Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign, proposing a simple solution for the nation’s immigration woes: build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said, if elected president, he would seek out and deport anyone in the country illegally. In contrast, Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposes “a path to full and equal citizenship.” The varied policy proposals by presidential candidates reflect the schism of opinion among Americans on immigration issues.
Despite immigration being a key talking point on the campaign trail, the numbers don’t always match up with the hype. People living in the country illegally have impacted the workforce, lowering wages and job availability for U.S. citizens without a high school diploma. But other data points suggest a positive impact. This diverse group makes up 5.1 percent of the U.S. workforce and pays an estimated $12 billion into Social Security. Contrary to the amount of attention the issue gets, the number of documented people in the U.S., estimated at almost 11 million, is actually on the decline.
In order to better comprehend this issue, InsideGov synthesized the most recent estimates and broke down the undocumented immigrant population groups by country of birth. This information comes from the Migration Policy Institute’s “Unauthorized Immigrant Population Profiles,” which was published in 2013 and contains the most recent data estimates. We then ranked the 25 U.S. states with the largest populations of people living there illegally, and ordered the states from smallest to largest undocumented populations.
Note: Data is not complete regarding undocumented immigrants’ country of birth. Therefore, the “Estimate of Undocumented Population” listed on each slide may be greater than the sum of the populations listed for each country of birth in the visualization. Data is not provided by the source for Montana, North Dakota or Vermont.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 80,000
In 2007, Oklahoma passed a state bill, HB 1804, that made it illegal to house or transport immigrants lacking legal status, allowed law enforcement to verify the citizenship status of anyone arrested and made it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to receive government IDs or assistance.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 81,000
Jose Antonio Vargas, an immigration activist who publicly revealed his illegal status in 2011, was arrested in 2012 in Minnesota for driving without a valid license. He was interviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement but neither detained nor deported.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 83,000
A sheriff in Ohio made national headlines when he sent a controversial open letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto asking for $900,000. The sheriff calculated that was the total cost for jailing Mexican immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally and committed crimes in his community. He wrote: “I think it only fair that you provide me with some financial support for dealing with your criminals.” There was no response from Nieto.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 93,000
An Indiana woman without legal citizenship status played an instrumental role in the capture of John Dillinger, a notorious American outlaw during the Great Depression. She received a cash reward and the FBI’s help against deportation to her native Romania.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 97,000
#20. South Carolina
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 99,000
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former member of the Gang of Eight, has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform. This failed 2016 GOP presidential candidate declared that policies in Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s immigration plan are “not practical” and “self-deportation on steroids.”
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 108,000
In 2015, Connecticut state lawmakers expanded in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented immigrants. Republican Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said of the reforms: “What are we going to do as a nation? What are we going to do as a state? Are we going to leave you behind. What this says is we're going to give you that chance. Why not let that happen. We’ll be a more productive state for it. In light of where we are and how we got here, we are here.”
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 115,000
Cylvia Hayes, the fiancee of former Democrat Gov. John Kitzhaber, once married an Ethiopian migrant so he could receive a green card. She explained during a press conference: “I was struggling to put myself through college and was offered money in exchange for marrying a young person who had a chance to get a college degree himself if he were able to remain in the United States.” Kitzhaber was re-elected for a fourth term despite the controversy stemming from this revelation.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 119,000
A woman living in Tennessee received $200,000 in damages due to her mistreatment at a detention center following an arrest for driving without a legal license. She went into labor during her detainment and said she was shackled throughout this experience.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 136,000
In 2007, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional an ordinance in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, that prevented undocumented immigrants from securing housing because it denied them basic civil rights, legal citizens or not. The judge wrote: “Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people as well as others within the community.”
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 138,000
Although Nevada ranks at 15th for its overall population of people living in the state illegally, a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that this group comprises the highest proportion of the state’s population compared to the rest of the U.S.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 164,000
Illegal Pete’s, a Colorado-based Mexican restaurant, received criticism from local community members for its name. They said the use of “illegal” implies a negative context regarding citizenship and racial discrimination. The name has not been changed.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 185,000
In Revere, Massachusetts, a high school cheerleading captain faced criticism for a tweet that commented on immigration. Her tweet, supposedly inspired by 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump, stated: “When only 10 percent of Revere votes for mayor cause the other 90 percent isn't legal.” School officials started a “cultural sensitivity program” as a result of this tweet.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 204,000
After the Vietnam War, the governor of Washington welcomed about 30,000 Vietnamese refugees who were denied entry by then-California Gov. Jerry Brown. Chandler Felt, a King County demographer, said: “So that kind of established a beachhead of recognition that King County was a welcoming place for refugees and immigrants. It really started to increase the rate of immigration. Since then we've been getting refugees and immigrants from all different parts of the world.”
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 233,000
A Maryland second-grader made national headlines in 2010 when she posed a question about immigration to first lady Michelle Obama. The young girl asked: “My mom … she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers. … But my mom doesn't have any papers.”
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 247,000
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 264,000
The passing of Senate Bill 1070 reflected the severity of immigration issues in Arizona. This controversial law allows police to pull over motorists on the assumption they may be in the country illegally. Most of the law’s provisions were overturned in the Supreme Court decision Arizona v. United States.
#8. North Carolina
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 342,000
Wildin Acosta, a North Carolina high school student and undocumented immigrant from Honduras, was arrested in 2016. His deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was stalled following weeks of community protests. Rep. G.K Butterfield, D-N.C., stated, “It is my hope that he will be eventually granted asylum in the United States.”
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 393,000
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal came under fire in 2014 due to comments he made during a forum at the University of Georgia. He “presumed” that one of the students in the audience arrived in the country illegally as a child. Lizbeth Miranda, the student, responded: “I'm not an illegal immigrant. I'm not. I don't know why you would have thought that I was undocumented. Was it because I look Hispanic?”
#6. New Jersey
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 509,000
New Jersey’s Ellis Island, a historic gateway to the United States for immigrants, processed over 12 million arrivals during its 62 years of operation. Famous Americans such as Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant came through the immigration center.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 519,000
Illinois passed legislation in 2014 that allows residents to receive kidney transplants, regardless of their legal status. The program could be financially beneficial by offsetting the cost of emergency dialysis services, which are part of a state-funded program.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 605,000
Florida holds a significant population of Cuban immigrants. Many make the dangerous journey across the Florida Strait from Cuba on rafts in an attempt to secure citizenship. The United States has a special immigration policy for Cubans, informally referred to as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, where those who successfully make the journey to U.S. soil can apply for legal status after one year.
#3. New York
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 867,000
Many immigrants without proper documentation in New York claim Asia as their area of birth. They represent 10 percent of the total undocumented population in the United States. The nightmarish plight of Asian migrants received publicity in 1993 when a ship smuggling Chinese immigrants ran aground in Queens, New York. This resulted in the death of some passengers and revelations regarding the unsafe conditions of the criminal-run smuggling enterprise.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 1,464,000
A case against Texas, stemming from the refusal to issue birth certificates for U.S.-born children, made its way to federal courts in 2015. Texas officials required specific forms of ID from the mother before issuing her child’s certificate, which immigrants without documentation could not produce.
Estimate of Undocumented Population: 3,034,000
California has the largest population of immigrants without proper documentation. The state provides a variety of benefits and protections to these populations. The City of Huntington Park attracted controversy when it was revealed that two members of city commissions were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.
Note: Data is not provided by the Migration Policy Institute for Montana, North Dakota or Vermont.