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Illegal Immigration Facts

Updated on March 2, 2014

More than one writer on HubPages has issues with immigrants.

One believes immigrants should learn our language, and doesn't like being asked to press a button on his phone to choose the language he prefers to speak when he calls a government or business office. He doesn't like to hear people speak a foreign language in public.

Another writer thinks immigrants come to the United States illegally to freeload off the government. He seems to think all immigrants are the same in this regard, spare an enterprising few, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

These writers show varying degrees of xenophobia, with the second exhibiting a marked prejudice akin to racism. Neither supplies any facts of consequence to back up his opinions.

You can't discuss such a complex topic without looking at the facts.


Origins and Numbers of Illegal Immigrants

About 11 million illegal immigrants were thought to be in the United States in April 2006, according to Standard & Poor's. Their numbers seem to be correlated with the demand for labor. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the number of illegals peaked at 11.9 million in 2006, and dropped during the recession that started in 2007, declining significantly as the recession progressed.

A 2010 report by the University of California, San Diego indicates that 59 percent of undocumented immigrants are Mexican, 15 percent are from Central America and the Caribbean, 7 percent are South American and the remaining 19 percent are from Asia, Canada and Europe. The latter group have typically overstayed their visas.

Reasons for Illegal Immigration

Many illegal immigrants come to the United States for jobs that pay more than they can make at home, according to a paper by the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. The study notes that the U.S. economy produced over 14 million jobs between 1996 and 2000, while total population growth, including immigration, was just over 12 million. Someone must do this work, and since the federal government makes it so difficult to immigrate legally, people circumvent the system.

The website Phil for Humanity notes a number of other reasons why a person might immigrate illegally, such as to avoid war, reunite with family, escape criminal activity, seek medical aid or leave a country for political reasons. Other reasons include poverty and overpopulation.

Immigrant Facts

About 40 million immigrants—legal and illegal—lived in the U.S. in 2010, 28 percent more than in 2000.

Of the top-sending countries, those with the greatest increases were Honduras (85 percent), India (74 percent), Guatemala (73 percent), Peru (54 percent), El Salvador (49 percent), Ecuador (48 percent) and China (43 percent).

Some 68 percent of working-age (18 to 65) immigrants held jobs in March 2011, the same as natives.

In 2010, 23 percent of immigrants and their U.S.-born children lived in poverty, compared to 13.5 percent of the native population. They comprised 25 percent of all persons in poverty.

Some 36 percent of immigrant-headed households used at least one major welfare program in 2010. The comparable figure for natives was 23 percent.

In 2010, 29 percent of immigrants and their U.S.-born children lacked health insurance, about twice the 13.8-percent rate of natives.

About 28 percent of immigrants are in the country illegally.

Source: Center for Immigration Studies

Economics and Illegal Immigrants

It's difficult to assess the net effect of illegal immigrants on the economy.

Adam Davidson, International Business Correspondent at National Public Radio (NPR), wrote in 2006 that illegal immigrants had a small positive effect on the economy, increasing the average American's wealth by about 1 percent. They brought down wages at the bottom of the scale, harming low-wage workers and bringing down prices on many goods and services. Some didn't pay taxes, and many used government services. This possible slim gain due to illegal immigrants suggests that there is not a strong economic argument on either side of the debate. Illegal immigrants have a great effect in certain areas, both positive and negative.

Some Americans believe that illegal immigrants take jobs that citizens don't want. Gordon Hanson, a UC San Diego professor of economics who wrote the report cited in the previous section, told Highlands Today, “There is no doubt that the jobs that they gravitate to are the jobs that are not desired by domestic workers.”

NPR's Adam Davidson notes that immigrants, both legal and illegal, have a profound effect on high-school dropouts in the workforce, suppressing their wages by an estimated 3 to 8 percent. This is equivalent to losing about $25 per week in wages.

A third of illegal immigrants live in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Economists don't think this affects wages significantly in these cities because Americans tend not to move to cities with large numbers of immigrants, limiting the competition for their jobs.

Illegal immigrants produce around $150 billion of economic activity annually, accounting for 8 million jobs, according to the University of California, Los Angeles. They occupy over 3 million dwellings. The recent reduction in their population has left about a half million dwellings permanently vacant, and the decreased demand for housing has put hundreds of thousands of contractors, realtors and mortgage brokers out of work.


Taxes and Social Services

About 6 million illegal immigrants file income tax returns each year, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Congressional Budget Office estimates that between half and three-quarters of them pay federal, state and local taxes. Illegals are thought to pay about $7 billion in Social Security taxes each year. The Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy and the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that illegal immigrants paid $11.2 billion in taxes in 2010.

Illegal immigrants can't claim Social Security benefits, but they are thought to be paying most of the $6 billion to $7 billion per year in Social Security contributions that can't be matched to a Social Security number. The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration has estimated that through 2007, they had paid $120 billion to $240 billion into the Social Security trust fund.

Standard & Poor's estimated that in 2006, local school districts educated 1.8 million undocumented children at a cost of $11.2 billion.

