In this exploration, we’re going to delve into the 15 states that have the highest proportion of undocumented immigrants. If you’re eager to get straight to the facts, feel free to jump ahead to the section titled ‘5 States with the Highest Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants.’
The Center for Immigration Studies provides a clear definition for our study, describing undocumented immigrants as “foreign-born noncitizens who are not legal residents.” With this understanding and in accordance with the 14th Amendment of the United States, we’ve decided to leave out US-born children of undocumented immigrants from our investigation.
The terms ‘undocumented immigrants’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ are often used interchangeably, but they carry different connotations. Those who are less supportive of legalizing the status of these individuals tend to use ‘illegal immigrants’, while those who are more sympathetic use ‘undocumented immigrants’.
This linguistic divide mirrors the broader polarization in American political leadership over US immigration policy. This societal and political divide in the US regarding the status of undocumented immigrants appears to have impacted their population.
Interestingly, there’s been a decrease in the undocumented immigrant population in the United States from 2011 to 2019. The Republican party holds the view that the US economy incurs significant costs due to undocumented immigrants.
As we move forward in this article, we’ll delve into the economic implications of undocumented immigration in the United States. So, let’s embark on this journey of discovery together, as we unravel the complexities of immigration in the United States.
The Economic Impact of Undocumented Immigration in the United States
On January 27, 2019, former President Donald Trump sparked a conversation with a tweet claiming that the cost of undocumented immigration for that year had already reached $18,959,495,168. While this figure may seem inflated, it does prompt us to consider the economic implications of undocumented immigration in the United States.
This is a particularly pertinent question for those considering residing in states with a high percentage of undocumented immigrants, as it can influence the labor market dynamics. Quantifying the exact economic impact of undocumented immigration is a complex task.
Nevertheless, various independent nongovernmental organizations frequently conduct studies to estimate these costs. One such organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – a nonprofit with an anti-immigration stance, recently estimated the cost of undocumented immigration at $150.7 billion.
Their study suggests that the total federal expenditure on undocumented immigrants is $66.4 billion, a figure that has reportedly increased by 45 percent since 2017. The study also posits that undocumented immigrants contribute approximately $31 billion in taxes.
Contrary to these somewhat alarming figures, organizations advocating for undocumented immigrants argue that granting them citizenship could stimulate US economic growth. The Center for American Progress (CAP), a public policy research and advocacy organization, conducted a study assessing the potential economic impact of legalizing undocumented immigrants.
Their findings suggest that granting citizenship to all undocumented immigrants could boost the US GDP by $1.7 trillion over a decade and create 438,800 new jobs within the same timeframe. The question of whether pathways to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants will be established remains unanswered.
However, it is evident that their presence is significant, particularly in states like California, which has the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants. It’s also clear that the majority of undocumented immigrants are confined to precarious job opportunities, a reality that further complicates this multifaceted issue.
Demographic Breakdown: Profile of Undocumented Immigrants in the United States
Historically, Mexican nationals have made up the majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States. However, this trend has been shifting, with their representation falling to less than half of the total undocumented population by 2017.
So, what does the current demographic landscape of undocumented immigrants in the United States look like? According to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute in 2019, the total undocumented population in the United States was around 11 million.
Mexicans still made up the largest share, accounting for 48 percent of this population. However, migrants from El Salvador and Guatemala were not far behind, each contributing 7 percent to the total undocumented population.
Interestingly, Indians made up 5 percent of the total undocumented immigrant population in the United States in 2019. In terms of age distribution, the largest segment of this population fell within the 35-44 age group, representing about 28 percent.
The smallest segment was those aged 16 and under, making up about 5 percent of the total. Women constituted 46 percent of the undocumented immigrant population. When we look at the employment sector, the highest proportion of undocumented immigrants (21 percent) worked in the construction industry. Meanwhile, 16 percent were employed in accommodation and food services, arts, entertainment, and recreation.
Notably, only 4 percent of undocumented immigrants participating in the labor force were unemployed. However, despite a high employment rate among this group, 43 percent of undocumented immigrants lived below 200% of the poverty level, highlighting the economic challenges this population often faces.
The State with the Highest Number of Undocumented Immigrants: California
California tops the list when it comes to the number of undocumented immigrants. Our research indicates that almost 3 million undocumented immigrants reside in California.
This population has a significant influence on the state’s labor market, as they constitute one in every ten workers in California.
