Illegal immigrants in the US: How many are there?
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Looking at states where most of the undocumented population lives today, they reported "very dramatic increases in services required in communities that have become gateways for immigration." These include public school enrollment, language proficiency programs, and building permits. (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina account for about half the undocumented population.)Skip to next paragraph
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In addition, Bear Stearns found, these new undocumented workers are sending home significant amounts of money, suggesting that their numbers are considerably higher than official estimates. "Between 1995 and 2003, the official tally of Mexicans has climbed 56 percent, and median weekly wage has increased by 10 percent," the researchers found. "Yet total remittances jumped 199 percent over the same period. Even considering the declining costs of money transfers, the growth of remittances remains astounding."
One variable involves the relatives that join those coming across the border and form larger family units.
Nearly 14 million people (including 4.7 million children) live in "mixed status" families - in which the head of the household or the spouse is in the US illegally - Pew reported last summer. This is partly because children born in the US- regardless of their parents' legal status - are automatically US citizens.
"The large number of US citizen children born to parents with no legal status highlights one of the thorniest dilemmas in developing policies to deal with the unauthorized population," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center.
Whatever the total is, the annual number of illegal immigrants has exceeded those coming legally for at least the past 10 years: 700,000 illegally compared with 610,000 legally, according to Pew.
The number of "unauthorized migrants" (which includes some who have temporary permission to live in the US or those whose immigration status is unresolved), also has grown since legalization programs began in the mid-1980s, Pew reported last month: About 180,000 a year in the 1980s; 400,000 per year from 1990-1994; 575,000 per year from 1995-1999; and 850,000 per year from 2000-2005.
There's no doubt that Americans are concerned about the issue. "A growing number believe that immigrants are a burden to the country, taking jobs and housing and creating strains on the healthcare system," the Pew Hispanic Center wrote recently. "Many people also worry about the cultural impact of the expanding number of newcomers in the US."
Between 2000 and 2006, for example, the percentage of those polled who feel that immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and housing grew from 38 percent to 52 percent. At the same time, those who feel that immigrants "strengthen the US with their hard work and talents" dropped from 50 percent to 41 percent. In just the past 15 months, those who say "the growing number of newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values" has grown from 40 percent to 48 percent. Meanwhile, those who say newcomers "strengthen American society" has dropped from 50 percent to 45 percent.