Undocumented immigrants aren't eligible for Medicaid benefits, with certain exceptions for emergencies. The cost of such care in North Carolina was estimated at less than 1 percent of Medicaid costs between 2001 and 2004.

Hospitals incur costs because they can't refuse to treat patients due to immigration status. One study indicated that 25 percent of uncompensated costs incurred by Southwest-border county hospitals was for emergency treatment of undocumented immigrants.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2005 that 59 percent of illegal immigrants were uninsured, compared with 25 percent of legal immigrants and 14 percent of U.S. citizens. A RAND study estimated that the federal government paid $1.1 billion (presumably annually) for medical treatment of undocumented immigrants who lacked health insurance, and that they paid $321 million out of pocket.


Costs of Policing Illegal Immigrants

It costs money to guard our borders and enforce the law. The Congressional Research Service estimated in 2007 that it could cost as much as $49 billion to erect a double set of steel fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. This figure did not include costs of property acquisition, nor labor costs if the work was done by private contractors. The fence would span a bit more than one-third of the 1,952-mile border, bringing its effectiveness into question.

In October 2006, the U.S. Border Patrol employed 12,349 agents to patrol all borders, including the northern border and both coasts. Legislation was being considered to increase that to around 28,000, at a cost of around $15,000 to train each new agent. The budget for fiscal year 2012 called for 21,370 Border Patrol agents.

A 2011 National Immigration Forum report noted that Border Patrol arrests fell about 28 percent between Oct. 2010 and Aug. 2011 in California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. The report, quoted in The Fiscal Times, said, “The number of people arrested for trying to cross the border illegally, used as a proxy for measuring the total number of people trying to cross illegally, is at its lowest point since 1972.” The 2012 Dept. of Homeland Security budget allocated $11.8 billion for Customs and Border Protection.


Unintended Costs of State Immigration Laws

Ridding a state of illegal immigrants has economic consequences. Alabama has passed the country's toughest immigration law, says The Economist. Among other requirements, the law bars illegal immigrants from working, soliciting work, attending a public university or entering into a business transaction within the state. Police must check the immigration status of people they stop, detain or arrest if they suspect a person might be in the country illegally.

The courts have struck down some of the law's provisions, but it still seems to be encouraging undocumented immigrants to leave the state, and with them many legal immigrants. This has caused crops to go unharvested and construction costs to rise. Direct and indirect costs of Alabama's immigration is estimated in the billions of dollars. The Economist noted that an unintended consequence of the law might be to dissuade foreign companies from establishing facilities in Alabama, noting the detainment of a German employee of Mercedes-Benz who was carrying only his German ID.

The Iguana Tree

Update: April 2012

In April 2012, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that after four decades in which 12 million Mexicans moved to the United States, more than half illegally, the flow of immigrants from Mexico had stopped, and perhaps even reversed.

Causes included a weak U.S. job market, enhanced border enforcement, increased deportations, increasing dangers of crossing the border illegally, declining Mexican birthrates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.

What's Your Opinion?

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Some of the report's findings:

Between 2005 and 2010, migration consisted of about 1.4 million in both directions. In the previous five-year period about 3 million Mexicans entered the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 Mexicans and their U.S.-born children went from the U.S. to Mexico.

The illegal Mexican population in the U.S. decreased from an estimated 7 million in 2007 to 6.1 million in 2011. Legal immigrants from Mexico rose in number from 5.6 million to 5.8 million in that time.

Mexicans account for about 58 percent of illegal immigrants in the United States and 30 percent of all immigrants. About 286,000 Mexicans were apprehended at the border in 2011, compared to over a million in 2005. Almost 400,000 illegal immigrants were deported in 2010, 73 percent of them Mexicans.

A survey by Mexican authorities of repatriated immigrants from the U.S. indicated that 20 percent said they would not return. The comparable figure in 2005 was 7 percent.

Download the complete report.

December 2012: Immigration Reform Possible

With Mitt Romney drawing an anemic 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election, Republicans may finally have realized the need to embrace this growing constituency. For five years the GOP firmly opposed any immigration reform that included amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Economist reported in its November 24 issue that both president Obama and speaker of the House John Boehner have expressed confidence that they can reach an agreement. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have resumed talks on an immigration bill. Right-wing commentators are warming to the idea of accommodating those currently in the country illegally.

March 2014: America, the Deportation Machine

The Economist reported in February 2014 that outflow of illegal immigrants is thought to now exceed inflow, thanks largely to the 2 million deportations that occurred in the first five years of Barack Obama's presidency.

Detention facilities continue to expand their capacity, which stood at 34,000 beds in 2013. Some 1.1 million people—5,000 per judge—wait to appear in immigration court. The cost of detention was $2 billion in 2012.

The federal government still has not produced an immigration bill.


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    • profile image

      Maria Sanchez 2 years ago

      omg liberals

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 4 years ago

      Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      francis5k 4 years ago from New York, New York

      thanks for the good info... informative blog! goodjob! :-)

    • profile image

      organic search engine optimization 5 years ago

      Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I'll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks very much.

    • profile image

      francisid 5 years ago

      good job!

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comments, OP. I pretty much agree with you.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 6 years ago

      My only wish is that our government would get serious about border security, or admit they can't do it and just open it to anyone who wants to cross, which is about how it is now.