The State with the Lowest Number of Undocumented Immigrants: West Virginia
On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia has the smallest number of undocumented immigrants. Our estimates suggest that around 5,000 undocumented immigrants live in West Virginia, accounting for just 0.28% of the state’s total population.
It’s also noteworthy that undocumented immigrants make up less than 14% of the total immigrant population in West Virginia. Now, let’s move on to the list of states with the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants.
In order to rank the 15 states with the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants, we utilized the most recent estimates available. Our estimation of the undocumented population in each state was derived from two primary sources.
The first was the 2021 state-by-state estimates of undocumented immigrants provided by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a non-governmental organization. The second source was the 2019 state-by-state estimates of unauthorized immigrants from the Migration Policy Institute, a renowned institution specializing in migration policy.
We calculated our final estimates by taking the average of these two data sources.
The 15 States with the Highest Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants
15 – Washington
Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 3.68%
Situated in the Western part of the United States, Washington State is the eighth-largest state in the country, with an area of 71,362 square miles. It is estimated that around 296,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Washington, making up 3.68% of the state’s total population.
This significant presence means that one in twelve children in Washington lives with at least one undocumented immigrant.
14 – Connecticut
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 3.90%
Connecticut, located in the northeastern corner of the United States, is home to approximately 140,000 undocumented immigrants. Despite being the 48th state in terms of total area, it is densely populated with over 3.5 million residents.
Undocumented immigrants make up 3.90% of Connecticut’s population, with 76% participating in the labor force.
13 – Virginia
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 3.90%
Virginia, a southeastern state located on the Atlantic coast, is home to an estimated 335,000 undocumented immigrants. This population makes up 3.9% of the state’s total population, with 53% living at or above 200% of the poverty rate.
12 – Hawaii
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 3.98%
Hawaii, the 50th state of the United States, is a group of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean. It is home to around 57,000 undocumented immigrants, who make up 3.98% of the state’s population. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 61% of these immigrants originate from Asia.
11 – Georgia
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 3.98%
Georgia, the 4th largest state in terms of total area, is home to approximately 426,500 undocumented immigrants, making up 3.98% of its population. Nearly 48% of Georgia’s undocumented immigrant population hails from Mexico.
10 – Illinois
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 4.15%
Illinois, located in the Midwestern region of the United States, is home to nearly 526,500 undocumented immigrants, accounting for 4.15% of its population. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 68% of this population is employed.
9 – New Mexico
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 4.32%
New Mexico, known for its diverse culture and rich history, is the fifth-largest state in the United States in terms of total area. The capital of New Mexico is Santa Fe, a city renowned for its vibrant arts scene and Pueblo-style architecture, with an estimated population of 84,683. New Mexico is home to an estimated 91,000 undocumented immigrants, accounting for 4.32% of the state’s total population.
Although New Mexico’s population is relatively modest in size, its demographic landscape is markedly shaped by its adjacency to the Mexican border. This proximity contributes to a high proportion of undocumented immigrants, which is in turn linked to an escalation in criminal activity across several of its urban areas.
8 – Florida
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 4.52%
Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is located in the southeastern region of the United States. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee, with an estimated population of 194,500. Florida is home to an estimated 978,500 undocumented immigrants, making up 4.52% of the state’s population.
Of these, 19% are of Mexican origin. Florida’s economy, heavily reliant on tourism and agriculture, provides numerous employment opportunities for undocumented immigrants. The state’s diverse cultural mix is significantly influenced by its immigrant population.
7 – Maryland
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 4.71%
Maryland, located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, is known for its rich history and diverse geography. The capital of Maryland is Annapolis, a city known for its historic district and sailing culture, with an estimated population of 39,321.
Maryland has an undocumented immigrant population of 225,000, making up 4.71% of its population. According to the American Immigration Council, 6% of Maryland’s workforce comprises undocumented immigrants, highlighting their significant contribution to the state’s economy.
6 – New York
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 4.87%
New York, often referred to as the Empire State is located in the northeastern region of the United States. The capital of New York is Albany, a city known for its rich history and architecture, with an estimated population of 97,279.
New York is home to around 958,000 undocumented immigrants, making up 4.87% of the state’s population. Nearly 48% of New York’s undocumented immigrant population is at or above 200% of the poverty level, indicating the economic challenges faced by this group.
Despite these challenges, undocumented immigrants play a crucial role in New York’s diverse and dynamic economy.
5 – New Jersey
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 4.94%
New Jersey, located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, is home to a diverse population of over 9 million people. It is the fourth-smallest state in terms of total area but is densely populated.
