Immigrants make up 14% of the American population, with nearly 1 in 7 people in the country being foreign-born individuals, and yet, they remain one of the most neglected groups where policy change and reform are concerned.
Many immigrants spend their life in limbo and at the mercy of a bogged down immigration system riddled with bureaucratic red tape.
For the nearly 45 million immigrants in the country, immigration reform is not only a necessity but the need of the hour.
I’m Andres Mejer, Immigration Attorney and an immigrant myself, and in today’s video, we’ll be talking about immigration in the United States and key immigrant statistics.
We’ll also be addressing some of the misconceptions surrounding documented as well as undocumented immigrants.
In the same vein, we’ll also talk about President Biden’s address of certain Trump-era immigration policies, including the recently suspended expedited removal policy that left immigrants at risk of being deported without due process.
If you’ve started your immigration journey or are thinking of doing so, keep reading till the end to learn all about immigrants in the United States and immigration trends, as well as get recent updates about relevant immigration policies.
Immigration in the United States
We often talk about how immigrants are the backbone of American society and the economy, but how accurate are these statements, really?
On one hand, we have people acknowledging that immigrants helped build America into the nation that it is today.
On the other hand, we see a strong anti-immigrant sentiment, and we saw an example of that in President Trump’s administration.
Immigrants were painted out to be criminals who had entered the country illegally and were stealing American jobs and resources, and while these claims were successful in making sensational headlines, they’re not backed by evidence or facts.
We can get a clearer picture once we view the latest immigration statistics in the United States.
Figures from the Census Bureau tell us that out of the 328 million people living in the country in 2019, 45 million were immigrants, making up 14% of the population.
22 million of these were women, 20.4 million were men, and 2.5 million were children. These numbers are significant, but they are by no means extraordinary.
The number of foreign-born people in the U.S. gets higher every year, but their percentage relative to the rest of the population is fairly consistent.
In fact, this is by no means the highest percentage of immigrants in the country. In 1890, immigrants made up 15% of the U.S. population.
But unlike 1890, more than half of the immigrants now in the country are naturalized.
By 2019, 23.2 million immigrants had naturalized, which is 52% of the immigrant population and about 7% of the total U.S. population.
On top of that, 8.1 million more immigrants are eligible for naturalization and have not pursued it due to a number of reasons.
Factors such as lack of interest, personal barriers, financial barriers, and language barriers lead to low naturalization rates, particularly in Mexican-born immigrants.
Another factor may be the recent trend of more Mexican-born immigrants leaving the U.S. rather than coming here.
All in all, 14% (a good number, though by no means a majority) of people living in the U.S. are immigrants.
And if we consider the 38.3 million native-born Americans who are the children of these immigrants, the number jumps to 26%.
So, about a quarter of the people living in the U.S. are immigrants or the children of immigrants, with 1 in 7 being an immigrant and 1 in 8 being the child of at least one immigrant parent.
These figures are important because they tell us that these are people that cannot be separated from American communities or the labor force, and to stereotype or generalize all immigrants is not only unfair but untrue.
Where do the immigrants come from?
So where do these immigrants come from? The United States has the most extensive immigration system in the world and is home to more immigrants than any other country in the world- about one-fifth of the world’s migrants.
On average, one million immigrants arrive in the United States every year. This pool of immigrants is also incredibly diverse, with people of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds included.
However, the majority of immigrants in the U.S. come from only a couple of countries.
About a quarter of all immigrants in the U.S. come from Mexico and around the same number from Asia.
24% of immigrants have Mexico as their country of origin, 6% have India, 5% have China as their country of origin, and the next largest origin groups are the Philippines, making up 4.5% of all immigrants, and El Salvador, making up 3% of all immigrants.
Now, this distribution isn’t exactly random. The reason a large number of immigrants come from Mexico is because of family reunification.
These people come to the U.S. to join family members that are already in the country.
As for China and India, a large number of employers seek skilled workers from these countries, and many of the immigrants from these countries are in the U.S. with H-1B visas- which is the visa for foreign workers in specialty occupations.
On top of these immigrants, we also have refugees who are resettled in the United States every year under the 1980 federal Refugee Resettlement Program.
In 2019, 30,000 refugees, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma (Myanmar), Ukraine, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, were resettled in the country.
Interestingly, not only do most immigrants hail from a handful of countries, but they also live in a number of U.S. states.
45% of the country’s immigrants are living in:
- California (24%),
- Texas (11%), and
- Florida (10%)
In fact, in 2018, there were more than 10 million immigrants living in California alone. Most immigrants, roughly 67% of the immigrant population, actually live in 20 metropolitan areas all over the country, with the largest populations being in the New York, Los Angeles, and Miami metropolitan areas.
