Immigration by the numbers

By Michelle Chen Feb 25, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security has released new data on the immigrant population, suggesting that the flow of undocumented immigrants may be stagnating:

“the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States declined from 11.8 million in January 2007 to 11.6 million in January 2008. The 2008 estimate marks the first time since 2005 when DHS began producing annual estimates that there was not a year-to-year increase in unauthorized residents. During the 2000-2008 period, the unauthorized immigrant population increased by 37 percent.”

But DHS cautions that the numbers may be undercounted, vulnerable to sampling errors and other inaccuracies. The total legal resident population is estimated at 19.7 million. In one major subset of this population—legal permanent residents, refugees and aslyees who entered between 1980 and 2007—there has been an estimated decrease of about 4.6 million (from 22.4 million to 17.8 million) “due to mortality and emigration.” There has been a sharp increase in unauthorized immigration from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as from the Philippines and Brazil, according to the department. Some fast-growing cities at the heart of the (now busted) housing boom have become leading destinations. Comparing the 2001-2006 period to the previous six years, the Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Tampa metropolitan regions saw the greatest growth in the legal permanent resident population. The metro areas with lower growth tended to have residents reporting better overall health as well as higher median income and education measures. The Pew Hispanic Center published a study earlier this year suggesting a slowdown unauthorized immigration, indicating that sharp economic decline among Latino immigrants and law enforcement crackdowns as possible deterrents of growth in the undocumented population. On the connection between immigration and health, DHS also reported on health care disparities between the immigrant and native-born population. Even as immigration may be waning somewhat, at least one major inequality persist: “While the foreign-born population represented 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population, foreign-born individuals accounted for 27.1 percent of the uninsured population." While the uninsured rate among the native-born is about 13 percent, a full third of the foreign born population lacks health coverage. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report in 2007 documenting similar patterns among immigrant children. And you can learn more about race and health in the upcoming Applied Research Center phone forum.