Illegal immigration from Asia has surged over the last decade or so, partially making up for an even bigger drop in the illegal immigrant population from Mexico, the Migration Policy Institute said Thursday.
Those without legal status were 23% of the total immigration population in 2018 — though that’s lower than the 30% they accounted for before the 2008 Great Recession.
MPI said the illegal immigrant population peaked at about 12.3 million in 2007, fell to about 10.5 in 2017, but rebounded slightly to 11 million by 2018.
Beneath those numbers, though, are significant shifts.
Illegal immigrants from Mexico fell from 7.6 million to 5.5 million, while unauthorized Asian migrants nearly doubled from 866,000 to 1.5 million. Central American illegal immigrants rose some 300,000, to reach 1.8 million.
While some Asian migrants cross the southwestern border — Chinese migrants will pay as much as $80,000 to be smuggled into the country by car trunk through some California border crossings — the majority are likely arriving on legal visas then overstaying to become illegal immigrants.
That presents a challenge for immigration officials who’ve been far more focused on border security.
MPI also said 1.7 million people in the unauthorized population have been granted some temporary stay of deportation through a program like DACA, the Obama-era deportation amnesty for “Dreamers,” or by making asylum claims that are still being processed.
About 1.6 million illegal immigrants are also married to U.S. citizens and another 675,000 are married to lawful permanent residents, or green card holders.