Facts Or Hacks: 10 Current Stats And Immigration Facts In The US

Immigration has always been a major topic in the United States – in fact, where new citizens should come from and what they can bring to the country has been the subject of countless discussions over the decades. However, despite the amount of passion on this issue, many people don’t have all of the facts.

We’d like to note that this article is not taking sides. We’re not going to say that immigration is better or worse, or that we should favor particular policies over others. Instead, this is a collection of important facts that provide context on the subject of immigration and what any decisions will actually mean.

Fact #1: There Are Three Types Of Immigrants In The United States

a huge flock of people with some children trying to get pass the gate

These types are:

People who have become citizens of the country (typically by following our immigration procedures)

Non-citizens who legally live in the United States

Non-citizens who illegally live in the United States

These three types of residents are distinct from temporary visitors to the US, such as people who are here on vacation or for extended work reasons. For example, a British businessman who spends several months in Houston, Texas before returning home was never an immigrant, even if he rented an apartment for a time.

Most discussions on immigration have little or no relation to temporary visitors, although some legislation impacts how easy it is for workers to reside in the US temporarily.

Fact #2: Illegal Immigrants Cross The Border In Different Ways

immigrants walking across the border

While there’s a lot of talk about physical border security, most illegal immigrants don’t physically walk across the border. Instead, many of them enter the country through some other method, such as work, student passes, or tourist visas. Once they’re inside the country, they don’t leave before the terms of the visa expire.

This is why some groups are reluctant to endorse physical border security like walls or guards, though some are receptive to the idea of lower-cost drone patrols. The southern border of the United States is long, and estimated price tags for a physical border range from $12 billion to $70 billion, not counting maintenance and other ongoing costs. These would be significant, though how significant is a matter of interpretation.

Some people feel this is an acceptable price, while others think it’s far too much. It’s certainly true that other methods of border security are likely to be more cost-effective. For context, the budget of the armed forces of the United States in 2015 was $597 billion across all branches.

Fact #3: The Percentage Of Immigrants In The United States Is Relatively Steady

an illustration showing hands of different color are raised, an approved visa application, three passports and the flag of Norway as its background

Between 1850 and 2010, immigrants made up an average of 11% of the population. The percentage hovered around 14% between 1860 and 1920, at which point there was a sharp drop to a low of about 5% in 1970. Since then, immigrants have returned to about the average percentage of the population.

This relatively quick return to normal levels may be responsible for some people’s feeling that there are “too many” immigrants entering the country. Doubling as a percent of the population in just 40 years is a fairly rapid increase, and while the historical percentage is about average, many of today’s citizens were born at a time when there were far fewer immigrants than normal.

Fact #4: Residency Of Immigrants Is Wildly Uneven

silhouette of young and adult immigrants with a blue sky in its background

Immigrants tend to congregate in certain communities. While most parts of the country have seen an increase in the number of immigrants living there, some places have grown much faster than others.

Between 2000 and 2010, New York saw an increase of about 11.1% in its immigrant population. In contrast, Tennessee saw an increase of 81.8%. In both states, the increase was about 2% of their total population – but because Tennessee had so many fewer immigrants to start with, those who arrived are significantly more visible.

Fact #5: Mexicans Are The Largest Group Of Immigrants

a huge flock of people holding USA flags and banners to express their protest

This isn’t even close. In 2015, there were about 11.6 million Mexican immigrants. The next-closest source of immigrants was India, which saw 2.4 million people arrive. From a broader view, most immigrants come from either Latin America, South America, or Asia.

Relatively few immigrants come from Africa, Canada, or Oceania. The low traffic at the northern border is why most people don’t consider it a major issue, even if they strongly favor border security in general.

Fact #6: Immigrants Are Less Likely To Commit Crimes

In general, immigrants – regardless of factors like origin, status, or education – are less likely to commit crimes. There are many suggested explanations for this, ranging from a lack of broader support structures to fear of being kicked out of the country, but as a whole immigrants are less likely than native citizens to break the law.

Some studies have even found that states with the highest immigration rates tend to have lower crime rates overall, which is a strong point in favor of the trend.

This does not mean that there aren’t some areas where immigrants are more likely to commit crimes. Those exist, and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise. That said, the focus of this article is the general facts and trends of immigration, not specific areas that deviate from the norm.

Fact #7: Many Immigrants Pay More To The Government Than They Get From It

a group of female protesters expressing their support for immigrants in America

Most immigrants pay more to the Government (in taxes, etc.) than they receive in benefits. This is good for the country since it supports the system instead of draining from it. In most cases, immigrants aren’t eligible for any federal benefits until they’ve been in the country for at least five years. Illegal immigrants have no access to things like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Social Security, even if it’s taken out of their paychecks.

That said, this isn’t absolute. In a few rare cases – like medical treatment for people who are victims of human trafficking – federal benefits are available. However, the cost of this is essentially negligible compared to the Government’s overall budget, so it’s not a meaningful topic for most legislation or policies.

Fact #8: An Average Of 259,000 Immigrants Are Granted Citizenship Each Year

close-up photo of a visa and alien registration with "approved" stamp

From 1907 to 2015, an average of 259,000 people were granted citizenship. This is an important distinction from legal non-citizens. Citizenship offers benefits like voting rights, travel with a US passport, the right to run for elected offices, service on juries, and eligibility for a variety of benefits.

Despite the relatively high number of immigrants, many of them have limited direct impact on laws in their area. This makes it difficult for outside groups to have a direct impact on election results.

Fact #9: Most Immigrants Are Highly Skilled Or Poorly Skilled

This is one of the most important facts for understanding immigration in the United States. For example, in 2013, 54% of working age immigrants (25-64) from Mexico and Central America did not have the equivalent of a High School degree. For people born in the US, that number was 7%.

In the same year, 55% of Asian immigrants in the same age range had at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 33% of US citizens. Immigrants from Canada, Europe, Africa, and Oceania also beat the US average.

This is why many people don’t associate immigrants with office jobs. They tend to have either highly paid, highly-skilled jobs, like doctors, or they do a lot of low-paying manual labor because they lack an education for anything else.

In most cases, this is why immigrants aren’t actually taking jobs away from residents. Some immigrants are competing with local residents, yes, but in many cases, they’re also helping to fill shortages where we simply don’t have enough people with the right skills.

However, immigrants do compete with US-born citizens who dropped out of high school and may have a significant negative impact on their ability to find well-paying jobs. This is where most of the perceptions of immigrants “stealing” jobs are likely to come from, and it’s more prevalent in areas with a high percentage of low-educated residents.

Fact #10: Foreign-Born Non-Citizens Are Less Fluent In English Than Foreign-Born Citizens

an illustration of a man with a passport approaching an immigration desk

In 2015, 91% of citizens spoke English well, but that still leaves a percent who didn’t. Many of those who aren’t fluent are, yes, foreigners. In fact, some reports suggest that as many as 60% of foreign-born non-citizens have poor English skills. This limits their ability to interact outside of their communities and further drives ethnic groups into specific neighborhoods.

Foreign-born citizens, however, are significantly better at English. Just 38% of them aren’t fluent, in part because of the tests necessary to become fluent in the first place.

Among native-born citizens, only 2% aren’t fluent in English.

That said, the longer immigrants are in the country, the more likely they are to gain proficiency in English. Many of them actively want to learn English, while others pick it up simply from being surrounded by the language for so long.

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