      The main fact is entering this country illegally is against the law. Those entering the country illegally are committing a crime, and because of this they are criminals. I have both sympathy and empathy for those individuals trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Border security is a joke, and most of us know this.

      Why not overhaul the system and streamline the process for them to enter the country legally and eventually become citizens? I believe that is the process most of our ancestors followed. They took classes, learned the language, and wore their new found citizenship with a great deal of pride. I don't really blame the illegals as much as I do our own government and the antiquated and bureaucratic BS applicants for citizenship face. It is expensive and nearly impossible for them to legally apply for and gain citizenship.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks for mentioning this. It has great reviews on Amazon.

    • Samoa6 profile image

      Samoa6 6 years ago from San Diego

      Hi giocatore,

      I just read an excellent book on two immigrants and their horrifying story of crossing the border. Although it is not political, it is written by a friend of mine who based it on true stories of people she has met who work in the fields of South Carolina. 'The Iguana Tree' is a quick and suspenseful read, and puts human faces on these people, which I think is very important in considering how to best understand and deal with this issue.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks, glad you liked the story.

    • profile image

      francis5k 6 years ago

      good blog it's realistic! more blogs about immigration. nice one giocatore

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Cheryl, thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      Cheryl 6 years ago

      When I worked in Fort Lauderdale people always said immigrants come here and live off government assistance, get a job, get everything handed to them when in fact that is farther from the truth. They are not eligible for anything other than emergency care. They can not buy a business, they can not get medicaid, they can not get food stamps, and they can no longer have babies here on medicaid and then go back home because thinking their children will be american citizens. They are not entitled to anything because they do not have a social security number and can not even get food from a food bank because they don't have a social security number. I worked it and dealt with it every day. These people came here under fals pretenses by members of their families and got nothing but hard times.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eaglekiwi. I agree about the lawyers, and I have some experience with USCIS myself and sympathize.

    • Eaglekiwi profile image

      Eaglekiwi 6 years ago from -Oceania

      I enjoyed reading your very well written post.

      I do not disagree with your researched facts,however from personal experience ,the facts are not as well implemented in practice. In other words, when I was a non-resident I accepted that status, yet was frustrating to see other non-residences ie Mexican farmers (undocumentated) receive finanical or medical assistance. Not your fault lol ,but frustrating for my American husband,perhaps more than for me. In his own words ,he felt like he had few rights as a American anymore.

      So much red tape ,that even with a straight forward ie all documents and legal papers presented,USCIS are not set up to process 'easy applications'. Ask anyone who has legally attempted to.

      Far too many repeated application forms all designed to procure funds no doubt. Then to be rejected but offered an appeal via a lawyer- grrrr..( An independent enquiry revealed, that it was not a personal decision, but that the American Government simply do not want any more immigrants,period. I felt happy at least ,since that seemed about the most honest statement I had heard in 6 months.

      Last thing I wanted to say is this, I really like the way you provided info reasons why people decide to immigrate, as it isn't always the reason many Americans think ie A better way of life, with unemployment so high ,that 'good life' is unattainable to many (at least 95%)...


      P.S I love my American family and met so many good ,kind and down to earth genuine Americans,its the politics that drive me crazy.

      America is run by lawyers -in my personal opinion.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      You're welcome, Samoa6, and thanks for your comments.

    • Samoa6 profile image

      Samoa6 6 years ago from San Diego

      Thanks so much for taking the time to gather these facts. This was a very open-minded and informative hub. I look forward to reading more of yours.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      OP, thanks for your insights. I'm sure it's much different on the ground than it appears from researching on the internet.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 6 years ago

      I live near the border which no doubt gives me a slightly different view on this subject than perhaps someone living in the Midwest. Many of these illegals risk their lives crossing the desert to reach the US to find work. Many lose their lives trying to get here. They do this because they are trying to provide for their families, something most of us would do if we were put in their position. I feel a great deal of empathy for them.

      But on the other side of this coin comes the costs to legal US citizens who pay much of the added costs created by illegals. A visit to any ER armed with your health insurance card will still put you in a long line of uninsured illegals needing medical help. They pay nothing for this care, and you pay a deductible plus everything else your insurance plan will not cover. Hospitals are forced to pass these costs on to those with insurance or the ability to pay or they would be out of business.

      I have often questioned how the SS Administration deals with multiple payments coming in on the exact same SS Number. Now I know how they deal with it. They take the money and keep their mouth shut. The irony of this is the first illegal to retire and claim the benefits on this number will do very well.

      Thanks for an extremely well written hub on a very controversial story.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks, I'm glad that I could add something to the debate.

    • Josak profile image

      Josak 6 years ago from variable

      I am with tim its great to see facts in this debate that properly illustrate the issues I learnt a lot and for that I say thanks. Voted up and interesting.

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      Thanks very much. I tried to keep my opinion out of the story, perhaps not totally successfully. Cheers.

    • profile image

      timmathisen 6 years ago

      Everybody has an opinion about controversial topics, but few have an informed opinion. I voted your hub up and useful because it's well-written and researched.