Essential Immigration Facts

Watchdog Vigilance Home Page Immigration Public Policies

The latest essential immigration facts should guide the public servants in our U.S. Congress as they consider immigration reforms.

The content of this web page is arranged under the following headings:
1. Foreign-Born Population
2. Long-Run Economic Impact
3. Current Economic Impact
4. Immigration Enforcement
5. Immigrant Detention
6. Refugee Immigration
7. U.S.-Mexico Border Wall
8. Immigration Criminality
9. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

1. Foreign-Born Population

NOTE: The source of these facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at

Approximately 43.3 million foreign-born people live in the United States. The foreign-born population includes 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.6 million noncitizens.

By 2015, immigrants made up 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population. This immigrant population was 51.4 percent female and 48.6 percent male. The poverty rate for these immigrants was 17.3 percent, compared with 14.3 percent for the U.S.-born population. 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.

In 2015, working-class, immigrant-headed households with children received 9.3 percent of their overall income from public programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Social Security. By comparison, U.S.-born-headed households received 15 percent of their income from such programs. Research consistently shows that working-class immigrants use social programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income at similar or lower rates than native-born households.

Thirty-six percent of U.S.-born children of immigrants are college graduates, 5 percent above the national average.

In 2014, there were an estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. This population reached a high of 12.2 million in 2007 but saw a gradual decline during the Great Recession.

Undocumented immigrants are often part of the same family as documented immigrants and native-born Americans.

Six states are home to the majority of the undocumented population. As of 2014, 21 percent of the nation’s undocumented population lived in California, 15 percent lived in Texas, 8 percent lived in Florida, 7 percent lived in New York, 5 percent lived in New Jersey, and 4 percent lived in Illinois.

Mexicans account for half of all undocumented United States immigrants, but the undocumented Mexican population is declining. In 2014, 5.8 million undocumented immigrants from Mexico resided in the United States, compared with 6.4 million in 2009 and 6.9 million in 2007. However, from 1980 to 2014, the number of documented Mexican residents in the United States grew faster than their undocumented counterparts.

The majority of undocumented immigrants are long-term residents of the United States. In 2014, the median length of residence for undocumented immigrants in the United States was 13.6 years – more than double its length in 2000. In 2014, 66 percent of undocumented immigrants had been living in the United States for 10 years or longer.

Many undocumented immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country, and face lengthy bars to re-entry if they leave. Three million undocumented immigrants could qualify for a green card by virtue of having a close relative who is a U.S. citizen, but they are unable to adjust their status to documented permanent resident from within the country because they have never been admitted or paroled into the country. Leaving the United States in order to obtain an immigrant visa abroad would trigger lengthy re-entry bars of three or ten years that were put in place in 1996, so many remain in undocumented status today.

2. Long-Run Economic Impact

NOTE: The source of these facts is the May 31, 2017, research brief from the CATO Institute titled “Migrants and the Making of America: The Short- and Long-Run Effects of Immigration During the Age of Mass Migration” that can be accessed online at

The CATO Institute research brief estimates the long-run impact of immigrants on economic outcomes today through an analysis of migration into the United States between 1850 and 1920.

Immigration backlash, and the rise of social and political nativist movements between 1850 and 1920, suggest that some groups may have experienced short-run economic burdens from immigration. However, significant benefits of immigrants were generally felt immediately. Immigration resulted in more and larger manufacturing establishments, greater agricultural productivity, and higher rates of innovation. Immigrants benefited the economy by providing an ample supply of unskilled labor, which was crucial for early industrialization. Immigrants also resulted in a small but important supply of skilled individuals, who provided knowledge, know-how, skills, and innovations that were economically beneficial and particularly important for industrial development.

The vast majority of the benefits of immigration from 1850-1920 were felt by 1920, and these benefits persisted, increasing slightly, until 2000. Immigration, measured as the average share of migrants in the population between 1860 and 1920, generated significant economic benefits for today’s population, including significantly higher incomes, less poverty, less unemployment, more urbanization, and higher educational attainment.

Locations with more historical immigration are more prosperous today. A 20 percent increase in average per capita income today results from moving a U.S. county with no historical immigration to the 50th percentile of the average share of migrants in the population.

