The US is a nation of immigrants – and of ever changing immigration policy. Depending on where you stand, immigrants bring great diversity and a much needed labor force to our nation – or they take jobs from citizens and create poverty and a drain on social services. Illegal immigration – particularly from Mexico – presents the most pressing policy questions today with some politicians advocating an amnesty for Mexican workers, and others, including President Bush, proposing guest worker status as an alternative.

See also CJ's immigration bill brief for a glimpse of current immigration bills being debated in Congress.


Number of immigrants who arrive each year:

Legal immigrants:

  • 1.1 million (2002) (BCIS)
  • 750 thousand average over the past decade (PEW - pdf)

Illegal/undocumented immigrants:

  • approximately 1.0 million (1999) (INS - pdf)
  • about 750 thousand, but with many immigrants returning or gaining legal status, the net growth in the number of undocumented immigrants is about 500 thousand a year (PEW - pdf)

Illegal Immigrants over the Mexican border (WP & WP):

  • 1.7 million illegal immigrants crossed the Mexican border in 2005 (1.6 in 2005). Of that number:

    • 500 thousand slipped through,
    • 1.2 million were arrested (1.1 in 2006), including
    • 1 million Mexicans who were immediately returned;
    • 155 thousand "Other Than Mexicans" (108 thousand in 2006) - 98 thousand of those "failed to appear in court" after being released in the US (the US ended their "catch & release" policy in 2006)

In the US

Total number of illegal/undocumented immigrants in the US:

  • Approximately 7 million in 2000 (INS - pdf)
  • Estimated 10 million in 2004 (CBO)
  • Approximately 11 - 12 million in 2005 (CIS)
  • Approximately 11.5 - 12 million in 2006 (PEW)

(Note: because these stats come from three different sources, it does not necessarily mean there was a 4 million jump in the number of illegal immigrants in five years.)

Number of foreign born in US:

  • 35 million (11.5% total population) (CIS)

Number of foreign students in the US (on temporary student and exchange visas):

  • 591 thousand (IIE)


Southwest border illegal immigration (CRS)

From '98 to '05 97% of all illegal alien apprehensions were made at the Southwest border

  • 2004: 1.15 million apprehensions
  • 2003: 905,065 apprehensions
  • 2000: 1.65 million apprehensions

As of 2005 90% of all border agents were stationed at the Southwest border.

Number of border agents (NYT):

  • 2008: 15,400 (estimated to go up to 18,000 by end of year)
  • 2001: about 9,000

*Note that these are just numbers. It is difficult to pinpoint whether more apprehensions reflect more border crossings or better police work.

Northern Border (US/Canada) (CRS)

4,000 miles long, bordering 12 states focusing more on terrorist apprehension than illegal immigration (although still important)

Northern border apprehensions:

  • 2004: 10,000
  • 2000: 11,000
  • 1997: 13,000

Number of agents on the northern border:

  • 2004: 983
  • pre 9/11: 340
  • still less than 10% of total border patrol force

Number of hours on duty (estimates in thousands):

  • 2004: 1,400
  • 2000: 375
  • 1997: 300

And by sea.....

Number of US Coast Guard interdictions for 2005 (USCG):

  • Haiti: 1,850
  • Dominican Republic: 3,612
  • Cuba: 2,712
  • People's Republic of China: 32
  • Mexico: 55
  • Ecquador: 1,149
  • Other: 45
  • Total: 9,455


Unemployment among (2006) (BLS - pdf):

  • Foreign born: 4.0%
  • Natives: 4.7%

Workforce population (UI). Immigrants are:

  • 14% of total workforce
  • 20% of low-wage workforce

% of total workforce that is made up of illegal immigrants (2006) (Pew):

  • 5%

Net cost/benefit of immigration

This is a complex story, but CBASSE, CIS and NIF have some different theories. The upshot: some argue that immigrants (illegals in particular) are a drain on government services; others argue that immigrants fuel the economy with their labor and provide a net gain once you factor in their children's future earnings.


Percentage of school aged children with immigrant mothers:

  • 18.3% (CIS - pdf)

Costs of educating illegal immigrant students:

  • $7.4 billion (FAIR)

Percent of Americans using welfare who are (CIS):

  • Immigrant households: 25.5%
  • Native households: 16.7%


A remittance is money sent home by an immigrant to their home country. A very controversial topic, many feel that remittances are one of the ways that illegal immigrants drain money from the economy. They contend that if the money is being sent elsewhere, it is not being spent here at home leading to less investment and consumption.

*Keep in mind that all experts agree that remittances are difficult to measure. Below are just a few estimates which accounts for the differences. Despite their existence, very little region specific data is available on US remittances to other regions besides Latin America. Latin America estimate data has been included because many believe that is where the bulk of US remittances end up.

  • Remittances sent worldwide from the US (BEA - pdf):

    • 2005: 31.8 billion

    • 2004: 30.4 billion

    • 2002: 27.7 billion

    • 1995: 15.9 billion

Note: Although these are remittances BEA can account for, they suspect (pdf) the number may be higher.

  • Remittances sent to Latin America alone

    • in 2004: $30 billion (IDB)

    • in 2006: $45 billion (IDB - pdf) (IDB points out that immigrants put about $450 billion into their local, US, economy too):

  • Some examples of average remittance per sender (2003) (IADB):

    • India: $1,104

    • Mexico: $385

    • Pakistan: $790

    • bangladesh: $562

    • Philippines: $397

    • Egypt: $307

    • El Salvador: $280

Purchasing power of two major immigrant groups

in 2003: (FRB)

    • Hispanic market: $653 billion (8% of US total)
    • Asian market: $344 billion (4% of US total)

Where the facts are from:

Other reading

  • Pew's survey of Mexican migrants.

  • CIS's 2005 report on new Census data.

  • Congressional Budget Office's report (pdf) on lawful immigration - and a handy chart on routes to becoming an American citizen.

Updated February, 2008

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A country is like a home. The world can be a home.

Come into my home with my invitation and you are welcome. Many have done so. However, if they take silverware, dishes and furniture and all the while complaining about me and my arrogance I am compelled to direct them to leave and even request help to do so.

Yes, come to my house. Let's eat together as family. It is only when we forget we are family that we are forced to take action to separate, protect from those who would abuse our relationship.

Let's make the world a house where the family of man can create beauty in harmony. That is the way to think.


David B (not verified) | October 20, 2007 - 4:41pm