Most of the country’s unauthorized immigrant population also resides in these areas.
Speaking of the noncitizen immigrant population, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding them as well.
There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, a number that is nearly triple what it was 20 years ago.
In July 2021, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported the highest monthly number of people in two decades, nearly 212,000, trying to cross the southern border. But this doesn’t mean that most immigrants come to the country illegally.
In fact, according to data from the Pew Research Center, 77% of all immigrants are in the country legally.
So where does the claim that most immigrants are here illegally come from? Well, some immigrants do cross the border to come into the country illegally.
However, a large number of the undocumented immigrant population is actually made up of individuals who came into the country legally but have overstayed their visas.
One of the reasons behind this is the slow rate of processing in the immigration system, where immigrants often have to wait many years after application before they receive their green card or Lawful Permanent Resident status.
A significant number of these undocumented immigrants are waiting for their green card applications to be processed, and have been waiting for many years.
Now to address the claim that immigrants are a burden on the country’s economy. Statistical data about the contribution of immigrants to the United States labor force cannot be overlooked.
In fact, one in six workers is an immigrant, and they are an irreplaceable part of the labor ecosystem. The number of immigrant workers in the U.S. economy is chalked upwards of 28 million and can be found in every industry.
Approximately 5% of the workforce is made up of undocumented immigrants.
Immigrants in the Labor Force
Talking of immigrants in the labor force, an eye-opening statistic shows that the highest percentage of the immigrant worker population can be attributed to the healthcare and social services industry.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 data shows that 4 million immigrants played a part in health and social services.
To put that into context, that is 4 million people working in essential services to ensure the health and social wellbeing of the American people.
This number is all the more significant when we consider the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications on the United States. These were the same people working in ERs, COVID units, care, and assistance departments to protect the people.
Other industries also have a remarkable immigrant population that works day and night for a prosperous U.S economy.
About 3 million immigrants work in manufacturing companies, while a little less than 3 million workers in the accommodations and food services are immigrants.
That amounts to more than 6 million immigrant workers that participate in the labor force, providing essential services.
From the food you eat to the products you use; your comfort and access are reliant on the millions of immigrants who provide these services.
If you consider the number of immigrants in the retail service labor force, you’ll see a figure of nearly 3 million people.
Even the spaces you live in and places you visit are the product of citizen as well as noncitizen efforts. Census data shows that 2.9 million immigrants work in construction, playing a part in the creation of the foundation of housing, workplaces, and buildings.
Immigrants’ Contribution to US Economy
Another important thing to note is that most immigrants are not the tax-evading residents that some people make them out to be.
In fact, immigrants contribute billions of dollars to the economy and in taxes.
In 2019, immigrant-led households across the U.S. paid a total of $330.7 billion in federal taxes and $161.7 billion in combined state and local taxes.
And that’s just considering legal immigrants.
In the same year, households headed by undocumented immigrants in the United States contributed approximately $18.9 billion in federal taxes and $11.7 billion in combined state and local taxes.
On top of that, according to research, immigrant-led household residents had $1.3 trillion in collective spending power (after-tax income) in 2019.
This means that immigrant consumers are responsible for adding over a trillion dollars to the U.S. economy.
Let that number sit with you for a second, and let it clear up any misconceptions about the role of immigrants in the labor force.
All these facts and statistics only serve to remind us that immigrants are not just numbers, they are individuals- real people who live, study, and work with us.
These are the people who are suffering as a result of our bogged-down immigration system and inadequate immigration reform.
Immigrants came to this country for a better, safer life, and in line with the American values of freedom and refuge, it is our responsibility to help them achieve that dream.
Unless Congress acts on immigration reform and the Biden administration pushes to reform the immigration system, immigrants, and subsequently, our economy will continue to suffer.
The Biden Administration Has Suspended A Trump-Era Policy
Immigrants At Risk of Being Deported Without Due Process
Now for our second topic, let’s talk about recent updates to immigration policies.
On October 14th, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that former President Trump’s expansion of the expedited removal policy for immigrants has been suspended.
This came as a robust action from the Biden administration after the President ordered a review of the immigration policies when he assumed office.
A report by the DHS is currently underway as they examine whether the expanded expedited removal policy should be modified or rescinded altogether.
Until the report is completed, the DHS announced the suspension of the Trump era change to the expedition policy.
So, what does this mean for the future of undocumented immigrants in the United States?
First, let’s examine what the expedited removal policy actually is, how it is used, and what impact Trump’s modification of it in his presidency had.
The Expedited Removal Policy
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversees immigration proceedings and the notable branches under it include the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The main difference in these bodies is that the CBP oversees immigration matters on the borders of the United States, while ICE deals with immigration proceedings within the country.
In general, the CBP has more actionable and quick standards of procedure, which include immediate deportation within 72 hours.
