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A warning sign at the international boundary between the United States and Canada in Point Roberts, Washington.

Illegal immigration to the United States refers to the act of oreign nationals violating U.S. immigration policies and national laws by entering or remaining in the United States without proper permission from the United States government.[1]

The alien population remaining unlawfully is estimated to be about 11 million people, down from a historic peak of 12.5 million people in 2007.[2] According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, in 2005, 57% of illegal immigrants were from Mexico, 24% were from other Latin American countries, primarily from Central America,[3] 9% were from Asia, 6% were from Europe, and 4% were from the rest of the world.[3]


Profile and demographics

Illegal immigrants continue to outpace the number of legal immigrants -- a trend that's held steady since the 1990s. While the majority of illegal aliens continue to concentrate in places with existing large communities of Hispanics, increasingly illegal immigrants are settling throughout the rest of the country.[4]

An estimated 13.9 million people live in families in which the head of household or the spouse is an unauthorized immigrant.[4] Illegal immigrants arriving in recent years tend to be better educated than those who have been in the country a decade or more. A quarter of all immigrants who have arrived in recent years have at least some college education. Nonetheless, illegal immigrants as a group tend to be less educated than other sections of the U.S. population: 49 percent haven't completed high school, compared with 9 percent of native-born Americans and 25 percent of legal immigrants.[4]

Illegal immigrants work in many sectors of the U.S. economy. According to National Public Radio, about 3 percent work in agriculture; 33 percent have jobs in service industries; and substantial numbers can be found in construction and related occupations (16 percent), and in production, installation and repair (17 percent).[4] According to USA Today, about 4 percent work in farming; 21 percent have jobs in service industries; and substantial numbers can be found in construction and related occupations (19 percent), and in production, installation and repair (15 percent), with 12% in sales, 10% in management, and 8% in transportation.[5] Illegal immigrants have lower incomes than both legal immigrants and native-born Americans, but earnings do increase somewhat the longer an individual is in the country.[4]

A percentage of illegal immigrants do not remain indefinitely but do return to their country of origin; they are often referred to as “sojourners: they come to the United States for several years but eventually return to their home country."[6]


Breakdown by state

As of 2006[7], the following data table shows a spread of distribution of locations where illegal immigrants reside by state:

State of Residence of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population: January 2000 and 2006

State of residence

Estimated population in January Percent of total Percent change Average annual change
All states 11,555,000 100 37 515,000
California 2,830,000 25 13 53,333
Texas 1,640,000 14 50 91,667
Florida 980,000 8 23 30,000
Illinois 550,000 5 25 18,333
New York 540,000 5 - -
Arizona 500,000 4 52 28,333
Georgia 490,000 4 123 45,000
New Jersey 430,000 4 23 13,333
North Carolina 370,000 3 42 18,333
Washington 280,000 2 65 18,333
Other states 2,950,000 26 69 200,000

Number of undocumented persons

According to the General Accounting Office ("GAO"), different estimates of the total number of undocumented persons are based on different definitions of the term "undocumented".[8] There are also questions about data reliability.[8]

The GAO has stated that and other estimates for 1990 numbered only 3.5 million, and that "it seems clear that the population of undocumented foreign-born persons is large and has increased rapidly."[8] On April 26, 2006 the Pew Hispanic Center (PHC) estimated that in March 2005 the number of undocumented migrants in the U.S. ranged from 11.5 to 12 million individuals.[9] This number was derived by a statistical method known as the "residual method."[8] According to the General Accounting office the residual estimation (1) starts with a census count or survey estimate of the number of foreign-born residents who have not become U.S. citizens and (2) subtracts out estimated numbers of legally present individuals in various categories, based on administrative data and assumptions (because censuses and surveys do not ask about legal status). The remainder, or residual, represents an indirect estimate of the size of the undocumented population.[8]Using the residential method, several different estimates of the number of undocumented persons present in the United States have been derived:

  • In August, 2006, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) placed the “unauthorized” immigrant population at 10.5 million as of January 2005 and indicates that if recent trends continued, the figure for January 2006 would be 11 million.[10]
  • The Pew Hispanic Center’s indirect estimate of the undocumented population as of 2006 was 11.5 million to 12 million. These estimates represented roughly one-third of the entire foreign-born population.[11]
  • According to the General Accounting Office, DHS had variously estimated the size of the undocumented population as of January 2000 as 7 million and 8.5 million.[8]

Some unofficial private estimates put the number even higher [12]

Present-day countries of origin

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security[13], the countries of origin for the largest numbers of illegal immigrants are as follows:

For 2005

Country of origin Raw number Percent of total Percent change 2000 to 2005
Mexico 7,000,000 57 28%
El Salvador 470,000 4 9%
Guatemala 370,000 4 28%
India 280,000 3 133%
China 230,000 2 21%

For 2006:[14]

Country of origin Raw number Percent of total Percent change 2000 to 2006
Mexico 6,570,000 57 40%
El Salvador 510,000 4 19%
Guatemala 430,000 4 48%
Philippines 280,000 2 40%
Honduras 280,000 2 75%
India 270,000 2 125%

The Urban Institute estimates "between 65,000 and 75,000 undocumented Canadians currently live in the United States."[15]

How someone becomes an illegal immigrant

People become illegal immigrants in one of three ways: entering without authorization or inspection, staying beyond the authorized period after legal entry, or by violating the terms of legal entry.[16] Their mode of violation breaks down as follows: If the suspect entered legally without inspection, then the suspect would be classified as either a “Non-Immigrant Visa Overstayer” (4 to 5.5 million) or a “Border Crossing Card Violator” (250,000 to 500,000). If the suspect entered illegally without inspection, then the classified as having “Evaded the Immigration Inspectors and Border Patrol” (6 to 7 million).[17]

Illegal entry

There are an estimated half million illegal entries into the United States each year.[18]

A common means of border crossing is to hire professionals who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border for pay. Those operating on the US-Mexico border are known informally as "coyotes".[19]

An alternative way of entering the United States illegally is with someone else's social security card. Often, an individual will return home and allow another person to work in the United States in his/her place. By allowing this to occur, both parties benefit. The person whose has received citizenship accumulates social security benefits, while the other can enter the country with little hassle and obtain employment.[citation needed]

Visa overstay

A tourist or traveler is considered a "visa overstay" once he or she remains in the United States after the time of admission has expired. The time of admission varies greatly from traveler to traveler depending on what visa class into which they were admitted. Visa overstays tend to be somewhat more educated and better off financially than those who crossed the border illegally.[20]

To help track visa overstayers the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program collects and retains biographic, travel, and biometric information, such as photographs and fingerprints, of foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States. It also requires electronic readable passports containing this information.

Visa overstayers mostly enter with tourist or business visas.[21]

In 1994, more than half[22] of illegal immigrants were Visa overstayers whereas in 2006, about 45%[23] of illegal immigrants were Visa overstayers.

Visa fraud

A common method of illegal immigration is visa fraud: obtaining a visa on false pretenses. The most common form is a so-called "green card marriage", whereby a foreign national marries for purposes of avoiding immigration law, a crime in the United States, rather than to build a life together. These marriages offer the opportunity of a person who might otherwise not obtain a visa to obtain permanent residency, and potentially citizenship, by virtue of laws allowing spouses of citizens and permanent residents to obtain visas.[24]

According to a 2008 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, there were a number of different types of green card marriages. Among others:[25]

  • mail order bride arrangements;
  • phony arranged marriages (as opposed to legitimate arranged marriages in cultures that practice them);
  • arrangements in which the American resident is paid;
  • human trafficking or other exploitation of the new immigrant by the American partner; and
  • "heartbreaker" partners who trick American spouses into believing a marriage is genuine, when their true intention is to obtain a green card.


Economic incentives

The continuing practice of hiring unauthorized workers has been referred to as “the magnet for illegal immigration.”[26] As a significant percentage of employers are willing to hire illegal immigrants for higher pay than they would typically receive in their former country, illegal immigrants have prime motivation to cross borders.

In 2003, then-President of Mexico, Vicente Fox stated that remittances "are our biggest source of foreign income, bigger than oil, tourism or foreign investment" and that "the money transfers grew after Mexican consulates started giving identity cards to their citizens in the United States." He stated that money sent from Mexican workers in the United States to their families back home reached a record $12 billion.[27] Two years later, in 2005, the World Bank stated that Mexico was receiving $18.1 billion in remittances and that it ranked third (behind only India and China) among the countries receiving the greatest amount of remittances.[28]

Chain immigration

According to demographer Jeffery Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center, the flow of Mexicans to the U. S. has produced a "network effect" - furthering immigration as Mexicans moved to join relatives already in the U.S.[29] The Pew Hispanic Center describes that the recent dramatic increase in the population of illegal immigrants has sparked more illegal immigrants to cross borders. Once the extended families of illegal immigrants cross national borders, they create a “network effect” by building large communities.[29]

US government inefficiencies

Analysts believe that costs, delays, and inefficiencies in processing visa applications and work permits contribute to the number of immigrants who immigrate without authorization. As of 2007 there was a backlog of 1.1 million green card applications, and typical waiting time was three years.[30]

Trade agreements and government failures

The Rockridge Institute argues that globalization and trade agreement affected international migration, as laborers moved to where they could find jobs. Raising the standard of living around the world, a promise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, would reduce the economic incentive for illegal immigration.[31] However, governments have not followed through on all of these programs.

The Mexican government failed to make promised investments of billions of dollars in roads, schooling, sanitation, housing, and other infrastructure to accommodate the new maquiladoras (border factories) envisioned under NAFTA.[29] As a result few were built, and China surpassed Mexico in goods produced for the United States market.[29] Instead of the anticipated increase, the number of manufacturing jobs in Mexico dropped from 4.1 million in 2000 to 3.5 million in 2004.[29] The 1994 economic crisis in Mexico,[32] which occurred the year NAFTA went into effect, resulted in a devaluation of the Mexican peso, decreasing the wages of Mexican workers relative to those in the United States.[29][33][34][35] Meanwhile, more efficient agricultural operations in the United States and the elimination of tariffs under NAFTA[36] caused the price of corn to fall 70% in Mexico between 1994 and 2001, and the number of farm jobs to decrease from 8.1 million in 1993 to 6.8 million in 2002.[37]