There is no evidence of negative spillovers. That is, immigration into a U.S. county does not result in a decline in long-run economic prosperity in nearby counties.

In summary, U.S. immigration had extremely large economic benefits in the long-run, and there is no evidence that these long-run benefits came at significant short-run costs. In fact, immigration immediately led to economic benefits for those already living in the area in the form of higher incomes, higher productivity, more innovation, and more industrialization.

Also, the long-run effects of 1850-1920 immigration may be relevant for assessing the long-run effects of immigration today. The long-run benefits of immigration can be large, and need not come at high social cost. In addition, the economic benefits can be realized quickly and can be highly persistent. This suggests the importance of taking a long-run view when considering the current immigration debate.

3. Current Economic Impact

NOTE: The source of these facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at

Immigrants added an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2016.

In 2015, 50.7 percent of immigrant heads of household owned their own homes, compared with 65.2 percent of U.S.-born heads of household. Homeownership rates are comparable between native-born and naturalized immigrants, 64.6 percent of whom owned their own homes in 2015. Immigrants contributed $3.7 trillion to housing markets nationwide.

Immigrant men have higher employment rates than U.S.-born men, and their wages rise the longer they are in the United States. On average, children of immigrants meet or exceed the educational attainment of third-plus generation natives. These children earn higher wages, experience greater upward mobility in their professions, and are less likely to live in poverty than their parents. The median annual household income of the 20 million adult U.S.-born children of immigrants (or second-generation Americans) in 2012 was $58,100, just $100 below the national average – and was substantially higher than the median annual household income of their parents at $45,800. From 2011 to 2013, children of immigrants contributed $1,700 per person to state and local budgets, and immigrants’ grandchildren contributed another $1,300.

In 2010, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and their children. This includes 90 companies founded by immigrants and 114 companies founded by children of immigrants. These companies employ more than 10 million people worldwide.

Undocumented immigrants are overrepresented in the labor force relative to the size of the overall population. In 2015, 7 million undocumented immigrants worked in the United States. They represented 4.9 percent of the U.S. labor force, although they comprised only 3.5 percent of the U.S. population.

Undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to Social Security and Medicare. In 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $13 billion into Social Security and received only $1 billion in services. Further, from 2000 to 2011, unauthorized immigrants paid $35.1 billion more into Medicare than they withdrew.

Undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.7 billion a year in state and local taxes. This includes more than $7 billion in sales and excise taxes, $3.6 billion in property taxes, and nearly $1.1 billion in personal income taxes. Granting all undocumented immigrants legal status would boost their tax contributions an additional $2.2 billion per year. Immigrants – even documented immigrants – pay to support many of the benefits they are statutorily barred from receiving.

Research shows that immigrants tend to complement, rather than compete with, U.S.-born American workers – even lesser-skilled workers. U.S.-born workers and immigrants have different skill sets and tend to enhance productivity by working in different jobs and industries, even when they have similar educational backgrounds.

Immigrants consume goods and services, creating jobs for natives and other immigrants alike. Immigration increased average wages of U.S.-born individuals 0.4 percent, or $3.68 per week, from 1994 to 2007. Immigration had little effect on the wages and employment of African American men between 1960 and 2010, regardless of their level of education.

Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship would create extensive economic benefits. Such reform would increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product $1.2 trillion over 10 years and create 145,000 jobs annually. Americans’ income would increase by a cumulative $625 billion.

Immigration reform would also translate into a significant decrease in the federal budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the proposed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 would have reduced the budget deficit $135 billion in the first decade after the bill’s passage and an additional $685 billion in the second decade, when most unauthorized immigrants would have become eligible for citizenship.

By contrast, the removal of undocumented immigrants from the workforce would lead to a 2.6 percent decline in U.S. Gross Domestic Product – an average annual loss of $434 billion. Such a policy would reduce the GDP $4.7 trillion over 10 years. Mass deportation would additionally cost the federal government nearly $900 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. Deporting the entire unauthorized immigrant population would cost $114 billion over 20 years – an average of $10,070 per person removed – including the costs of detaining these individuals while they wait for removal, processing them through the immigration courts, and transporting them abroad.

