How many undocumented immigrants there really are, and why the number matters – Mohammad Fazel-Zarandi

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Mohammad M. Fazel-Zarandi

From Daily News

How many undocumented (illegal) immigrants are there in the United States? Previous estimates put the number at around 11-12 million.

These estimates are too low. That’s because they are based on surveys that ask individuals where they were born. This approach doesn’t work well for undocumented immigrants. They are hard to track down. They don’t want to be found. And if they are found and asked this question — where are you from? — they have every reason to refuse to answer or answer untruthfully.

In a new study, we estimate the number of undocumented immigrants using a different approach that doesn’t rely on surveys. And we get a very different answer. We estimate that there are at least 16.7 million and most likely more than 20 million.

Our approach is to estimate the inflows of undocumented immigrants (how many are entering the United States each year) and the outflows (how many are leaving). Inflows include border crossings and visa overstays. Outflows include deportations, conversions to legal status, deaths and voluntary emigration.

Adding up the inflows each year and subtracting the outflows gives an estimate of how many undocumented immigrants remain in the country at the end of the year compared to how many there were at the beginning of the year. We use operational data, especially from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as data and analysis of the movements of undocumented immigrants across borders. We estimate inflows and outflows every year from 1990 to 2016.

Our models suggest that many undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. more than 10 years. Also, the number of undocumented immigrants has been stable since 2008.

That’s important. We have much better control over our borders than we used to have. In fact, in the last few years, the majority of new undocumented entrants have been individuals who enter legally with a visa but don’t leave when their visa expires. Building a wall on our southern border isn’t the right approach.

Some view undocumented immigrants as a drain on our society, illegals who should be sent packing. Others argue they provide benefits by filling jobs most of us don’t want to do. Given our new, larger estimates, and the stability over the last 10 years, what are the policy implications?

Three important issues are jobs, services and crime.

The U.S. currently has a low unemployment rate. Whatever impact undocumented immigrants are having on job displacement has already happened given that their number has been stable for the last 10 years. So it’s hard to argue they are limiting employment opportunities for American citizens.

Read the full post at Daily News.

Mohammad Fazel‐Zarandi is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *