The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) recently released a study which analyzes the current undocumented immigrant population in the United States, with surprising results. During the current heated political debate about immigrants in our country, this independent study provides useful context.
First off, we do know the approximate number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.—11 million. That is 1 million fewer than we had in 2007, when the population of unauthorized immigrants peaked prior to our economic recession.
Mexicans accounted for 56% of our undocumented population in 2013, as opposed to 69% back in 2000. While the share of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has decreased, the share from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala has increased. These nations have the 1st, 4th, and 5th highest murder rates in the world, respectively, and Justice for Our Neighbors has served many clients from them, including unaccompanied children who are fleeing the rampant violence.
In addition to these Central American countries, we have seen a large increase in the undocumented population from the African nations of Ghana and Ethiopia and from the Asian nations of China and Korea. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants from India grew at the fastest proportional rate of any country over the last two decades. As the study notes, this is “part of a broader trend toward greater diversity in the overall U.S. foreign-born population.”Seven of the ten counties with the largest Asian unauthorized immigrant population are in California and New York.
These figures show that our undocumented population is not growing at an alarming rate, if at all. Moreover, immigrants here without lawful status are not monolithic—they increasingly represent all parts of the world, and it is likely that a larger share originally arrived with lawful status and overstayed their visas. Talk of building a stronger wall or flying armed drones on our southern border ignores these realities.
Such border enforcement-focused solutions also neglect our role as a safe-haven for those fleeing violence. Many immigrants are not sneaking across our borders, but seeking the aid of our justice system. I have seen Central American children at the border. After having survived a perilous journey, they were grateful to find Customs and Border Patrol agents. These children need food, water, and a safe place to sleep. They also need, and deserve, their chance in front of a judge to make the case that they do have a legal right to stay here based on the pervasive, unchecked violence back home.
As the presidential campaign season heats up, let’s base our discussion on the facts, and not fear. Let’s also remember to show some compassion to those who have made the difficult journey to America from around the world.