Further, industries could lose large shares of their workforces from mass deportation, up to 18 percent for some. Mass deportation of undocumented workers would create income losses for large and important industries such as financial activities ($54.3 billion annual long-term GDP losses), manufacturing ($73.8 billion annual long-term GDP losses), and wholesale and retail trade ($64.9 billion annual long-term GDP losses). If mass deportation of undocumented workers were to occur, states with the most undocumented workers would experience the largest declines in GDP – California would lose an estimated $103 billion (or 5 percent) annually, Texas would lose $60 billion, New York $40 billion, and New Jersey $26 billion.

As Baby Boomers retire en masse over the next 20 years, immigrants will be crucial to filling these job openings and promoting growth of the labor market. From 2020 to 2030, 7 million U.S.-born individuals, on net, are expected to leave the labor force. Two million immigrants and 6.9 million children of immigrants are projected to join the labor force during the same period. Looking further, from 2015 to 2065, immigrants and their descendants are expected to account for 88 percent of U.S. population growth. As such, immigrants and their children will be critical both in replacing retiring workers and also in meeting the demands of the future economy.

4. Immigration Enforcement

NOTE: The source of these facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at

U.S. Border Patrol staffing has increased dramatically over the past decade. In 2016, the Border Patrol employed 19,828 agents – 61 percent more than the 12,349 agents employed in 2006. Staffing along the southern border rose 54 percent from 11,032 individuals in 2006 to 17,026 in 2016.

Surveillance technology is increasingly used to monitor the border. As of June 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had deployed: 179 mobile and video surveillance systems; 11,863 underground sensors; 6 unmanned aerial systems; 39 mobile surveillance systems; and 272 remote video surveillance systems.

The U.S. government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. From 1986 to 2012, the federal government allocated nearly $187 billion for immigration enforcement. In 2012, it spent almost $18 billion on immigration enforcement – 24 percent more than its combined spending on the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The Obama administration deported more than 2.7 million immigrants, or about 942 deportations per day. In Fiscal Year 2016, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 240,255 people, bringing the estimated total number of ICE deportations since 2009 to 2.7 million.

In recent years, many deported immigrants with criminal convictions had convictions only for immigration or traffic violations. Forty-seven percent of those deported in FY 2013 – the most recent year for which data are available – who had a criminal conviction history were convicted of only immigration or traffic offenses.

In November 2014, the Obama administration established a new set of immigration enforcement priorities emphasizing the removal of immigrants that constitute a security or public safety threat. Under this directive, the removal of immigrants suspected of terrorism, immigrants convicted of felonies, and immigrant gang members was given top priority – in addition to the removal of newly apprehended immigrants at the border. The removal of immigrants found guilty of one serious misdemeanor – or three or more less serious misdemeanors – and those apprehended away from the border took second priority. The third priority included immigrants issued a final removal order on or after January 1, 2014.

More and more immigrants are being prosecuted for unlawful re-entry. Unlawful re-entry convictions increased 13-fold from 1992 to 2012. Unlawful re-entry accounted for almost half of the growth in the number of offenders sentenced for federal crimes between 1992 and 2012.

Deportations and detentions break families apart, cause emotional distress for children, force some children into foster care, and create single-parent households that struggle financially. Further, family income after a father’s deportation drops by 73 percent.

E-Verify, an online system used to check a prospective employee’s work authorization status, is currently used by more than 500,000 businesses in the United States. But the program contains significant flaws. An audit found that the E-Verify system incorrectly identified 54 percent of unauthorized workers as lawful employees, mostly due to document fraud. Further, in 2012, 0.15 percent of workers were erroneously found to be unauthorized. If the program became mandatory for all employers today, E-Verify would erroneously identify more than 180,000 lawful workers as unauthorized, threatening their jobs. Even if E-Verify were fine-tuned, expanding the program to cover all employers could only work in concert with a legalization program that allows the 5 percent of the labor force without legal status to work legally.