Corruption hurts the economy of Mexico, which in turn leads to migration to the United States. Mexico was perceived as the 72nd least corrupt state out of 179 according to Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, a survey of international business (for comparison, the United States ranked as the 20th least corrupt).[38] Global Integrity estimates that in 2006 corruption cost the Mexican economy $60 billion per year.[39] A survey by the Mexican research firm, Centro de Estudios Económicos del Sector Privado, found that 79 percent of companies in Mexico believe that “illegal transactions” are a serious obstacle to business development.[40]

International controversies

Mexican federal and state government assistance

The US Department of Homeland Security and some advocacy groups have criticized programs of certain state and federal agencies in Mexico directed to Mexicans migrating to and residing in the United States. They claim that the assistance includes advice on how illegal immigrants may remain undetected in the United States, receive assistance from US government-run social services, enroll their children in public schools and send money to Mexico. The state of Yucatan provided a handbook to assist persons who planned to illegally cross the American border. The Mexican federal government distributed a comic book for illegal immigrants, issues identity cards to Mexicans living outside of Mexico, and planned to distribute border maps but later dropped the plan.[41][42]

  • The National Human Rights Commission, an arm of the Mexican government, had planned to produce 70,000 maps marking main roads and water tanks for people wanting to cross illegally into the US. According to Mauricio Farah of Mexico's Human Rights Commission, "The only thing we are trying to do is warn them of the risks they face and where to get water, so they don't die." Russ Knocke, a spokesman for US Homeland Security said maps would not improve safety for those trying to cross the border, "It is not helpful for anyone, no matter how well intended they might be, to produce road maps that lead aliens into the desolate and dangerous areas along the border, and potentially invite criminal activity, human exploitation and personal risk,"[43]"In response to the growing concern over these immigrant deaths, the Immigration and Naturalization Service launched "Operation Lifesaver" ...using patrol flights and search-and-rescue missions to find migrants in distress."[44] The National Human Rights Commission has since dropped plans to distribute these maps citing fears that they would be used by the Minutemen Project.[45]
  • In 2005 the government of Yucatan produced a handbook and DVD about the risks and implications of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The guide told immigrants where to find health care, how to get their kids into U.S. schools and how to send money home. Officials in Yucatan said the guide is a necessity to save lives but some American groups accused the government of encouraging illegal immigration.[46]
  • In 2005 the Mexican government was criticized for distributing a comic book which offers tips to illegal aliens emigrating to the United States[47] That comic book recommends to illegal immigrants, once they've safely crossed the border, "Don't call attention to yourself. ... Avoid loud parties. ... Don't become involved in fights." The Mexican government defends the guide as an attempt to save lives. "It's kind of like illegal immigration for dummies," said the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, Mark Krikorian. "Promoting safe illegal immigration is not the same as arguing against it." However, on the last page of the comic book, it is clearly stated the Mexican government doesn't promote illegal crossing at all and only encourage visits to the U.S. with all required documentation.[citation needed]

Groups in favor of strict immigration enforcement oppose Matrícula Consular ("Consular Registration"), an identification card issued by the Government of Mexico through its consulate offices. The purpose of the card is to demonstrate that the bearer is a Mexican national living outside of Mexico. Similar consular identification cards are the Guatemalan CID card and the Argentinian CID card as well as a number of other CID cards issued to citizens of Colombia, El Salvador, and Honduras.[48] The document is accepted at financial institutions in many states and, in conjunction with an IRS Taxpayer Identification Number, allows illegal immigrants to open checking and saving accounts.[49] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former President Bill Clinton promote the use of foreign government CID cards in U.S. financial institutions.[50] In December 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger launched Bank on California which calls on California mayors to specifically encourage the use of the Mexican CID and Guatemalan CID card by banks and credit unions as a primary identification when opening an account.[51]

Legal issues

Immigration laws

Immigrants are classified as illegal for one of three reasons: entering without authorization or inspection, staying beyond the authorized period after legal entry, or violating the terms of legal entry.[52]


Stricter enforcement of the border in cities has failed to significantly curb illegal immigration, instead pushing the flow into more remote regions and increasing the cost to taxpayers of each arrest from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002.[53]

The expense for illegal immigrants has also increased, encouraging them to stay longer to recoup the cost.[53] Tens of thousands of illegal Mexican immigrants head each year in the direction of Mexico. While no statistics are kept on this reverse migration, researchers in both countries suggest that the numbers have declined as border controls have tightened.[54]

In October 2008, Mexico agreed to deport Cubans using the country as an entry point to the US. Cuban Foreign Minister said the Cuban-Mexican agreement would lead to "the immense majority of Cubans being repatriated."[55]

Workplace investigations

Audits of employment records in 2009 at American Apparel, a prominent Los Angeles garment manufacturer, by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) uncovered discrepancies in the documentation of about 25 percent of the company's workers. This technique of auditing employment records originated during the George W. Bush presidency and has been continued under President Obama. It may result in deportations should definite evidence of illegality be uncovered, but at American Apparel the audit resulted only in the termination of employees who could not resolve discrepancies. Most fired workers, some of whom had worked a decade at the plant, reported that they would seek other employment within the United States. This technique of enforcement is much less disruptive than mass raids at workplaces, but is not popular with employers who feel targeted and threatened.[56]


