," WisKids Count Issue Brief, Spring 2008. Cited 2006 ACS data.
  3. Migration Information Source, Migration Policy Institute. Accessed July 25, 2010.
  4. American Lung Association, "State of the Air 2010."
  5. Texas Transportation Institute, "Urban Mobility Report 2009," p 8-9, 22-24
  6. American Community Survey, 2008 Estimates, Custom Data Table.
  7. "Gang Wars," Washington Times, August 3, 2003.
  8. "Metro: In Brief," Washington Post, July 29, 2003.