The federal government has stepped up enforcement against employers who hire unauthorized workers by auditing I-9 forms. Upon hiring an employee, all workers and employers must complete this federal paperwork. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted 3,124 worksite audits in FY 2014, up from 3,082 in the previous fiscal year and 713 in FY 2008.

Executive orders and a February 20, 2017, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memorandum instruct the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire and deploy an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 500 air and marine agents. These additional hires could cost taxpayers at least $8.6 billion over the next decade. In addition, per the DHS memorandum, parents who provide financial support to their children and other relatives seeking to escape violence and persecution could be subject to deportation and/or criminal prosecution.

Interior enforcement policy changes could lead to the deportation of 8 million or more people. Executive orders and the February 20, 2017, DHS memorandum eliminate the Obama administration’s Priority Enforcement Program, which emphasized the removal of unauthorized immigrants suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes such as felonies. The DHS memorandum instead effectively makes all removable immigrants priorities for enforcement. The memo also mandates that the DHS hire an additional 10,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and officers to facilitate apprehensions and removals.

There is considerable support for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. In a January 2017 CBS poll, 61 percent of respondents expressed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States and eventually apply for citizenship. In contrast, only 22 percent expressed that all undocumented immigrants should be required to leave. These numbers are consistent with another January 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University, in which 59 percent of respondents expressed support for a path to citizenship and 25 percent supported deportation.

5. Immigrant Detention

NOTE: The source of these facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at

Congressional appropriations laws mandate that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintain at least 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis. This mandate effectively limits the discretionary authority of immigration officers to release low-risk individuals to their families while they await immigration court hearings. Detention is often harmful to vulnerable populations such as the elderly and LGBT immigrants, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Furthermore, mass detention is expensive, costing the government $55 million per day. It is estimated that taxpayers would save $1.44 billion per year if low-risk immigrants were released.

As the number of detainees rises, detention costs are reaching unprecedented levels. In October 2016, ICE kept an average of more than 40,000 individuals per day in detention, exceeding the bed quota. This increase in detentions led to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget shortfall of $136 million as of October 2016.

Privately run immigrant detention facilities jeopardize immigrants’ well-being. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice instructed the Bureau of Prisons to phase out the use of private prisons because they are less safe and less secure than public prisons and provide fewer services. In a report to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Homeland Security Advisory Council recommended that the DHS increase oversight and accountability measures for privately run immigrant detention facilities, which make up the bulk of private prisons nationwide. In 2016, 73 percent of immigrants in detention were housed in facilities managed by private companies. Privately run immigration detention facilities have been linked to repeated failures to identify serious health needs, the provision of substandard medical care resulting in death, the failure to prevent suicide attempts and suicides, the failure to report and respond to sexual assault, and the failure to provide adequate access to legal services.

Alternatives to detention can be effective, cost-efficient, and more humane. Detention alternatives include things such as electronic ankle monitors, biometric voice recognition software, home visits, community support programs providing telephonic monitoring, and in-person reporting to supervise participants released into the community. These alternatives provide a more humane and cost-effective course of action than detention. A DHS detention alternative pilot program cost an estimated $17 per day in Fiscal Year 2014, while detaining an individual for one day cost $161.

The nation’s immigration courts are badly backlogged, meaning that detainees must wait years before they can have their cases heard. As of February 2017, the average length of time it takes to have a case heard in an immigration court is 673 days.

A February 20, 2017, DHS memorandum requires that, with limited exceptions, all apprehended immigrants deemed inadmissible be held in detention facilities until their cases have been decided. This will lead to the detention of large numbers of people. Given lengthy backlogs in immigration courts, many could be detained for years. This could cost taxpayers an estimated $9 billion over 10 years. Further, an executive order and the DHS memo authorize the construction of new detention facilities to house apprehended immigrants, adding to already steep costs.

6. Refugee Immigration

NOTE: The primary source of these facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at

Refugees are those with a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

Since 1975, the United States has accepted more than 3 million refugees. Refugee admissions have ebbed and flowed with global conflict, peaking in 1980 with the enactment of the United States Refugee Act. In the 1990s, a large share of refugees originated from the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. Refugee admissions temporarily dropped after September 11, 2001, but have rebounded to near pre-9/11 levels. Since then, the United States has received refugees from countries such as Somalia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and, most recently, Syria.