US ICE, USBP, and CBP enforce the INA, and to some extent the United States military, local law enforcement and other local agencies, and private citizens and citizen groups guard the border.[citation needed]

At border

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is responsible for apprehending individuals attempting illegal entry to the United States. The United States Border Patrol is its mobile uniformed law enforcement arm, responsible for deterrence, detection and apprehension of those who enter the United States without authorization from the government and outside the designated ports of entry.[citation needed]

In December 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to build a separation barrier along parts of the border not already protected by separation barriers. A later vote in the United States Senate on May 17, 2006, included a plan to blockade 860 miles (1,380 km) of the border with vehicle barriers and triple-layer fencing along with granting an "earned path to citizenship" to the 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. and roughly doubling legal immigration (from their 1970s levels)[citation needed] . In 2007 Congress approved a plan calling for more fencing along the Mexican border, with funds for approximately 700 miles (1,100 km) of new fencing.[citation needed]

"If immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are apprehended entering the US while committing a crime, they are usually charged under federal statutes and, if convicted, are sent to federal prisons."[57]

At workplace

For decades, immigration authorities have alerted ("no-match-letters")[58] employers of mismatches between reported employees' Social Security cards and the actual names of the card holders. On September 1, 2007, a federal judge halted this practice of alerting employers of card mismatches.[59]

Illegal hiring has not been prosecuted aggressively in recent years: between 1999 and 2003, according to the Washington Post, “work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.[60] Major employers of illegal immigrants have included:

  • Wal-Mart. In 2005 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $11 million to settle a federal investigation that found hundreds of illegal immigrants were hired by Wal-Mart's cleaning contractors.[61]
  • Swift & Co.. In December 2006, in the largest such crackdown in American history, U.S. federal immigration authorities raided Swift & Co. meat-processing plants in six U.S. states, arresting about 1,300 illegal immigrant employees.[62]
  • Tyson Foods. This company has also been accused of actively importing illegal labor for its chicken packing plants; However, the jury acquitted the company after evidence was presented that Tyson went beyond mandated government requirements in demanding documentation for its employees.[63]
El Paso (top) and Ciudad Juárez (bottom) seen from earth orbit; the Rio Grande is the thin line separating the two cities through the middle of the photograph.


About 40% of illegal immigrants enter legally and then overstay.[6] About 31,000 people who are not American citizens are held in immigration detention on any given day,[64] including children, in over 200 detention centers, jails, and prisons nationwide. The United States government held more than 300,000 people in immigration detention in 2007 while deciding whether to deport them.[65]


An individual's deportation is determined in removal proceedings, administrative proceedings under United States immigration law.[citation needed] Removal proceedings are typically conducted in Immigration Court (the Executive Office for Immigration Review) by an immigration judge.[citation needed] Deportations from the United States increased by more than 60 percent from 2003 to 2008, with Mexicans accounting for nearly two-thirds of those deported.[66]


Complications in deportation efforts ensue when parents are illegal immigrants but their children are birthright citizens. Federal appellate courts have upheld the refusal by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to stay the deportation of illegal immigrants merely on the grounds that they have U.S.-citizen, minor children.[67] There are some 3.1 million United States citizen children with at least one illegal immigrant parent as of 2005; At least 13,000 American children had one or both parents deported in the years 2005–2007.[68][69]

Such was the case of Mexican Elvira Arellano, who sought sanctuary at a Chicago-area church in an effort to impede immigration authorities from separating her and her eight year old, U.S.-born son. This is also the case in the instance of Sadia Umanzor, an illegal immigrant from Honduras and the central figure of a November 17, 2007, New York Times story. Umanzor was a fugitive from a 2006 deportation order. She was recently arrested, in anticipation of deportation. However, a judge postponed that deportation proceeding. The judge placed her in house arrest, citing her six-month old U.S.-born baby as the factor.[70]

Mass deportation

According to the Washington Post [71], Rajeev K. Goyle, of the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, says he conducted a study to respond to conservative officials who have advocated mass deportations. This study claims that the cost of forcibly removing most of the nation's estimated 10 million illegal immigrants is $41 billion a year. A spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo calls the study "useless" because no one's talking about employing mass deportation as a tactic. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, describes the study as a cartoon version of how enforcement would work.

There have been two major periods of mass deportations in U.S. history. In the Mexican Repatriation of the 1930s, through mass deportations and forced migration, an estimated 500,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans were deported or coerced into emigrating, in what Mae Ngai, an immigration history expert at the University of Chicago, has described as "a racial removal program".[72] The majority of those removed were U.S. Citizens.[72] Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., cosponsor of a U.S. House Bill that calls for a commission to study the "deportation and coerced emigration" of U.S. citizens and legal residents, has expressed concerns that history could repeat itself, and that should illegal immigration be made into a felony, this could prompt a "massive deportation of U.S. citizens".[72] Later, in Operation Wetback in 1954, when the United States last deported a sizable number of illegal immigrants, in some cases along with their U.S. born children (who are citizens according to U.S. law),[73] some illegal immigrants, fearful of potential violence as police swarmed through Mexican American barrios throughout the southeastern states, stopping "Mexican-looking" citizens on the street and asking for identification, fled to Mexico.[73]

