By: Oguz Barin and Tyler Curry

Illegal immigration in the United States is a complex issue that has held the political limelight for decades. Graphical information illustrated by data demonstrates possible explanations of immigration trends – possibility, hope, the chance at a better life.

Immigration laws require newcomers to complete a specific process to prepare one’s affairs in the US. Nevertheless, by not complying with legal procedure – whether due to lack of time or resources – one gives rise to the illegal immigration discourse, in America.

Illegal Immigration Trend by Years

In 1965 the US enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments, with subsequent amendments in 1980, 1986, and 1990. The peaks represent relatively good times in the US economy; when jobs for undocumented workers were plentiful. The decline around 2008 coincides with the US recession.

The peaks and valleys showing illegal immigration, overtime, visualize the complex relationships between the US economy, vacated immigrant home countries, and US immigration policy. Data shows a correlation between immigration and jobs available, in the US. That is, immigration – legal or illegal – is more likely to occur when the US has more available jobs than countries, elsewhere.

The following graph shows illegal immigration to the US from different countries.

Top 10 countries as the source of illegal immigration to the USMexico is by far the top country as the origin of the illegal immigration (not only during last year but in all years since 2004).

Looking at the raw data of illegal immigrants country by country and year by year helps give a perspective on the interactions of economy, laws, and social/political strife that leads to illegal immigration.

Raw immigration data, by country and year, provides some perspective the interactions of economy, law and social and political strife that leads to illegal immigration. The numbers pull some interesting insights.

In past years, Mexican citizens have held the highest concentrated number of illegal immigrants in the US. However, their numbers are decreasing; giving rise to new regional groups from El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador and Guatemala. What are the social and political implications of these trends?

Top 4 countries as the source of illegal immigration in 2013

The United States enjoys more economic and political stability and less drug lords than El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The fairly high standard of living and relatively low violence in the US attracts many to illegally immigrante. Life in the US is not always easy for the immigrants, but a dream of a better life attracts many people.

Top 10 countries as the source of illegal immigration in 2013

The top 4 countries are Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The 5th country which is Ecuador is almost one-tenth of the 4th one.

Reasoning behind the trends of new immigrant groups is still up for consideration, but much can be said about Mexico. Historically leading the pack, Mexican citizens boast the highest immigration (legal and illegal) numbers – likely for several reasons. One reason being that Mexico shares a 1,954 mile-long border with the US. Mexico is the top country as the origin of illegal immigration but over the last 10 years it is almost every year going down except 2008. Following behind Mexico are El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras with all having an increasing trend starting from year 2007.

Illegal Immigration Trend of Mexico

The United States suffered a strong economic blow in late 2008. Many Americans lost their homes and jobs. The sector of the labor force that traditionally hired illegal immigrants from Mexico, may have seen an increase in legal residents applying for the same work. At the same time, U.S. immigration policies and undocumented worker laws were being revised. These changes decreased the incentive for Mexican illegal immigration.

Illegal Immigration Trends of top 3 countries behind Mexico

This graph shows the interaction between countries of origin and the US. While the US may not have been attracting the same number of Mexican citizens, conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were declining. Graphical data tells the story.

Illegal Immigration Values to the US in 2013

While many countries around the world may have difficulties that result in people fleeing their homeland, illegal immigration is usually to a country that is close geographically. Brazilians, Chileans, and Canadians enjoy relative economic prosperity and political stability so they are not immigrating to the U.S. in high numbers. Likewise a person fleeing an impoverished or violent country from Africa would be much more likely to cross into a bordering African nation, or Spain or Italy, than the US because of proximity. Now let’s have a look on the border crossing trends by location and see which southern States (CA, AR, TX) receives most border crossings.

Here are 5 states with the top number of border crossings:

Border crossing values by States in 2013

Of the 1,954 miles of border between the US and Mexico, Texas is home to 1,254 miles of it. Arizona has 370 miles of border. It is understandable that these two states would get significantly more illegal immigrants. New Mexico and California also border Mexico. California has a shorter border than New Mexico but it has much larger cities on both sides of the border. People illegally crossing into Florida and Puerto Rico are doing so by boat and generally come from the small island countries like Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Map of states by border crossings

Map of border crossing values by States in 2013

On this map you can see how length of the border with Mexico impact Arizona and Texas. Texas also has the Rio Grande that makes crossing less treacherous than crossing the Sonoran desert.

Looking at the trend for the top 3 states over the last 10 years, AZ and CA goes down but TX starts increasing starting from year 2011. AZ goes down significantly (around 600k to 150k) whereas CA only goes down from around 200k to 50k.

Trend of border crossing numbers for top 3 States

Patroling regulations on sevral borders and passways make navigating increasingly difficult for immigrants trying to cross into the US, illegally. Lights and erected walls are some examples to control illegl populations entering the US – but those in commute employ new strategies to bypass these patrols. In California and Arizona, hiring a smuggler (known as a pollero or coyote), bribing a border official, or paying for illegal documentation are ways that illegal immigrants circumvent border patrols.

Distribution of apprehended aliens by programs

Distribution of apprehended aliens by programs in 2013

ICE Homeland Security Investigations is primarily concerned with terrorist activities. ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations is charged with upholding the US immigration laws. As a federal agency they have a far reaching jurisdiction and they cooperate with law enforcement agencies. The CBP Border Patrol are the foot soldiers of the borderland. They patrol the borders on land, air and sea. There is an enormous amount of borderland and much of it is inhospitable. After an illegal immigrant successfully crosses deep into US territory, they could still get apprehended by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations. Because the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations could be called by various agencies there are many ways that an illegal immigrant could be discovered.

The graphics here begin to shed light on the complexities of illegal immigration. There are no simple solutions.

Data Source