Refugee admissions in the United States have been trending upwards. The United States admitted 84,995 refugees in Fiscal Year 2016, nearly half of whom came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Myanmar. This is an increase from the nearly 70,000 refugees received in each of Fiscal Years 2013, 2014, and 2015 and the fewer than 60,000 refugees admitted in each of Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012.

Muslim refugee admissions have been trending upward, but non-Muslims still make up the bulk of refugees. In Fiscal Year 2016, the United States admitted 38,901 Muslim refugees, the majority of whom were from Syria and Somalia. These refugees constituted 46 percent of all those admitted. Over the past 15 years, Muslims made up 32 percent of all refugees admitted while Christians made up 46 percent.

Potential refugees must undergo extensive security checks prior to arrival in the United States. Most refugees resettled in the United States are first interviewed and screened extensively by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Refugees are then interviewed again by a Resettlement Support Center operated by the U.S. Department of State before undergoing multiple biometric and biographical interagency security checks. Applications are then forwarded to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which conducts further screenings and interviews. If approved, refugees are matched with a resettlement agency, undergo a second interagency security check to identify any new information that would make them ineligible for entry, and take cultural orientation classes abroad. Finally, they are screened by the Transportation Security Administration prior to departure for the United States.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program aims to make refugees economically self-sufficient as soon as possible. Refugees are resettled by designated resettlement agencies in communities around the country, and recently resettled refugees reside in nearly 190 counties nationwide. Resettlement decisions are based on a variety of factors, including housing availability, the availability of jobs and agencies that can provide training and social assistance, the presence of relatives or members of the same refugee community, and refugees’ individual needs.

Refugees learn English and settle into American society over time. After living in the United States for 10 years, for example, at least 86 percent of Somali refugees and 67 percent of Hmong refugees speak English “well,” “very well,” or exclusively. Seventy-three percent of refugees from Myanmar and 72 percent of Bosnian refugees own their own home after 10 years – higher than the 68 percent rate of homeownership for U.S.-born individuals. After 20 years, more than three-quarters of Bosnian, Somali, Hmong, and Burmese refugees become U.S. citizens.

Syrian immigrants are excelling socially and economically in the United States, and are well-positioned to help Syrian refugees get on their feet. Resettlement agencies are placing Syrian refugees in communities with established Syrian communities to facilitate their integration. The median annual wage of Syrian immigrants who arrived prior to 2014 is $52,000 – $7,000 higher than that of U.S.-born individuals. Twenty-seven percent of Syrian immigrant men possess an advanced degree, compared with 11 percent of U.S.-born men. Further, 11 percent of Syrian immigrants are business owners, compared with 3 percent of the U.S.-born population.

Federal judges have dismissed several lawsuits filed by states wishing to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees. After the Obama administration pledged to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees across the United States in Fiscal Year 2016, officials in Texas and Alabama filed lawsuits. These suits claimed that the Obama administration had not consulted states prior to resettlement. Federal judges dismissed the cases, ruling that states have no authority over resettlements handled by the federal government.

Some immigrants from the following ten countries have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to an emergency in their home countries: 195,000 from El Salvador; 46,000 from Haiti; 57,000 from Honduras; 8,950 from Nepal; 2,550 from Nicaragua; 250 from Somalia; 70 from South Sudan; 1,040 from Sudan; 5,800 from Syria; and 1,000 from Yemen. The Trump administration has now terminated TPS status for four countries – Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador. El Salvador’s embassy in Washington estimates that 97% of Salvadorans on TPS older than 24 are employed and pay taxes, and more than half own their homes. Salvadorans on TPS have also given birth to 192,000 children, all U.S. citizens, according to the Center for Migration Studies. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 9, 2018.)

7. U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

NOTE: The source of these facts is the 2017 report from the Center for Migration Studies titled “The 2,000 Mile Wall in Search of a Purpose: Since 2007 Visa Overstays have Outnumbered Undocumented Border Crossers by a Half Million” that can be accessed online at This report presents information about the mode of arrival of the undocumented population that resided in the United States in 2014. It divides the 2014 undocumented population into two groups: overstays and entries without inspection (EWIs). The term overstay refers to undocumented residents who entered the United States with valid temporary visas and subsequently established residence without authorization. The term EWI refers to undocumented residents who entered without proper immigration documents across the southern border.

