Demographic Data of Undocumented Immigrants

The United States was, is, and probably always will be a country of immigrants. Men, women and children who, on ships, planes and desert trails, have arrived throughout history with their baggage of hope to the country of Marilyn Monroe and John Kennedy.

But who are these people who come from different corners of the world in search of economic opportunities, escaping the repression of totalitarian regimes or seeking refuge after natural disasters?

In September 2022, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), the number of US residents who were born abroad reached 47.9 million. This represents 14.6% of the total population and, if the trend continues, in 2023 it will surpass the record set in 1910.

This more than significant growth includes 2.9 million migrants who arrived in the United States since January 2021.

Undocumented immigrants

The interesting thing is that of these 2.9 million, it is estimated that around 61% are undocumented immigrants. If they are added to those who are already in the country, according to Migration Policy, they end up being about 11.4 million.

Where do they come from? The majority of these undocumented immigrants, 5,313,000, or 48% of the total, come from Mexico. These are followed by people who emigrate from El Salvador and Guatemala.

Top Countries of Origin of Undocumented Immigrants, 2019

Country of Origin    Estimate Percentage
Mexico 5,313,000 48%
El Salvador 741,000 7%
Guatemala 724,000 7%
India 553,000 5%
Honduras 490,000 4%
SOURCE: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice. Census Bureau, 2019.

Focusing on the different regions of the world, the analysis indicates that 78% of the undocumented come from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, 15% from Asia, 4% from Europe/Canada/Oceania, and 3% from Africa.

More than a third (37%) have resided in the United States for less than 10 years. Another 40% between 10 and 19 years old, and 22% twenty or more.

Years of Residence in the US

Years   Estimate Percentage
Less than 5 2,370,000 21%
5 – 9 1,744,000 16%
10 – 14 2,132,000 19%
15 – 19 2,368,000 21%
20 or more 2,433,000 22%
SOURCE: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice. Census Bureau, 2019.

The majority, 54%, are men and 46% women. 19% are under 25 years old, 71% between 25 and 54 years old, and 9% 55 or older.

Among undocumented migrants over 15 years of age, 39% were single, 16% were divorced, separated, or widowed. In addition, 12% were married to a person who was a citizen of the United States, 6% to someone who had a permanent residence (‘green card’), and 27% to someone who neither had citizenship nor permanent residence.

Nearly half of adults age 25 and older (46%) did not complete high school, 24% earned a high school diploma, and 30% have a bachelor’s degree or took some college classes.

Education level

Level (Adults)     Estimate Percentage
0 – 5th grade 1,330,000 15%
6th – 8th grade 1,444,000 16%
9th – 12th grade 1,334,000 15%
High School Diploma 2,136,000 24%
Some college courses 1,062,000 12%
BA or professional degree 1,558,000 18%

SOURCE: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice. Census Bureau, 2019.

Regarding the command of the English language, among the undocumented population 5 years of age or older, 7% only speak English, 25% speak it “very well”, 22% “well” and 46% “do not speak English” or “they don’t speak well.” The most widely spoken language at home is Spanish (72%), followed by English (7%), Chinese (3%), Tagalog (3%) and Portuguese (2%).

Nearly 2 out of 3 undocumented immigrants are employed (65%), 4% are unemployed, and 30% are not in the labor force. About 1 in 5 work in construction (21%) and 10% in manufacturing. In addition, 16% are employed in the hospitality, food service, and entertainment sectors.

Sector in which they are employed

Industry Estimate Percentage
Construction 1,403,000 21%
Hotels, restaurants, entertainment 1,092,000 16%
Professional, administration, sciences, arts 946,000 14%
Manufacturing 694,000 10%
Commerce 547,000 8%

SOURCE: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice. Census Bureau, 2019.

Although these immigrants are scattered across the country, most are in California, Texas and Florida. Five of the 20 metropolitan centers with the largest undocumented populations are in California (Los Angeles, Riverside-San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose).

This article was supported in whole, or in part, by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.


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