Kennedy Jurisprudence

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 16, 2008, per ponented Justice Kennedy ruled (5-4) "that someone who is here illegally may withdraw his voluntarily agreement to depart and continue to try to get approval to remain in the United States." The lawsuit is about two seemingly contradictory provisions of immigration law. One prevents deportation by voluntary departure from the country. The other section allows immigrants who are here illegally but whose circumstances changed to build their case to immigration officials, and must remain in the US. In the case, Samson Dada, a Nigerian citizen, overstayed beyond the expiration of his tourist visa in 1998. Immigration authorities ordered him to leave the country as he agreed to leave voluntarily, to allow his legal re-entry then if he had been deported.[74][75]

Police and military involvement

In 1995, the United States Congress considered an exemption from the Posse Comitatus Act, which generally prohibits direct participation of Department of Defense personnel in civilian law enforcement activities, such as search, seizure, and arrests.[76]

In 1997, Marines shot and killed 18 year old U.S. citizen Esequiel Hernández Jr[77] while on a mission to interdict smuggling and illegal immigration near the border community of Redford, Texas. The soldiers observed the high school student from concealment while he was tending his family's goats in the vicinity of their ranch. But at one point, Hernandez raised his .22-caliber rifle and fired shots in the direction of the concealed soldiers. He was subsequently tracked for 20 minutes then shot and killed.[78][79] In reference to the incident, military lawyer Craig T. Trebilock argues that "the fact that armed military troops were placed in a position with the mere possibility that they would have to use force to subdue civilian criminal activity reflects a significant policy shift by the executive branch away from the posse comitatus doctrine."[80] The killing of Hernandez led to a congressional review[81] and an end to a nine-year old policy of the military aiding the Border Patrol.[82]

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States again considered placing soldiers along the U.S.-Mexico border as a security measure.[83] In May 2006, President George W. Bush announced plans to use the National Guard to strengthen enforcement of the US-Mexico Border from illegal immigrants,[84] emphasizing that Guard units "will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities."[85] Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said in an interview with a Mexico City radio station, "If we see the National Guard starting to directly participate in detaining people ... we would immediately start filing lawsuits through our consulates,"[86] American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on the President not to deploy military troops to deter immigrants, and stated that a "deployment of National Guard troops violates the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act".[87] According to the State of the Union Address in January 2007[88], more than 6000 National Guard members have been sent to the US-Mexico border to supplement the Border Patrol,[89] costing in excess of $750 million.[90]

Sanctuary cities

Several US cities have instructed their own law enforcement personnel and other city employees not to notify or cooperate with the federal government when they become aware of illegal immigrants living within their jurisdiction.

Many cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco,[91] San Diego, Austin, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Jersey City, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Aurora, Colorado, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Portland, Maine, and Senath, Missouri, have become "sanctuary cities", having adopted ordinances banning police from asking people about their immigration status.[92]

Most of these cities claim that the benefit illegal immigrants bring to their city outweigh the costs. Opponents say the measures violate federal law as the cities are in effect creating their own immigration policy, an area of law which only Congress has authority to alter.[93]

Community-based involvement

According to a 2006 report by the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists and other extremists were engaging in a growing number of assaults against legal and illegal immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants.[94]

The Indian reservations along the US/Mexico border are being inundated with illegal aliens passing through their lands, leaving debris and waste, as well as committing crimes on tribal lands.[95] They have asked the US Government to stop the large number of illegal aliens as they are unable to do so.

The No More Deaths organization offers food, water, and medical aid to migrants crossing the desert regions of the American Southwest in an effort to reduce the increasing number of deaths along the border.[96]



Wages and employment

Separate research by both George Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at Harvard University and Paul Samuelson, Nobel prize-winning economist from MIT has shown that illegal immigration had a substantial effect on reducing the economic status of U.S. poor while benefiting middle class individuals and wealthier Americans.[97]

Research by George J. Borjas (Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at Harvard University), Jeffrey Grogger (the Irving Harris Professor in Urban Policy in the Harris School at the University of Chicago), and Gordon H. Hanson (the Director of the Center on Pacific Economies and Professor of Economics at UCSD) suggests that a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 4.0 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 3.5 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost one percent.[98]

Taxes and social services

Illegal workers are estimated to pay in about $7 billion per year into Social Security.[99]

A paper in the peer reviewed Tax Lawyer journal from the American Bar Association asserts that illegal immigrants contribute more in taxes than they cost in social services.[100] The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reviewed 29 reports published over 15 years to evaluate the impact of unauthorized immigrants on the budgets of state and local governments, and found that the tax revenues that unauthorized immigrants generate for state and local governments do not offset the total cost of services provided to those immigrants, but that the amount that state and local governments spend on services for unauthorized immigrants represents a small percentage of the total amount spent by those governments to provide such services to residents in their jurisdictions.[101]

Federation for American Immigration Reform (an advocate group interested in immigration reform)[102] using the U.S. INS statistics on how many illegal immigrants are residing in each country and the U.S. Dept of Education's current expenditure per pupil by state, the estimated cost of educating illegal alien students and U.S. citizen children of illegal aliens in 2004 was $29.6 billion.[103][104]


Around 2005, an increasing number of banks saw illegal immigrants as an untapped resource for growing their own revenue stream and contended that providing illegal aliens with mortgages would help revitalize local communities, with many community banks providing home loans for illegal immigrants.[105]