One reason to question the necessity and value of a 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border wall is that about two-thirds (66 percent) of undocumented immigrants who arrived in 2014 did not illegally cross a border, but were admitted (after screening) on temporary visas, and then overstayed their period of admission or otherwise violated the terms of their visas. Moreover, this trend in increasing percentages of visa overstays will likely continue into the foreseeable future.

In 2014, the total undocumented U.S. population was divided between 4.5 million overstays and 6.4 million EWIs. However, overstays have exceeded EWIs every year since 2007 – and 600,000 more overstays than EWIs have arrived since 2007.

Mexico is the leading country for both overstays and EWIs; about one-third of undocumented arrivals from Mexico in 2014 were overstays.

California has the largest number of overstays (890,000), followed by New York (520,000), Texas (475,000), and Florida (435,000).

The percentage of overstays varies widely by state: more than two-thirds of the undocumented who live in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania are overstays. By contrast, the undocumented population in Kansas, Arkansas, and New Mexico consists of fewer than 25 percent overstays.

Two states had 47 percent of the 6.4 million EWIs in 2014: California (1.7 million) and Texas (1.3 million).

A growing percentage of border crossers in recent years have originated in the Central American “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These immigrants are fleeing pervasive violence, persecution, and poverty, and a large number do not seek to evade arrest, but present themselves to border officials and request political asylum. Many are de facto refugees rather than “illegal” border crossers.

The cost-effectiveness of a U.S.-Mexico border wall is questionable given diminished Border Patrol apprehensions (to roughly one-fourth the level of historic highs) and reduced illegal entries (to roughly one-tenth the 2005 level according to an internal Department of Homeland Security study).

Given the many other U.S.-Mexico border enforcement tools such as Border Patrol personnel, video surveillance, drones, ground sensors, and radar technologies, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other experts have argued that a wall does not add enforcement value except in heavy crossing areas near towns, highways, or other “vanishing points.”

An extended U.S.-Mexico border wall would have a deleterious impact on bi-national border communities, the environment, and property rights.

Finally, the efficacy of extending the U.S.-Mexico border wall as an immigration enforcement tool is questioned because, between Fiscal Years 2010 and 2015, the current 654-mile pedestrian wall was breached 9,287 times.

8. Immigration Criminality

One source of immigrant criminality facts is the March 15, 2017, policy brief from the CATO Institute titled “Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin” that can be accessed online at The facts included in this policy brief include those listed next.

(1) Empirical studies of immigrant criminality generally find that immigrants do not increase local crime rates and are less likely to cause crime than their native-born peers. Undocumented immigrants were not more crime prone than natives.

(2) Research that examines immigrant institutionalization rates uniformly finds that native-born Americans are more likely to be incarcerated than immigrants as a percentage of their population. All immigrants – BOTH documented and undocumented – are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans relative to their shares of the population. Undocumented immigrants are 44 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives. Legal immigrants are 69 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives.

(3) By race and ethnicity, every group of documented and undocumented immigrants has a lower incarceration rate than their native peers. Even the incarceration rate for undocumented immigrants is lower than the incarceration rate for native white Americans.

(4) Undocumented immigrant women are less likely to be in prison than native or documented immigrant women.

Another source of immigrant criminality facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at The facts included in this report include those listed next.

(5) When local law enforcement becomes entangled with immigration enforcement, it has a chilling effect on immigrant communities. Such cooperation may lead immigrant communities to fear the police, making them reluctant to report crimes. A 2013 study found that police involvement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) leads to a 70 percent decrease in the likelihood that unauthorized immigrants report crimes to the police. Further, state and local enforcement of federal immigration laws often leads to racial profiling.

(6) While the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 11.1 percent to 13.5 percent from 2000 to 2015, FBI data indicate that violent crime rates across the country fell 16 percent, while property crime rates fell 21 percent during the same time period.

9. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

NOTE: The primary source of these facts is the August 30, 2017, policy brief from the CATO Institute titled “The DREAMer Incarceration Rate” that can be accessed online at

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative grants temporary work permits and lawful immigration presence to protect from deportation many young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. At last count, 886,814 of these young undocumented immigrants received DACA protections since President Barack Obama created the program through executive action on June 15, 2012. Young undocumented immigrants are excluded from DACA if they are convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors.

A potential DACA beneficiary is called a DREAMer, a term derived from the proposed 2001 Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The DREAM ACT would establish a multi-phase process to legalize many undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age. This proposed process would first grant DREAMers conditional residency and then, upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency. The DREAM Act, despite being reintroduced several times, has failed to pass in the U.S. Senate. The estimated size of the total DREAMer population varies from about 1.1 million, according to the Pew Research Center, to about 1.9 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration decided to rescind the DACA program effective March 5, 2018. On January 9, 2018, a federal judge in California ruled that President Trump acted improperly by planning to end DACA. On January 13, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security said it would comply with the judge’s ruling and allow the program to continue (including the acceptance of renewal requests from DACA recipients) while lawsuits go through the courts. Immigration groups warned that DACA’s fate could change again if the Trump administration successfully appeals the judge’s decision. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 15, 2018.)

News reports of individual DREAMers committing crimes contribute to the public perception that DREAMers are disproportionately crime prone. In fact, DREAMers have lower incarceration rates than native-born Americans of the same age and education level. Despite individual news stories and anecdotes to the contrary, DREAMers are less crime prone than native-born Americans.

The CATO Institute policy brief estimates that DREAMers had an incarceration rate of 0.98 percent in 2015 compared to a native-born incarceration rate of 1.12 percent, a DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrant incarceration rate of 0.38 percent, and a documented immigrant incarceration rate of 0.24 percent. The native-born incarceration rate is 14 percent higher than the DREAMer incarceration rate, while DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants have the lowest rates of all.

DREAMers are underrepresented in adult correctional facilities because they make up 2.05 percent of the total U.S. population in the 18-to-34 age range with at least a high school or equivalent degree but are only 1.94 percent of the incarcerated prisoners with those same characteristics. By contrast, natives in that range are overrepresented in adult correctional facilities because they make up 87.19 percent of the population but are 94.84 percent of all prisoners. DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrants and all other documente immigrants are underrepresented in adult correctional facilities relative to their percentage of the population.

DREAMers who are black, Asian, or Hispanic of any race have lower incarceration rates than natives of the same ethnicity, race, education, and age. However, white DREAMers and those who self-identify as other have higher incarceration rates than their native-born peers. But, DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrants and all other documented immigrants have lower incarceration rates than natives or DREAMers in every racial and ethnic category.

The incarceration rate for DREAMers and natives varies significantly by sex. The native-born female incarceration rate is 2.86 times as great as the female DREAMer incarceration rate, which is below one-tenth of one percent. The native-born male incarceration rate is 12.5 percent higher than the male DREAMer rate. In addition, the incarceration rates of DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrants and of all other documented immigrants is even lower when compared to natives, especially for women.

It must be noted that the U.S. Congress should expand the parameters of any future legalization because the across-the-board, even-lower incarceration rates for DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrants show that the DACA-ineligible undocumented immigrants are less crime prone than either DREAMers or natives.

Another source of DACA facts is the April 20, 2017, report from the Center for American Progress titled “The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition” that can be accessed online at The facts included in this report include those listed next.

(a) The DACA initiative has resulted in big economic gains. DACA increased recipients’ average hourly wages 42 percent, and many moved into jobs with better pay and working conditions. A further 6 percent started their own businesses. With better jobs and higher wages, many individuals are buying cars and homes, leading to more state and local revenue in the form of property and sales taxes.

(b) Ending DACA and kicking recipients out of the labor force would cost the United States $433.4 billion in Gross Domestic Product and decrease Social Security and Medicare contributions by $24.6 billion over the next decade. Employed DACA recipients have broadened the payroll tax base, increasing Social Security and Medicare contributions.

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This page was last updated on 01/23/18.