The estimated number of foreign-born residents in the United States as of September 2023 is at a historic high of nearly 50 million. Credit: Shutterstock.


PORTLAND, USA, Oct 4 2023 (IPS) - America’s immigration has reached record-breaking levels having weighty consequences domestically and internationally.

Based on the Census Bureau’s 2023 Current Population Survey, the estimated number of foreign-born residents in the United States as of September 2023 is at a historic high of nearly 50 million.

The U.S., with 4 percent of the global population of 8 billion, is also the home to the largest number of immigrants in the world. Approximately 17 percent of the world’s total number of immigrants reside in America, followed by Germany at 5 percent, or about 15 million immigrants.

The current number of the foreign-born residing in America is substantially higher than the 44 million estimated at the time of its 2020 population census. Today’s figure is also five times larger than the number of immigrants residing in the country in 1965 when America passed the far-reaching Immigration and Nationality Act.

That Act created a new system that prioritized highly skilled immigrants and those who already had family living in the country. The legislation paved the way for millions of non-European immigrants to come to the United States.

In 1960 the five largest immigrant groups in America were from Italy followed by Germany, Canada, Great Britain and Poland. About a half century later, the five largest immigrant groups were from Mexico and then at considerably lower levels India, China, the Philippines and El Salvador (Figure 1).


Source: U.S. American Community Survey, 2021 and Census Bureau, 1960.


With a U.S. total population of 335 million, the estimated proportion of foreign-born residents in America stands at 14.9 percent, breaking the previous records of 14.8 percent in 1890 and 14.7 percent in 1910. In contrast, immigrants in 1970 comprised a record low of 4.7 percent of America’s resident population (Figure 2).


Source: Migration Policy Institute.


The number of foreign-born workers in America also reached a record high of 29.8 million in 2022, or 18.1 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force, up from 17.4 percent in 2021. In addition, the Biden administration in September granted nearly a half a million Venezuelan migrants an opportunity to work and live in the U.S. legally for at least the next 18 months under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Among the 50 million foreign-born residents in America, 38 million entered the country legally. The estimated remaining number of foreign-born, approximately 12 million, again a record high, consists of unauthorized or undocumented migrants.

It is noteworthy that during the past ten years, visa overstayers in the U.S. have outnumbered unlawful border crossings by a ratio of about two to one. In addition to the increasingly large numbers of people visiting America who choose to overstay their temporary visas, migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are reported to be on track to break all-time records.

During the past two and a half years, Border Patrol reported unprecedented levels of migrant apprehensions, including 2.76 million in FY 2022 breaking the previous annual record by more than 1 million. That high level of migrant apprehensions is on track to be matched in FY 2023. The surge in undocumented migrants crossing the U.S. southern border seeking asylum has created a humanitarian crisis.

The number of migrant encounters in September is record-setting, exceeding 260 thousand, and notably higher than the previous record monthly high of 252 thousand in December of 2022. Also in September, border agents processed more than 200 thousand migrants who crossed the U.S. southern border unlawfully, the highest level in 2023.

Record numbers of migrant families from various countries are streaming from Mexico into the United States. The U.S. Border Patrol arrested a record-breaking number of 91 thousand migrants who crossed the border as part of a family group in August, substantially exceeding the prior one-month record of 84 thousand set in May 2019.

The increase in migration to the United States is happening across the Western Hemisphere. Record numbers of people are on their way north to the U.S. across Central and South America and many then riding on the top of freight trains through Mexico. In August alone, more than 80,000 people crossed Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap, a monthly record high for a major migration crossroads for hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach the United States.

Also, unprecedented numbers of migrants entering Mexico are coming from other continents, as the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border has become the largest migration corridor in the world. For example, the number of African migrants registered by Mexican authorities so far this year is already three times as high as during all of 2022.

Since President Biden took office the average monthly growth of America’s foreign-born population has been about 143 thousand. That figure is significantly higher than the 76,000 per month during Obama’s second term, and the 42,000 per month under Trump before Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

The U.S. lacks the capacity to detain and process the growing numbers of unauthorized migrants at its southern border. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are crossing the Rio Grande with U.S. Border Patrol agents now encountering between 10,000 to 11,000 migrants each day.

The recent dramatic spikes in the numbers of unauthorized migration have further strained federal services and overwhelmed local resources. In some areas of Arizona, California and Texas, the U.S. Border Patrol recently released unmanageable large numbers of migrants into communities to prevent overcrowding in federal facilities.

The mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, recently issued a disaster declaration, citing the record-breaking daily arrival of thousands of undocumented migrants to the city. Similarly, the mayor of El Paso said that the city was at the breaking point amid the dramatic jump in migration of more than 2,000 people per day.

Far from America’s southern border, the recent arrival of more than 100,000 migrants in New York City has overwhelmed shelters, services and local resources and fueled anti-immigration sentiment.

Also in other U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia and Portland (Maine), the arrivals of the large numbers of asylum seekers have swamped local government facilities and budgets as well as stressed volunteer groups.

It is also worth noting that the proportions foreign-born vary considerably across America’s states. California has the highest proportion with more than a quarter of its population being foreign-born. It is followed by New Jersey, New York, Florida and Hawaii with approximately a fifth of their populations being foreign-born. In contrast, less than four percent of the population is foreign-born in West Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota (Figure 3).


Source: World Population Review.


The increases in unauthorized border crossings are creating political challenges across the country. In particular, the increases pose re-election issues for the Biden administration whose policies aimed at slowing down the unauthorized migrant flows.

Nearly 75 percent of Americans say the government is doing a bad job dealing with the large numbers seeking asylum. Also, a slight majority, 52 percent, indicate that it is very important to require people to apply for asylum before they travel to the U.S. southern border.

In addition, close to half of Americans consider illegal immigration to be a very big problem for the country. That view varies considerably by political party affiliation. Whereas 70 percent of Republicans consider illegal immigration to be a very big problem for the country, the corresponding figure among Democrats is 25 percent.

Over the coming four decades, America is expected to receive slightly more than one million authorized immigrants annually. If those levels continue as expected, the projected number of foreign-born residing in America in 2060 is about 69 million, or about 17 percent of the population.

However, that projected number of foreign-born does not take into account visa overstayers and unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S. southern border. If the projection took into account unauthorized migrants, the foreign-born population in 2060 is likely to be closer to 80 million, or about a fifth of America’s projected population.

In sum, America’s immigration has reached record-breaking levels and over the coming decades, those levels are expected to be even higher. As has been the case throughout its history, America’s immigration levels continue to have profound demographic, economic, social and political consequences domestically as well as internationally.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials”.