Government Data Show Fewer Illegal Immigrants

Arizona's illegal immigrant population decreased by 100,000 from 2008 to 2009.

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With the Justice Department suing Arizona because of its controversial immigration law and the Obama administration calling for reform, it seems that everyone these days has an opinion on whether and how to change the U.S. immigration system. However, government data shows that varying immigrant population levels make the debate a much more salient issue in some states than others.

The Census Bureau's 2010 Statistical Abstract of the United States, which reflects 2008 data, shows that nearly 38 million Americans--12.5 percent of the population--are foreign-born. This figure includes all foreign-born residents of the U.S. (both legal and illegal immigrants). Broken down by state, the data shows that foreign-born people are disproportionately represented in some states, particularly those states that are already the most populous. California, the nation's most populous state, also has the highest number of foreign-born persons, with 9,859,027 of its total population of 36,756,666 persons, This also makes California the state with the highest proportion of foreign-born population, with 26.8 percent. California's high immigrant population accounts for over one-quarter of the total U.S. foreign-born population.

California's foreign-born population is over twice that of the state with the next-biggest immigrant population, New York, which has just over 4.2 million immigrants. Third and fourth were Texas and Florida, respectively, followed by Illinois, with a substantially smaller immigrant population.

State Pop. Immigrant Pop. Percent Foreign-Born
California 36,756,666 9,859,027 26.8
New York 19,490,297 4,236,768 21.7
Texas 24,326,974 3,887,224 16.0
Florida 18,328,340 3,391,511 18.5
Illinois 12,901,564 1,782,423 13.8
New Jersey 8,682,661 1,718,034 19.8
Massachusetts 6,497,967 937,200 14.4
Arizona 6,500,180 932,518 14.3
Georgia 9,685,744 910,473 9.4
Washington 6,549,224 804,364 12.3

Not surprisingly, the states with the highest amount of foreign-born residents also tend to be the states with the highest estimated numbers of illegal immigrants. However, estimates of the number of illegal immigrants have dropped. According to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, there were an estimated 11.6 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2008, a number that shrank to 10.8 million in 2009. Though the illegal immigrant population changed in many states from 2008 to 2009, the list of the top ten states with the highest estimated illegal immigrants population remained unchanged. Arizona, lately criticized for passing what some view as an overly strict law regarding illegal immigrants, posted the biggest drop in its unauthorized immigrant population. Only one of these states, Georgia, saw a rise in estimated illegal immigrants. From 2008 to 2009, it is estimated that Georgia's illegal immigrant population rose 4.3 percent, from 460,000 to 480,000.

State Est. Unauthorized Immigrants 2009 Est. Unauthorized Immigrants 2008 Percent Change
California 2,600,000 2,850,000 -8.8
Texas 1,680,000 1,680,000 0.0
Florida 720,000 840,000 -14.3
New York 550,000 640,000 -14.1
Illinois 540,000 550,000 -1.8
Georgia 480,000 460,000 4.3
Arizona 460,000 560,000 -17.9
North Carolina 370,000 380,000 -2.6
New Jersey 360,000 400,000 -10.0
Nevada 260,000 280,000 -7.1

However the proposed immigration reform and the Arizona immigration law challenge play out, the effects are sure to be seen in these numbers in the months and years to come.