For ICE, domestic cases that require legal action and detention are more common. If an immigrant is suspected of violating any laws, they may be detained and their case is taken to court for decision.
Once the detention occurs, they have a right to access legal counsel, collect documentation, and face trial which would decide their stay within the U.S.
They are either deported as a result or granted eligibility to apply for legal status within the country.
The expedited removal policy could be seen as reserved for special circumstances for immigrant matters.
Enforced by ICE, the policy states that undocumented immigrants within 100 miles of the border can be deported immediately without legal proceedings if their stay in the U.S. spans two weeks or less.
When Trump began his crackdown on immigration policies, with the intention of limiting immigration to the U.S, this policy was targeted.
In this reformation of the expedited removal policy, he expanded the scope of the special circumstance order. It stated that now, undocumented citizens all over the country who could not prove their residence in the United States for two years or more could be facing expedited removal.
That meant that they could be arrested, detained, and deported immediately without due process.
This new change was implemented in 2019 and instilled a new wave of fear and uncertainty in the immigrant population.
Not only had the location parameters been expanded, but the time limit had also been increased, meaning a larger population was at risk of immediate deportation without seeing a judge.
Human rights advocates have argued that the process of being arrested and detained by ICE is traumatizing for many, but the new panic of being unable to gather and provide documentation fast enough added to the mental stress.
Under the Trump-era policy, many undocumented immigrants were targeted and unfairly removed without access to legal counsel or proceedings, which led to backlash from immigration advocacy and legal groups.
After the reformed policy was introduced in 2019 that lengthened the scope of expedited removal, a federal judge blocked the action in September of that year, reinforcing the parameters of the original order.
U.S District Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson stayed the expansion decision, calling out the administration for not complying with standards of procedure when it comes to policy change.
This provided hope to undocumented immigrants, as they would not be subjected to such a harsh policy, but this limitation did not stay for long.
In June 2020, the District Judge’s orders were overturned by a Court of Appeals, and Trump’s expanded expedition policy was implemented.
To talk a little bit about the implications of the order, as we discussed previously, the decision could be termed inhumane and unfair, as advocates and human rights groups would argue.
CBP and ICE are two independent bodies in charge of specific matters, and the expanded range of removals could have perhaps made more sense if it was granted to only the CBP.
However, the policy expansion meant that such speedy removal was applicable to anybody, anywhere in the United States.
The expedited removal policy itself was formulated for specific circumstances, and correct legal proceedings for all noncitizens were the rule.
In such a change to the policy, the humanity of immigrants was not considered.
Immigrants who flee war-torn countries or face political persecution are promised asylum and aid under the American constitution.
The matter of proving logistically the high-stakes nature of an immigrant’s migration is difficult, as such circumstances are difficult to quantify.
Yet, the constitution, the single framework that is the building block of American law and order, provides certain safeties that allow such immigrants to have a second shot at life.
One such safety is the guarantee of due process under the Fifth Amendment.
This clause was also cited by advocacy groups when they challenged the Trump order to expand the expedited removal policy, claiming the move was unconstitutional.
The right to the due process ensures every decision is just and fair, equipped with access to legal proceedings, as the decision decides the fate of life.
With former President Trump’s decision to expand the expedited removal procedure, people were robbed of the opportunity to access justice.
Why This Policy Was Removed
Now, in the Biden administration, there is an opportunity for expectations and hope for the immigrant population.
The review of the expanded expedition policy is not complete, but the suspension of the order is a step in the right direction.
From the beginning of the year to August, data shows that four immigrants were deported from the country under the expanded expedition policy, and there is potential that they may be the last.
President Biden stated that the outcome of the review would “consider our legal and humanitarian obligations”, alluding to how compassionate American values are being reintroduced into immigration-related policymaking.
This aligns with the overall stance the Biden administration has taken on immigration, with several policy introductions and changes.
From the rescinding of the travel ban of people from Muslim majority countries to efforts to reunite families that were split up under Trump’s stricter ICE detentions, immigrants are finally being granted humanity and justice under Biden.
Still, there are many harsh and inhumane policies in place that target the wellbeing and lives of undocumented immigrants in the U.S, with little address from the Biden administration.
In one notable decision, it is clear that even President Biden’s sincerity to improving the immigration system is limited.
This can be deduced by the deportation of nearly 1,400 Haitians residing in camps in Del Rio, Texas.
Such immigrants were asylum seekers, and they were not provided with their constitutional right to access it.
The Title 42 policy was used to deport the Haitians in this case, which allows border control officers to essentially turn away asylum seekers due to the pandemic.
This policy is a reminder that greater efforts should be taken to address all aspects of immigration policies so there can be a holistic approach to improving the immigration system.
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