While Donald Trump's recent position paper on immigration dominates headlines, a new study of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. digs into the latest numbers.
The Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute released "An Analysis of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States by Country and Region of Birth." It's based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
Some of the findings may not surprise you. Mexicans represent 6 million of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country, making up 56 percent of the total. An additional 1.6 million, or 15 percent, come from Central America. Asia (China, India, Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and Pakistan) accounts for 1.5 million, or 14 percent, of the unauthorized population.
The report finds that this population doubled in the 1990s from 3.5 million to 7 million and it kept growing through the 2000s, peaking at about 12.2 million people in 2007. But illegal immigration has been declining since then. Researchers say there are about 1 million fewer unauthorized residents today than eight years ago, mostly among Mexicans.
"The outflow of unauthorized Mexicans since 2007 appears to be a function of the U.S. economic downturn, tougher U.S. immigration enforcement, especially at the border, a relatively strong Mexican economy during most of this period, and demographic changes resulting in fewer Mexicans entering the labor market," says Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the institute's U.S. Immigration Policy Program.
At the same time, there's been "a broader trend toward greater diversity in the overall U.S. foreign-born population," according to the report. The number of Central Americans and Asians tripled between 2000 and 2013, while the number of Africans doubled. Another unauthorized population growing at the fastest proportional rate of any national-origin group since 2000 is Indians.
The report also looks at the Obama administration's controversial program for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally. It's called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. About 1.2 million minors are immediately eligible for the program that grants them a work permit and relief from deportation. About 750,000 minors already have applied. The vast majority are from Mexico and Central America.
Finally, Rosenblum offers two more conclusions based on the data that are probably relevant to today's debate on illegal immigration. Southwestern border apprehensions have fallen 80 percent since 2000. In Rosenblum's view, "the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than it's been in 40 years."
And what about the concern that a potential terrorist could enter the U.S. by illegally crossing the border? Rosenblum says there are a significant number of unauthorized Asian immigrants apprehended at the border.
But most security experts doubt that illegally crossing the border is a good way for a terrorist to enter the country. After all, "there's a high probability of being apprehended at the border," says Rosenblum. "About half of all border crossers are apprehended at least once."