In October 2008, talk radio station KFYI reported that according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, five million illegal immigrants hold fraudulent home mortgages.[106] The story was later pulled from their website and replaced with a correction.[107] The Phoenix Business Journal cited a HUD spokesman saying there is no basis to news reports that more than 5 million bad mortgages are held by illegal immigants, and that the agency has no data showing the number of illegal immigrants holding foreclosed or bad mortgages.[108] Radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Lee Rodgers repeated a variation of the claim without noting that HUD has reportedly stated that this statistic is false.[109] Roger Hedgecock also repeated the incorrect claim on CNN's Lou Dobbs show.[110]

Law enforcement expenses

Apprehension & deportation

Border control uses the latest technology to help capture immigrants, sometimes detain/prosecute, and send back over the border. According to the US Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol Enforcement Integrated Database, apprehensions have increased from 955,310 in 2002 to 1,159,802 in the year of 2004. "But fewer than 4 percent of apprehended migrants were actually detained and prosecuted for illegal entry, partly because it costs $90 a day to keep them in detention facilities and bed space is very limited. For the remainder of the apprehended migrants, if they are willing to sign a form attesting that they are voluntarily repatriating themselves, they are simply bused to a gate on the border, where they re-enter Mexico."[111] "During the summer of 2004, the U.S. government pressured the Mexican government into accepting 'deep repatriation' of as many as 300 apprehended migrants per day to six cities in central and southern Mexico. U.S. taxpayers paid $50,000 for each of these 151 chartered flights."[111]

Crimes committed by illegal immigrants

According to Edmonton and Smith in The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration, "it is difficult to draw any strong conclusions on the association between immigration and crime".[57] Cities with large immigrant populations showed larger reductions in property and violent crime than cities without large immigrant populations.[112] Almost all of what is known about immigration and crime is from information on those in prison. Incarceration rates do not necessarily reflect differences in current crime rates.[57] A few of the other reasons also cited for why the extent of illegal immigrants' criminal activities is unknown are as follows:

  • For many minor crimes, especially crimes involving juveniles, those who are apprehended are not arrested. And only a fraction of those who are arrested are ever brought to the courts for disposition.[57]
  • Many illegal immigrants who are apprehended by Border Patrol agents are voluntarily returned to their home countries and are not ordinarily tabulated in national crime statistics. If immigrants, whether illegal or legal, are apprehended entering the United States while committing a crime, they are usually charged under federal statutes and, if convicted, are sent to federal prisons. Throughout this entire process, immigrants may have a chance of deportation, or of sentencing that is different from that for a native-born person.[57]
  • We lack comprehensive information on whether arrested or jailed immigrants are illegal immigrants, nonimmigrants, or legal immigrants. Such information can be difficult to collect because immigrants may have a reason to provide false statements (if they reply that they are an illegal immigrant, they can be deported, for instance). And the verification of these data is troublesome because it requires matching INS records with individuals who often lack documentation or present false documents.[57]
  • Noncitizens may have had fewer years residing in the United States than citizens, and thus less time in which to commit crimes and be apprehended.[57]

In 1999, law enforcement activities involving unauthorized immigrants in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas cost a combined total of more than $108 million. This cost did not include activities related to border enforcement. In San Diego County, the expense (over $50 million) was nine percent of the total county's budget for law enforcement that year.[113]

A study by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that, "cities with large immigrant populations showed larger reductions in property and violent crime than cities without large immigrant populations" but adds, "As with most studies, we do not have ideal data. This lack of data restricts the questions we will be able to answer. In particular, we cannot focus on the undocumented population explicitly".[114]

A study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has found that while property-related crime rates have not been affected by increased immigration (both legal and illegal), in border counties there is a significant positive correlation between illegal immigration and violent crime, most likely due to extensive smuggling activity along the border.[115]

Another study, by the immigrant-advocacy group, Immigration Policy Center, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, found that large increases in illegal immigration do not result in a rise in crime[116]

On August 6, 2008, an audit done by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement found that 137 of the 637 jail inmates in the Lake County, Illinois jail were illegal immigrants. According to Lake County sheriff Mark Curran, illegal immigrants were charged with half of the 14 murders in the county.[117]

Identity theft

Identity theft is associated with illegal immigrants who use social security numbers that do not belong to them, in order to obtain fake work documentation.[118]

Drug smuggling

According to proceedings from a 1997 meeting of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, "Through other violations of our immigration laws, Mexican drug cartels are able to extend their command and control into the United States. Drug smuggling fosters, subsidizes, and is dependent upon continued illegal immigration and alien smuggling."[119]

Drug cartels are reported to be using illegal immigrants, sometimes armed, to cultivate marijuana within American National Forests, in California's Los Padres National Forest,[120][121] Tahoe National Forest[122], Six Rivers National Forest,[123] and Sequoia National Forest,[124] as well as in Arizona,[125] Oregon,[126] and Colorado.[127]

Gang violence

As of 2005, Operation Community Shield had detained nearly fourteen hundred illegal immigrant gang members.[128]

