National Security

Another Year, Another Record-High Immigration Total

America's foreign-born population biggest ever — it now makes up largest share of total U.S. residents in 107 years

Image Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

America’s immigrant population set a record high last year, just as it did the year before that, and the year before that and the year before that.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau and summarized by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), indicate that 44.5 million residents as of July 1 last year were born in foreign countries. Not only is that a record, but the foreign-born share of residents — 13.7 percent — is also the highest in 107 years.

Steven Camarota, who wrote the report for the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said the figures for 2017 continue a decades-long trend. The share of residents made up by immigrants keeps going up because the immigrant population is growing about two and a half times faster than the native-born population.

Camarota, director of research at CIS, added that government policies ensure that about 1 million people immigrate to the United States every year, not counting the illegal immigrant population, which accounts for about 27 percent of the estimated yearly growth.

“We’re destined to get a record in terms of the numbers,” he said.

If current trends continue, Camarota said, the foreign-born share of U.S. residents will eclipse the 14.77 percent all-time record set in 1890. Already, according to the data, immigrants and their minor children born in the United States total 61.6 million — about one out of every five residents.

“We’re destined to get a record in terms of the numbers.”

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The impact on the country could be profound, Camarota said.

“What does that mean for things people to seem to care a lot about — pollution, congestion, sprawl?” he asked.

Costs on taxpayers for services such as schools and welfare also should be considered, Camarota said.

“What does that mean for the assimilation dynamic?” he asked.

Dave Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the current immigration system automatically adds enormous numbers of newcomers each year with little regard for the consequences.

“The United States is on mass immigration autopilot,” he said. “This is why a growing share of the population is concerned about immigration.”

Ray added that immigration used to be a major concern only in the border states.

“Now, every state feels like a border state,” he said.

Camarota added that immigration levels are not preordained. Congress could alter the numbers quickly if it chose to change policies. He said the country added about 6 million new immigrants over the last decade. If the United States suddenly shut off immigration entirely, it would not take long for the overall percentage to shrink, he said.

“We’re not destined to [continue growing] … It’s really a reflection of how big the underlying numbers are,” he said.

Highlights in the new numbers pointed out by the CIS report include:

  • 1910 was the last year that the proportion of immigrants — legal and illegal — exceeded the current share.
  • From 2010 to 2017, roughly 9.5 million immigrants settled in the United States. After subtracting approximately 300,000 annual deaths and another 300,000 immigrants who return home each year, the net gain in the foreign-born population since 2010 is about 4.6 million.
  • Mexico remains the top-contributing country, with 1.3 million immigrants — or 13 percent of the total — coming since 2010. But America’s Mexican-born population actually shrank by 441,190 because of deaths and people leaving the United States.

At the same time, however, immigration from the rest of Latin America is on the rise. The population from that region jumped 426,536 between mid-2016 and mid-2017, and by 1.6 million since 2010.

Immigration also has risen since 2010 from East and South Asia (by 1.1 million), the Caribbean (by 676,023), sub-Saharan Africa (by 606,835), South America (by 483,356), and the Middle East (by 472,554).

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California no longer is the top destination for immigrants. Although the immigrant population in the Golden State has increased by 502,985 since 2010, that is less than Florida (where the immigrant population increased by 721,298) and Texas (up by 712,109).

North Dakota during that time period has seen the largest rate of immigrant growth, jumping 87 percent. Delaware (37 percent), West Virginia (33 percent), South Dakota (32 percent and Wyoming (30 percent) round out the top five.

Camarota said immigrants have begun to spread out beyond California, likely for job opportunities.

“The labor market is pretty saturated for immigrants, so they look for greener pastures,” he said.

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