The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. fell by 440,000 over the first three years of the Trump administration, from 2016 to 2019, according to new estimates released last week.
By March 2019, the tally was 10.35 million, the Center for Migration Studies says. That’s the lowest rate in 15 years.
The drop was driven by a major change in migration patterns, with many Mexicans, traditionally the largest nationality among the unauthorized population, actually returning to their home country. Central Americans have steadily increased, as have Asian illegal immigrants, but not enough to offset the outflow of Mexicans, CMS said.
Over the three years, 1.75 million new illegal immigrants arrived — but 2.19 million left the population.
Of the more than 10 million here, 43% have been here for 15 years or more, and 3.9 million are parents whose children — 5.5 million of them — are U.S. citizens. And 16% of the illegal population is married to a legal resident or citizen, CMS said.
“Undocumented immigrants have made the United States their home and, in the process, have become integral to U.S. communities as long-term residents, workers, and family members,” the organization concluded.
Seen from the level of the states, though, things look much more complicated.
California and New York combined shed nearly 1 million illegal immigrants, including more than 450,000 during the Trump years alone. That happened even as those states embraced sanctuary policies to try to protect illegal immigrants from ouster.
But the state of Washington gained more than 30,000 in just the last three years alone, according to CMS‘s data.
Texas, meanwhile, netted more than 60,000 new illegal immigrants over the last decade. Like other states, it saw its Mexican illegal immigrant population drop, losing nearly 175,000. But it gained nearly 120,000 Central Americans, more than 47,000 Asians and more than 42,000 African illegal immigrants.
Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, who also researches immigrant demographics, said the numbers suggesting a decline through 2019 are reasonable — but they stop at July 2019, the date of the most current Census Bureau survey that can be used to estimate the unauthorized population.
That July 2019 date is important because it’s at the tail end of the peak of the Trump border surge, and it doesn’t include any of the current Biden border surge, both of which saw hundreds of thousands of migrants jump the border each month.
“In my view it is possible that the number of illegals will have grown by 700,000 to 1 million by the end of this year from whatever it was at the end of 2020,” Mr. Camarota said.
The illegal immigrant population has been declining over the last decade, from a peak in 2010. CMS says there were 11.7 million illegal immigrants at that point. The Homeland Security Department’s estimate was similar, at 11.6 million.
The early years of the Obama era saw big drops in the unauthorized population as the economic headwinds in the aftermath of the 2008 Wall Street crash left a bad market for illegal immigrant work.
But over the final three years of the Obama administration the annual population drop averaged about 75,000.
That drop accelerated under Mr. Trump, to average nearly 150,000 a year.
Analysts say illegal immigration rates often track the health of the economy, with periods of growth and low unemployment spurring surges in new arrivals. But the Trump years, and indeed much of the past decade, appeared to defy that pattern.
Despite a slow but steady economic expansion, the number of unauthorized migrants dropped 1.4 million, or 12%, from a peak of 11.73 million illegal immigrants in 2010.
About 1.8 million Mexicans who’d been living in the U.S. without permission went back home, CMS calculated, saying those were primarily “voluntary” returns.
Central Americans among the illegal immigrant population rose by 395,000 over the decade, while Asians rose 165,000 — though CMS said that growth has slowed, with Chinese, Korean and Philippine illegal immigrant numbers actually declining.