Cities With the Most Unauthorized Immigrants

March 12, 2019 by Paul Ausick

Between 2007 and 2016, the number of unauthorized immigrants in 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas dropped from 7.7 million to 6.5 million. Those 20 cities account for 61% of the estimated total U.S. population of unauthorized immigrants.

According to a November 2018 study from Pew Research, the total number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States dropped from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 to 10.7 million in 2016, the lowest total since 2004. The decline is almost entirely due to a drop of 1.5 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants, although about 5.4 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants still live in the United States.

Among major U.S. metropolitan areas, the two cities with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations are New York (1.1 million) and Los Angeles (925,000), according to a new report published Monday by Pew Research. The unauthorized immigrant population in each of these two cities is greater than the unauthorized statewide population of every other state except California and Texas. Unauthorized immigrants include both those who have crossed into the United States illegally and those who have overstayed their visas.

Of the top 20 metros, five lost large numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the 10-year period to 2016, while three cities posted significant gains. The following chart from the Pew report shows the changes between 2007 and 2016 in the unauthorized immigrant population in 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas.

Source: Pew Research


Pew’s researchers analyzed the unauthorized immigrant populations of 182 U.S. metros and found that more lost unauthorized immigrants than gained them. While some of the declines were not statistically significant, in 28 cities the declines were statistically significant. Of all 182 cities, only 10 had larger unauthorized immigrant populations in 2016 than in 2007 and just three — Washington, Boston and Charlotte — were among the top 20.

The top 18 cities in this list have been on this list every year since 2005, according to Pew’s researchers. Of the top 20, five are located in California: Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose. Three cities in Texas also make the list: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin.

About one in four of all foreign-born U.S. residents are unauthorized immigrants. In nine of the top 20 cities — Charlotte, Las Vegas, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Denver, Austin, Houston, Phoenix and Washington — the percentage is somewhat higher. In seven of the top 20 the share is somewhat lower — Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, Miami and San Francisco.

In 2016 there were about 7.8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. civilian workforce, or about 4.8% of all U.S. residents who were either employed or actively looking for work. That percentage had fallen from 5.2% in 2007. Unauthorized immigrants account for 24% of all farm workers and 15% of all construction workers.

For additional details and methodology, visit the Pew Research website.