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Immigration Facts


Immigration has been a constant source of economic vitality and demographic dynamism throughout our nation’s history. Immigrants are taxpayers, entrepreneurs, job creators, and consumers. But the immigration system is broken and in need of an overhaul. Although the U.S. border is now more secure than ever, decades of ever-increasing border and interior enforcement have exacerbated the dysfunction caused by rigid, out-of-date laws. Immigration reform that comprehensively addresses these systemic problems—including providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States—is supported by large swaths of Americans. Common-sense reform would restore public faith in the system and level the playing field for all Americans, while supercharging the economic benefits from our immigrant population.

  • The foreign-born population consisted of 40.7 million people in 2012. Broken down by immigration status, the foreign-born population was composed of 18.6 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.1 million noncitizens in 2012. Of the noncitizens, approximately 13.3 million were legal permanent residents, 11.3 million were unauthorized migrants, and 1.9 million were on temporary visas.
  • The past decade saw a significant increase in the foreign-born population. Between 2000 and 2012, there was a 31.2 percent increase in the foreign-born population. During this period, the immigrant population grew from 31.1 million to 40.8 million people.
  • The foreign-born share of the U.S. population has more than doubled since the 1960s, but it is still below its all-time high. The immigrant population was 5.4 percent of the total U.S. population in 1960. By 2012, immigrants made up 13 percent of the total U.S. population. Still, today’s share of the immigrant population as a percentage of the total U.S. population remains below its peak in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the U.S. population had immigrated to the country.
  • The countries of origin of today’s immigrants are more diverse than they were 50 years ago. In 1960, a full 75 percent of the foreign-born population that resided in the United States came from Europe, while in 2012, only 11.8 percent of the immigrant population emigrated from Europe. In 2012, 11.6 million foreign-born residents—28 percent of the foreign-born population—came from Mexico; 2.3 million immigrants came from China; 2 million came from India; 1.9 million came from the Philippines; 1.3 million came from both Vietnam and El Salvador; and 1.1 million came from both Cuba and Korea.
  • Immigrants today are putting down roots across the United States, in contrast to trends seen 50 years ago. In the 1960s, two-thirds of U.S. states had populations in which less than 5 percent of individuals were foreign born. The opposite is true today: In 2012, 61 percent of the foreign-born population lived in the West and the South—a dramatic departure from trends 50 years ago, when 70 percent of the immigrant population lived in the Northeast and Midwest.
  • Today, women outnumber men in the foreign-born population. In 2012, 51.4 percent of the U.S. immigrant population was female. Until the 1960s, immigrant men outnumbered immigrant women. However, by the 1970s, the number of female immigrants had surpassed the number of male immigrants.
  • The foreign-born population is, on average, slightly older than the native-born population. In 2012, the median age for all foreign-born people was 42, while the median age for all native-born people was 35.
  • There are almost 1 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, adult immigrants in the United States today. The estimated 904,000 LGBT adult immigrants are more likely to be young and male compared with the overall immigrant population.
  • Immigrants have diverse educational backgrounds. In 2012, 11.6 percent of immigrants had a master’s degree, professional degree, or doctorate degree, compared with 10.8 percent of the native-born population. That same year, 69.4 percent of the foreign-born population had attained a high school diploma, GED, or higher, compared with 89.9 percent of the native-born population.
  • More than half of the foreign-born population are homeowners. In 2012, 51 percent of immigrant heads of household owned their own homes, compared with 66 percent of native-born heads of household. Among immigrants, 65 percent of naturalized citizens owned their own homes in 2012.
  • Less than one in five immigrants live in poverty, and they are no more likely to use social services than the native-born Americans. In 2012, 19.1 percent of immigrants lived in poverty, while 15.4 percent of the native-born population lived in poverty. Of the foreign born, the two largest groups living in poverty were the 3.2 million people who emigrated from Mexico and the 1.4 million people who emigrated from either South or East Asia. Despite of this, studies have consistently shown that immigrants use social programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income at similar rates to native households.
  • The 20 million U.S.-born children of immigrants are significantly better off financially than their immigrant parents. The median annual household income of second-generation Americans in 2012 was $58,100, just $100 below the national average. This was significantly higher than the median annual household income of their parents at $45,800.
  • U.S.-born children of immigrants are more likely to go to college, less likely to live in poverty, and equally likely to be homeowners as the average American. About 36 percent of U.S.-born children of immigrants are college graduates—5 percent above the national average. Eleven percent of U.S.-born children of immigrants live in poverty—well below the national average of 13 percent. And around 64 percent of them are homeowners, just 1 percent below the national average.
  • Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. A 2007 study by the Immigration Policy Center found that the incarceration rate for immigrant men ages 18 to 39 in 2000 was 0.7 percent, while the incarceration rate for native-born men of the same age group was 3.5 percent. While the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 8 percent to 13 percent between 1990 and 2010, FBI data indicate that violent crime rates across the country fell by about 45 percent, while property crime rates fell by 42 percent.

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