Illegal Immigrants 8% of US Births, 3.7% of Population

While illegal immigration in the United States remains enormous, it has dropped considerably over the last three years.

Pew‘s annual study of “Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends” found:

As of March 2010, 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States, virtually unchanged from a year earlier, according to new estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. This stability in 2010 follows a two-year decline from the peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2009 that was the first significant reversal in a two-decade pattern of growth. Unauthorized immigrants were 3.7% of the nation’s population in 2010.

The number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation’s workforce, 8 million in March 2010, also did not differ from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate for 2009. As with the population total, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force had decreased in 2009 from its peak of 8.4 million in 2007. They made up 5.2% of the labor force in 2010.

The number of children born to at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent in 2009 was 350,000 and they made up 8% of all U.S. births, essentially the same as a year earlier. An analysis of the year of entry of unauthorized immigrants who became parents in 2009 indicates that 61% arrived in the U.S. before 2004, 30% arrived from 2004 to 2007, and 9% arrived from 2008 to 2010.

Given the sheer size of our country, the numbers are staggering.  As to the slight dropoff in recent years, Pew can only guess:

Although the estimates indicate trends in the size and composition of the unauthorized-immigrant population, they are not designed to answer the question of why these changes occurred. There are many possible factors. The deep recession that began in the U.S. economy officially ended in 2009, but recovery has been slow to take hold and unemployment remains high. Immigration flows have tended to decrease in previous periods of economic distress.

The period covered by this analysis also has been accompanied by changes in the level of immigration enforcement and in enforcement strategies, not only by the federal government but also at state and local levels. Immigration also is subject to pressure by demographic and economic conditions in sending countries. This analysis does not attempt to quantify the relative impact of these forces on levels of unauthorized immigration.

My guess is that it’s the downturn in the economy combined with the resultant spike in anti-immigration sentiment. The dangerous and often expensive trek across the border for a better life is now higher risk and lower reward.

As to what to make of the 8% number, I stand by my analysis from last summer, when I first saw this statistic from last year’s study:

  • We don’t know how this 8% differs from the 92% born to parents who are both here legally.
  • There’s very little, as a practical matter, we can do to prevent illegal immigration across our 3000-mile border with the 3rd World.
FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Actually, there’s a good chance we could slow down illegal immigration: reduce the ease of getting a job. Raise the penalties for hiring an illegal, then run sting operations with undercover agents. If even ten restaurants in Phoenix went out of business due to $100,000 fines, the rest would send their undocumented workers packing. Repeat for lawn maintenance companies, agribusiness, etc.

    Right now though, we have policies that work the opposite. The workers are arrested but the employers are left alone. So the government is actually ensuring that those undocumented employees can never complain, or organize or ask for higher wages. After all the employer can just drop a dime the a problem employee and send the IMF agents to their houses. So our bizarre system is actually making it more desirable for employers to hire illegals.

    If the “just build the dang fence” guys were serious they would be proposing stiffer employer sanctions. The fact that they are not is all you need to know about their motivations.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    My guess is that it’s the downturn in the economy combined with the resultant spike in anti-immigration sentiment.

    Or maybe they don’t want to live in the Marxist Islamic Kenyan state we’ve become over the last 24 months?

  3. TG Chicago says:

    MarkedMan: So your solution is to increase big government, punish small business owners, and destroy the economy of Phoenix. Sounds like your medicine is worse than the disease.

  4. Axel Edgren says:

    “Or maybe they don’t want to live in the Marxist Islamic Kenyan state we’ve become over the last 24 months?”


    I would not get trolled again by this amateur of the craft. The terminology was standard, the spelling was suspiciously correct and there was very little resentment or pettiness evident.

    Hudelson is either a very boring sort of Teeper or just a very poor imitator of one. I derived neither amusement nor any refreshing rancor.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:


    There is a difference between trolling and simply being sarcastic about wingers’ responses. I’ve been commenting here quite regularly for a few years. Either read my other comments or–more usefully–learn to recognize obvious sarcasm.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    “MarkedMan: So your solution is to increase big government, punish small business owners, and destroy the economy of Phoenix. Sounds like your medicine is worse than the disease.”

    I wasn’t offering up this as a “solution”. I was pointing out that the anti-immigrant crowd aren’t really against illegal aliens. As I outlined, there is a pretty straightforward way to dramatically reduce their number. The fact that the anti-immigrant cohorts don’t promote such a solution indicates they are more interested in pushing illegal aliens around, and showing them who’s boss.

    I would be interested in hearing of other reasons why the people of Phoenix, whose economy would supposedly be destroyed by removal of the illegal aliens, still vote overwhelmingly to harass and intimidate them.

    As for me, if they really are a vital part of the economy, then make them citizens or give them work visas. I don’t have a problem with that. But we should also ask ourselves – if we didn’t employ sub-minimum wage people with no benefits and no recourse if mistreated, what would it really mean? That a retired Phoenix couple would only be able to afford a 3000 square foot house, rather than a 4000 square foot one? That they wouldn’t be able to have a fancy and intricate lawn requiring 30 man-hours a week to maintain?

  7. Axel Edgren says:

    Sorry for not being aware of your history here Hudelson.

    But, since I by accident have not read any of your other posts, can you blame me? I mean, you don’t even have to go to freerepublic these days to find positively transcendental wingnuttery.

  8. Neil Hudelson says:


    Not a problem. Sorry for the blunt reply. I think its scary that it really is becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between parody and true beliefs when it comes to the wingnuts.