Estimate of illegal residents in USA — Reporting the numbers

The Department of Homeland Security released its estimate of the number of unauthorized (illegal) foreign born in the United States. According to the report about 11.5 million people came to the United States since 1980 and stayed illegally.

Bottom line is that the number of estimated entries of illegal residents to the United States has declined. The peak immigration period occurred 2000-2004 when an estimated 3.3 million people entered the United States. The period of 2005-2010 showed an influx of 1.6 million people. (For the math challenged, the immigration numbers were cut in half.)

To be sure, these numbers are only estimates. The DHS does not have — nor can it ever have — a 100 percent accurate picture of how many people have come in illegally or how many have overstayed their visitor or student visas.

Basically the DHS took the Census Numbers (foreign born, living in the USA) and then subtracted out the asylum grantees, green-card holders, naturalized citizens, etc. This is a method used by many organizations, often the politics of the organization help determine how big or small the number is. (Let’s face it there are plenty of ways to cook the books if you want the numbers to back up a certain position.) But the DHS method is about the most unbiased, straight forward version.

What does that mean for reporters?

First, it gives reporters the most accurate numbers possible of undocumented aliens in the United States. It also gives the ranking of countries these people come from and the U.S. states where they settled.

No surprise that out of the 11.5 million noted in the report, the bulk — about 60 percent — come from Mexico. The Centrals — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are next with a total of 1.5 million. Then comes China, the Philippines and India with an average of 263,000 each.

The India Post notes in its story that the number of Indian immigrants has doubled in the period of the study.

In my home county of Fairfax County the numbers are interesting.

Maybe a reporter looking for trends could start with the Census Bureau data on foreign born. Yes, the data do not tell how many of the respondents are in the States legally, but the tables do show trends in immigration by country of origin.

One of the first questions reporters looking at immigration should ask is: Why are so many people from Country X settling here?

And then maybe ask: What does that mean to the businesses, social programs and politics of the area?

Here are the Fairfax numbers:

Country/Region of Origin   2005 ACS Survey  2010 ACS Survey
Europe 25,000 26,000
Asia 140,000 164,000
China 15,000 18,000
Korea 27,000 32,000
Vietnam 21,000 24,000
 Americas 81,000 106,000
Mexico 6,000 7,000
El Salvador 25,000 31,000
Central America (rest) 22,000 21,000

Oh, the foreign-born population in Fairfax County is 329,000 out of a total 1.1 million people. Yep, that is about one-third of the population in the Washington, D.C. suburb is foreign born.

So here are numbers that show — as if anyone needed real proof — Asian immigration far outstrips immigration from any other region of the world. And with in the Asian group, the Koreans are #1.

Virginia is not in the top 10 of states with undocumented aliens. But the method of looking up data is the same.

Maybe some interested reporters will look beyond the numbers of the DHS report and find out WHY the numbers are the way they are in their areas.


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