Members from the Salvadoran gang are believed by authorities to establish a smuggling ring in Matamoros, Mexico. The smuggling involved transporting illegal aliens from foreign countries into the United States. The Salvadoran gang has shown extreme violence against Border Patrol security to “teach them a lesson.”[129] "Mexican alien smugglers plan to pay violent gang members and smuggle them into the United States to murder Border Patrol agents, according to a confidential Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by the Daily Bulletin."[130]


Waves of illegal immigrants are taking a heavy toll on U.S. public lands along the Mexican border, federal officials say.[131] Mike Coffeen, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Tucson, Arizona found the level of impact to be shocking.[131] "Environmental degradation has become among the migration trend's most visible consequences, a few years ago, there were 45 abandoned cars on the Buenos Aires refuge near Sasabe, Arizona and enough trash that a volunteer couple filled 723 large bags with 18,000 pounds of garbage over two months in 2002."[132]

"It has been estimated that the average desert-walking immigrant leaves behind 8 pounds of trash during a journey that lasts one to three days if no major incidents occur. Assuming half a million people cross the border illegally into Arizona annually, that translates to 2,000 tons of trash that migrants dump each year."[133]

Illegal immigrants trying to get to the United States via the Mexican border with southern Arizona are suspected of having caused eight major wildfires in 2002. The fires destroyed 68,413 acres (276.86 km2) and cost taxpayers $5.1 million to fight.[134]

Illegal immigrants have also used many parks inside the United States to grow and then distribute illegal drugs, turning previously protected nature areas into "heavily armed drug compounds". See [120][135] and [121]

National security and terrorism

Mohamed Atta al-Sayed and two of his co-conspirators had expired visas when they executed the September 11, 2001 attacks. All of the attackers had U.S. government issued documents and two of them were erroneously granted visa extensions after their deaths.[136] The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States found that the government inadequately tracked those with expired tourist or student visas.

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think-tank that promotes immigration reduction, testified in a hearing before the House of Representatives that

"out of the 48 al-Qaeda operatives who committed crimes here between 1993 and 2001, 12 of them were illegal aliens when they committed their crimes, seven of them were visa overstayers, including two of the conspirators in the first World Trade Center attack, one of the figures from the New York subway bomb plot, and four of the 9/11 terrorists. In fact, even a couple other terrorists who were not illegal when they committed their crimes had been visa overstayers earlier and had either applied for asylum or finagled a fake marriage to launder their status."[137]

Vice Chair Lee Hamilton and Commissioner Slade Gorton of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has stated that of the nineteen hijackers of the September 11, 2001 attacks, "Two hijackers could have been denied admission at the port on entry based on violations of immigration rules governing terms of admission. Three hijackers violated the immigration laws after entry, one by failing to enroll in school as declared, and two by overstays of their terms of admission."[138] Six months after the attack, their flight schools received posthumous visa approval letters from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for two of the hijackers, which made it clear that actual approval of the visas took place before the September 11 attacks.[139]

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, illegal immigrants within the United States have attempted to carry out other terrorist attacks as well. Three of the six conspirators in the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot--Dritan Duka, Shain Duka, and Eljvir Duka—were ethnic Albanians from the Republic of Macedonia who entered the United States illegally through Mexico. Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, an illegal immigrant from Jordan, was arrested in September 2009 for attempting to carry out a car bomb attack against Fountain Place in Dallas.

Harm to illegal immigrants

There are significant dangers associated with illegal immigration including potential death when crossing the border. Since the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper immigrants have chosen more dangerous routes to get into the country.[140] Most deaths are due to dehydration caused by the intense heats of the Arizona desert and the treacherous desert roads. Deaths also occur while resisting arrest. According to the US Border Agency, there were 987 assaults on US Border Agents in 2008 and there were a total of 12 people killed by agents in 2007 and 2008.[141]

Furthermore, Amnesty International has taken concern regarding the excessive brutality inflicted upon illegal immigrants.[142] The organization states that its main concerns are:

  • Numerous evidence and reports detailing cruel and excessive force by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in which victims were “subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including beatings, sexual assault, denial of medical attention, and denial of food, water and warmth for long periods”
  • Lack of legal representation and advice when brought to court, especially illegal immigrant children are given no rights to a lawyer
  • The rapid branching of INS to increase security around border patrol but no such increase in the Office of the Inspector General, which conducts investigations of complaints.


Indian, Russian, Thai, and Chinese women have been reportedly brought to the United States under false pretenses. “As many as 50,000 people are illicitly trafficked into the United States annually, according to a 1999 CIA study. Once here, they're forced to work as prostitutes, sweatshop laborers, farmhands, and servants in private homes.” US authorities call it “a modern form of slavery.”[143] [144]


The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women has reported scores of cases where women were forced to prostitute themselves. “Trafficking in women plagues the United States as much as it does underdeveloped nations. Organized prostitution networks have migrated from metropolitan areas to small cities and suburbs. Women trafficked to the United States have been forced to have sex with 400-500 men to pay off $40,000 in debt for their passage.” [145] At least 45,000 Central American children attempt to illegally immigrate to the United States every year and many of them finish in brothels as sex slaves, according to Manuel Capellin, director in Honduras of the humanitarian organization House Alliance.[146]


