Immigrant Population at Record High in 2004
Total Up 4 Million Since 2000, Half of Growth from Illegal Aliens
WASHINGTON (November 2004) - An analysis of data not yet published by
the Census Bureau shows that the nation's immigrant population (legal
and illegal) reached a new record of more than 34 million in March of
2004, an increase of over 4 million just since 2000. The fact that
immigration has remained so high indicates that immigration does not
rise and fall in
close step with the economy, as some have imagined. The report, entitled
Economy Slowed, But Immigration Didn't: The Foreign-born Population
2000-2004, is available online at the Center's Web site: www.cis.org.
Among the findings:
* The 34.24 million immigrants (legal and illegal) now living in the
country is the highest number ever recorded in American history and a
4.3-million increase since 2000.
* Of the 4.3 million growth, almost half, or 2 million, is estimated to
be from illegal immigration.
* In the data collected by the Census Bureau, there were roughly 9
million illegal aliens. Prior research indicates that 10 percent of
illegal aliens are missed by the survey, suggesting a total illegal
population of about 10 million in March of this year.
* The same data also show that in the years between 2000 and 2004,
nearly 6.1 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) arrived from
Arrivals are offset by deaths and return migration among immigrants
already here, so the total increased by 4.3 million.
* The 6.1 million new immigrants who arrived in the four years since
2000 compares to 5.5 million new arrivals in the four years prior to
2000, during the economic expansion.
* The pace of immigration is so surprising because unemployment among
immigrants increased from 4.4 to 6.1 percent, and the number of
unemployed immigrants grew by 43 percent.
* States with the largest increase in their immigrant population were
Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington,
Arizona, and Pennsylvania.
'The idea that immigration is a self regulating process that rises and
falls in close step with the economy is simply wrong,' said Steven
Camarota, the report's author and the Center's Director of Research.
'Today, the primary sending countries are so much poorer than the United
States, even being unemployed in America is still sometimes better than
staying in one's home country.'
Other findings in the report:
* Unlike current immigration, evidence from the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries indicates that economic downturns in the United
States did have a very significant impact on immigration levels.
* As a share of the nation's total population, immigrants now account
for nearly 12 percent, the highest percentage in over 80 years.
* Recent immigration has had no significant impact on the nation's age
structure. If the 6.1 million immigrants who arrived after 2000 had not
come, the average age in America would be virtually unchanged at 36
* The diversity of the immigrant population continues to decline, with
the top country, Mexico, accounting for 31 percent of all immigrants in
2004, up from 28 percent in 2000, 22 percent in 1990, and 16 percent in
No Major Change in Policy After 9/11. It is important to realize that
there has been no major change in the selection criteria used or
numerical limits placed on legal immigration, even after September 11th.
Moreover, immigration enforcement efforts have actually become more lax
in recent years. While visa applicants from some parts of the world may
have to wait a little longer for approval and a tiny number of illegal
selected countries may have been detained, this does not constitute a
major change in policy and has no meaningful impact on the number of
people settling in the United States.
Disconnect from Economy. The primary sending countries today are much
poorer relative to the United States than were the primary sending
countries in the past. The much higher standard of living in the United
States exists even during recessions. Moreover, people come to America
for many reasons, including to join family, to avoid social or legal
obligations, to take advantage of America's social services, and to
enjoy greater personal and political freedom. Thus even a prolonged
economic downturn is unlikely to have a large impact on immigration
levels. If we want lower immigration levels it would require enforcement
of immigration laws and changes to the legal immigration system.
Data Source: The information for the report comes from the March Current
Population Surveys (CPS) collected by the Census Bureau, also called the
Annual Social and Economic Supplement. The March data include an
extra-large sample of minorities and is considered one of the best
sources of information on immigrants, referred to as the foreign- born
by the Census Bureau. The foreign-born are defined as persons living
here who were not U.S. citizens at birth. Because all children born in
the United States to foreign born are by definition natives, the sole
reason for the dramatic increase in the foreign-born population is new