What we know about illegal immigration from Mexico

By Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Jens Manuel Krogstad, Pew Hispanic

Illegal immigration remains a hotly contested issue as the 2016 presidential campaigns get underway. While Democrats have largely supported a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and backed President Barack Obama’s programs to shield from deportation young people brought to the U.S. as children illegally, Republicans have largely opposed them.

PH_2014-11-18_unauthorized-immigration-05More recently, debate about illegal immigration has focused on those from Mexico, the largest single group of immigrants in the United States. Pew Research Center tracks the origins of unauthorized immigrants, their participation in the labor force and where in the U.S. they are settling.

Here’s what we know about illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico:

1. The number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined. In 2012, 5.9 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico lived in the U.S., down about 1 million from 2007. Despite the drop, Mexicans still make up a slight majority (52% in 2012) of unauthorized immigrants. At the same time, unauthorized immigration overall has leveled off in recent years. As a result, net migration from Mexico likely reached zero in 2010, and since then more Mexicans have left the U.S. than have arrived.

2Border Apprehensions in 2014. More non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders in 2014, the first time on record this has happened. In fiscal 2014, 229,178 Mexicans were apprehended, a sharp drop from a peak of 1.6 million apprehended in 2000. The decline in apprehensions reflects the decrease in number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S.

3. Even as border apprehensions dropped, deportations of Mexican immigrants reached a record high in 2013 of 314,904, up from 169,031 in 2005. This is due in part to a 2005 shift in policy that has increased the chances of being deported following apprehension in the border region, instead of just being sent back without an order of removal.

4. Mexican unauthorized immigrants are more likely than unauthorized immigrants overall to work in the construction industry and less likely to work in services. Among Mexican unauthorized immigrants ages 16 and older who were employed in 2012, 19% worked in construction and 13% worked in a wide range of businesses like legal services, landscaping and car washes. By comparison, among unauthorized immigrant workers overall, 16% worked in construction and 22% in services.

5. Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up at least 75% of the total unauthorized immigrant population in 10 states: New Mexico (89%), Arizona (84%), Idaho (83%), Wyoming (82%), Colorado (78%), Oklahoma (76%), Wisconsin (76%), Kansas (75%), Oregon (75%) and Texas (75%). Among these states, half saw a decline in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2009 to 2012. Among all states, California saw the largest decline in the number of unauthorized immigrants (90,000) during this time period. The Golden State is also home to 1.6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, the most in the nation.





Ana Gonzalez-Barrera is a research associate focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Cent



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