See also: Haitian immigration to the United States and Canada - Deaths

Death by exposure has been reported in the deserts, particularly during the hot summer season.[147][148] “Exposure to the elements” encompasses hypothermia, dehydration, heat strokes, drowning, and suffocation. Also, illegal immigrants may die or be injured when they attempt to avoid law enforcement. Martinez points out that engaging in high speed pursuits while attempting to escape arrest can lead to death.[149]

Public opinion and controversy

US economy

One of the most important factors regarding public opinion about immigration is the level of unemployment; anti-immigrant sentiment is highest where unemployment is highest and vice-versa.[150]

The presence of illegal immigrants and the exploitation of them drives down wages for certain sectors of the American populace, further widening the socioeconomic gulf between rich and poor.[151]

A May 2006 New York Times/CBS News Poll shows that 53 percent of Americans feel that “illegal immigrants mostly take the jobs Americans don’t want”.[152]


71% of respondents in a 2006 Quinnipiac University Poll believed that enforcement of immigration laws will require additional measures beyond a border fence, with 65% of respondents supporting employer fines.[153] 77% of respondents to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll support employer fines.[154][155]

A poll was performed by NBC/Wall Street Journal on April 21-24, 2006. In this poll, when asked " If you had to make a choice, would you favor deporting immigrants in America who are not legal citizens and do not have work permits, or would you favor allowing these immigrants to stay in America as long as they pass a security check, meet certain conditions, and pay taxes?", 61 percent of the U.S. population responded "Allow to stay."[156]

A later NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates 57% strongly favor employer fines and 17% somewhat favor them, while 44% strongly favor increased border security and 19% strongly oppose.[157] In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 69% of Americans favor prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants, but only 33% favor deporting those who have lived and worked in the U.S. for at least two years.[158][159]

Manhattan Institute reported that 78% of likely Republican voters favor a proposal combining increased border security, tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal workers, and allowing illegal aliens to register for a temporary worker program that includes a path to citizenship. Respondents favored the program over a deportation and enforcement-only plan 58% to 33%." [160] The Quinnipiac poll reports that 65% of adults support a guest worker program for illegal immigrants.[155]

Response of government

An ABC News Poll[161], indicates that most respondents (67%) believe the United States is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country and, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll[158] most Americans believe that US immigration policy needs either fundamental changes (41%) or to be completely rebuilt(49%).

In an opinion poll by Zogby International in 2005, voters were also asked, "Do you support or oppose the Bush administration's proposal to give millions of illegal aliens guest worker status and the opportunity to become citizens?" Only 35% gave their support, and 56 percent said no. The same poll noted a huge majority, 81%, believes local and state police should help federal authorities enforce laws against illegal immigration.[162]

Federal response

In choosing a presidential candidate, most respondents to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll[163] consider his or her stand on illegal immigration to be either an important (66%) or the most important(15%) issue, while a clear minority consider it to be either not too important(16%) or not important at all(2%).

Most respondents (51%) would be upset if Congress does not pass an immigration bill while significantly fewer (22%) would be pleased.

A Chicago Tribune Super Tuesday exit poll shows that "Experts following the immigration debate claim Republicans had hoped illegal immigration would become a wedge issue between the two parties in the 2008 presidential election." And the report adds, "Voters across the country overwhelmingly and consistently have named the economy as their number one issue, in exit poll data from Super Tuesday and subsequent primaries..."

State and local response

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll[164], most respondents (55%) believe state or local police forces should arrest illegal immigrants they encounter who have not broken any state or local laws. However, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll. Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2007 reported that arrests and deportations were the least important, with border security, sanctions against employers, path to citizenship, and guest worker program heading the list [155].

The previously cited CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll poll indicates that most respondents (76%) are against state governments issues driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. A poll by the Field Institute found that "[California] residents are very much opposed (62% to 35%) to granting illegal immigrants who do not have legal status in this country the right to obtain a California driver’s license. However, opinion is more divided (49% to 48%) about a plan to issue a different kind of driver’s license that would allow these immigrants to drive but would also identify them as not having legal status."[165] [166]

Further, most respondents (63%) in the above-mentioned 2006 Quinnipiac University poll[153] support local laws passed by communities to fine businesses that hire illegal immigrants while only 33% oppose it.

See also


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Further reading

  • Barkan, Elliott R. "Return of the Nativists? California Public Opinion and Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s." Social Science History 2003 27(2): 229-283. in Project Muse
  • Brimelow, Peter; Alien Nation (1996)
  • Cull, Nicholas J. and Carrasco, Davíd, ed. Alambrista and the US-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants U. of New Mexico Press, 2004. 225 pp.
  • De La Torre, Miguel A., Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2009.
  • Flores, William V. "New Citizens, New Rights: Undocumented Immigrants and Latino Cultural Citizenship" Latin American Perspectives 2003 30(2): 87-100
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  • Ngai, Mae M. "The Strange Career of the Illegal Alien: Immigration Restriction and Deportation Policy in the United States, 1921–1965" Law and History Review 2003 21(1): 69-107. ISSN 0738-2480 Fulltext in History Cooperative
  • Thomas J. Espenshade; "Unauthorized Immigration to the United States" Annual Review of Sociology. Volume: 21. 1995. pp 195+.
  • Kennedy, John F. A Nation of Immigrants. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.

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