Which country has the most illegal immigrants?

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

An estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants reside in the United States as of January 2011, of which 59% (6.8 million) are from Mexico. Other important countries of origin are El Salvador (660,000 undocumented), Guatemala (520,000), Honduras (380,000) and China (280,000). Overall, 85% of all irregular immigrants in 2011 came from just ten different countries of origin. [1]

The number of illegal immigrants living in the United States increased significantly between 1980 (approximately 2 to 4 million) and 2000 (8.5 million). It peaked in 2007 when an estimated 11.8 million people were living in the United States without valid residence permits. According to the Department of Homeland Security, "the number of irregular immigrants is unlikely to have increased since 2007 amid relatively high unemployment in the US, an improved economic situation in Mexico, a record low number of arrests of unauthorized immigrants at US borders as well overall stricter border controls. "[2]


Calculating the number of irregular immigrants in the USA:

Estimated Foreign Born Population on January 1, 2011: 33,600,000
Estimated legal resident population (LPR population) on January 1, 2011: 22,090,000
Estimated number of irregular residents in the United States on January 1, 2011: 11,510,000

Source: Hoefer / Rytina / Baker (2012)
The problem of irregular immigration is hotly debated in the context of security concerns. The fact that these immigrants are not recorded in a document has been problematic, especially since September 11, 2001.

It is believed that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants entered the country legally and did not leave the country after their visas expired or entered the United States illegally via the southern border with Mexico.

During the past 50 years, various, largely unsuccessful attempts have been made to prevent irregular immigration. In 1954, Operation Wetback [3] ended with the deportation of over a million Mexicans and US citizens of Mexican descent (namely, the US-born children of irregular immigrants). Other measures, such as Operation Gatekeeper, carried out on the border section near San Diego in 1994, have merely forced people to cross the border in more dangerous places, far away from the highly secured western section.

The flaws in the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which deals almost exclusively with the problem of irregular immigration, attracted much attention at the time. Around three million unregistered immigrants had been legalized under the IRCA. However, since the failure to create legal routes for immigration to meet the high demand for cheap labor in the US economy, the immigration of irregular migrants could not ultimately be stopped. After their residence was legalized, the families and relatives of the legalized immigrants followed suit - most of them came from Mexico and Central America - which triggered another wave of immigration. This in turn promoted an anti-immigrant attitude; in particular, concerns were raised about access to education, medical care and social benefits. [4]

Control of the US southern border has been the subject of serious discussion in recent years, particularly in the US states bordering Mexico. Attempts to avoid the arrival of more unregistered immigrants by increasing border closures in certain areas have only induced potential immigrants to choose more dangerous routes to get into the US and contributed to the increase in deaths related to illegal border crossings. [5]

The issue of irregular immigration sometimes makes the general public feel very high and so some private individuals have already founded groups that monitor the border for illegal border crossings. Allegations have been made that some of these groups act as vigilantes rather than independent observers. There is no question that such voluntary border patrols are totally unacceptable and that border control must be left to official border guards. However, any strategy for border control cannot work in isolation under any circumstances, but must be integrated into a comprehensive revision of immigration policy (see the following chapter).

This article is part of the United States of America country profile.