Here’s the Reality About Illegal Immigrants in the United States

There are 11 million of them, the best estimates say, laboring in American fields, atop half-built towers and in restaurant kitchens, and swelling American classrooms, detention centers and immigration courts


In the public’s mind, the undocumented — the people living here without permission from the American government — are Hispanic, mostly Mexican and crossed the southwestern border in secret.

In the eyes of their advocates, they are families and workers, taking the jobs nobody else wants, staying out of trouble, here only to earn their way to better, safer lives for themselves and their children.

At the White House, they are pariahs, criminals who menace American neighborhoods, take American jobs, sap American resources and exploit American generosity: They are people who should be, and will be, expelled.

Illegal immigrants can be many of these things, and more. Eleven million allows for considerable range, crosshatched with contradictions.

There may be no more powerful symbol of how fixedly Americans associate illegal immigration with Mexico than the wall President Trump has proposed building along the southern border. But many of the unauthorized are not Mexican; almost a quarter are not even Hispanic.

Countries of origin for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S

After Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the largest number of unauthorized immigrants comes from China (an estimated 268,000), where deportations run aground on a less literal wall: China is one of 23 countries that do not cooperate with deportations. (The Trump administration has pledged to pressure all 23 into doing so.)

They tend to be younger — the Pew Research Center has found that adult unauthorized immigrants were, at the median, about a decade younger than American-born adults — and skew slightly more male than the rest of the country.

Geography and demography are only two ways to anatomize these 11 million. Circumstance offers another: As he seeks to tighten law enforcement’s grip on unauthorized immigrants, Mr. Trump will grapple with a population of people who arrived in several ways and for myriad reasons, each slice presenting its own challenges.


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