The capital of New Jersey is Trenton, with an estimated population of 83,203. According to the Migration Policy Institute, New Jersey has an undocumented immigrant population of approximately 440,000, making up 4.94% of its total population.
This state has a rich cultural mix, with immigrants from various parts of the world contributing to its vibrant community.
4 – Nevada
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 5.16%
Nevada, known for its arid desert landscape and vibrant city life, is located in the Western region of the United States. The capital of Nevada is Carson City, with an estimated population of 55,414.
Nevada has an estimated undocumented immigrant population of 168,000, which accounts for 5.16% of its total population. The state’s economy is heavily influenced by tourism, entertainment, and mining industries, where many undocumented immigrants find employment.
3 – Texas
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 6.15%
Texas, located in the South Central region of the United States, is the second-largest state in terms of both area and population. The capital of Texas is Austin, with an estimated population of 964,254.
Texas has a significant undocumented immigrant population of approximately 1,739,000, making up 6.15% of its total population. Texas shares a large portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, which contributes to its high number of undocumented immigrants.
2 – California
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 6.85%
California, located on the West Coast of the United States, is the most populous state in the country. The capital of California is Sacramento, with an estimated population of 513,624. California has the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the country, with an estimated population of 2,739,000, making up 6.85% of its total population.
The state’s economy, one of the largest in the world, is greatly influenced by the labor of undocumented immigrants, particularly in sectors such as agriculture and construction.
1 – Arizona
- Percentage of Undocumented Immigrants: 6.94%
Arizona, located in the Southwestern region of the United States, is known for its desert climate and vibrant cultural history. The capital of Arizona is Phoenix, with an estimated population of 1,759,000.
Arizona has an estimated undocumented immigrant population of 273,000, which accounts for 6.94% of its total population. The state shares a border with Mexico, which contributes to its high number of undocumented immigrants.
Despite its harsh immigration laws, Arizona has one of the highest percentages of undocumented immigrants in the country.
What is the U.S. immigration system?
The U.S. immigration system is a complex framework of laws and policies that regulate who can enter the country, how long they can stay, and what they can do while they are here. It includes provisions for both temporary and permanent immigration, as well as humanitarian protections.
Who are the key players in the U.S. immigration system?
The key players in the U.S. immigration system include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Each of these departments has specific roles and responsibilities in the administration and enforcement of immigration laws.
What are the main categories of immigration in the U.S.?
The main categories of immigration in the U.S. include family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, humanitarian protections, and the Diversity Visa program. Each category has specific eligibility requirements and processes.
What is family-based immigration?
Family-based immigration allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to bring certain family members to the U.S. There are two groups in this category: immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and family preference categories.
What is employment-based immigration?
Employment-based immigration allows U.S. employers to hire and petition foreign nationals for specific jobs. There are five employment preference categories, each with its own eligibility requirements and limitations.
What are humanitarian protections?
Humanitarian protections provide relief to individuals who are in harm’s way. These protections include asylum, refugee status, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
What is the Diversity Visa program?
The Diversity Visa program, also known as the “green card lottery,” is a program that allows individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. to apply for a chance to immigrate.
What is the process for becoming a U.S. citizen?
The process for becoming a U.S. citizen, known as naturalization, involves several steps, including being a lawful permanent resident for a certain period, applying for citizenship, passing a citizenship test, and taking an oath of allegiance.
What are the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens?
U.S. citizens have certain rights, such as the right to vote and the right to a U.S. passport, and responsibilities, such as the duty to obey the law and the duty to serve on a jury.
What is the role of the immigration court system? The immigration court system, which is part of the Department of Justice, is responsible for deciding whether foreign nationals who are charged with violating immigration law should be allowed to remain in the U.S.
In conclusion, the issue of undocumented immigration in the United States is complex and multifaceted. It’s a topic that carries significant economic, social, and political implications. As we’ve seen, the states with the highest percentages of undocumented immigrants are diverse in their geography, economies, and cultural compositions.
Understanding the realities of undocumented immigration is crucial for informed discussions and policy-making. While the debate on how to address this issue continues, it’s clear that undocumented immigrants are a significant part of the U.S. population and workforce, particularly in the states highlighted in this article.
As we move forward, it’s essential to continue exploring and understanding the complexities of immigration in the United States. This includes not only the challenges but also the potential benefits that a comprehensive and fair immigration policy could bring to the nation.
Thank you for joining us on this journey of discovery. We hope this article has provided valuable insights into the states with the highest percentages of undocumented immigrants and the broader context of immigration in the United States.