Immigration FAQ

Is it a crime to live in the U.S. in violation of immigration laws?

Living in the U.S. in violation of immigration laws is not itself a crime. It is a criminal misdemeanor to enter the U.S. without examination or inspection by immigration officers or to try to enter the U.S. by concealing or falsifying material facts, including immigration documents. Many immigrants, however, enter the country legally, but overstay their visa. These individuals have committed a violation of federal civil immigration law, which is subject to civil penalties (typically deportation), not criminal penalties.

How many immigrants live in the United States?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 Current Population Survey, immigrants and their U.S.-born children number approximately 84.3 million people, or 27 percent of the overall U.S. population.1


How many immigrants without proper authorization live in the United States and what should I know about them?

In 2014, an estimated 11.1 million immigrants without proper authorization to be present in this country were living in the United States. This number has remained stable since 2009.2 More than half (54 percent) resided in four states: California (27 percent), Texas (13 percent), New York (8 percent), and Florida (6 percent).3

In 2014, approximately two-thirds of adults without proper authorization had been in the U.S. for at least 10 years. This same year, only 14% of adults without proper authorization had lived in the U.S. for less than 5 years. Among Mexican immigrants, who lacked proper authorization, only 7% had been in the U.S. for less than 5 years.4


What is the net immigration from Mexico?

According to the Pew Research Center, more Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico between 2009 and 2014 than migrated to the U.S, with approximately 1 million Mexicans leaving the U.S. for Mexico and an estimated 870,000 Mexican nationals coming to the U.S.5


How many immigrants, with or without proper authorization to reside in the United States, live in California, and what should I know about them?

California, with a population of more than 10 million immigrants, has more immigrants than any other state. In fact, approximately 1 in 4 of immigrants to the U.S. live in California. About 75% of California immigrants have proper authorization to reside here. The vast majority of immigrants in California were born in Latin America (52%) or Asia (39%). Most of the immigrants arriving to California from 2011 – 2015 came from Asia (53%). Net immigration to California has declined – while in the 1990’s, California’s immigrant population grew by 37%, in the last 10 years, the immigrant population grew by 11%.6


Do immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans?

The literature on this question overwhelmingly demonstrates that immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans can be found on the American Immigration Council website.

Generally, the research on immigration and crime also illustrates that increases in immigrant populations in metropolitan areas is actually associated with lower crime rates. Id. One prominent study randomly selected metropolitan areas from 1970 - 2010 and found that on average, as immigration increased, violent and property crime decreased. [Adelman, Robert M., Lesley Williams Reid, Gail Markle*, Saskia Weiss*, and Charles Jaret. "Urban Crime Rates and the Changing Face of Immigration: Evidence across Four Decades." Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice. (Vol. 15, 2017 - Issue 1.)] A 2015 study that analyzed the drop in crime that occurred between 1990 and 2000 noted: "There have been numerous contemporary studies estimating the relationship between immigration and urban violent crime in the United States….All of these studies found that immigration inversely relates to crime rates: that is, the more immigrants in an area, the lower the crime rate tends to be." Ed. Waters, Marcy C and Marisa Gerstein Pineau, The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2015), at pg 330.

Research also shows that increased ethnic diversity in California, including an increase in our immigrant population, has resulted in reduced crime in the State. A 2017 study by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that as the State has become more ethnically diverse, from 1980 to 2015, youth homicide rates declined 93 percent among Asian populations, 91 percent among Latino populations, 80 percent among black populations, and 77 percent among white populations. Mike Males, Ph.D., Refuting Fear: Immigration, Youth, and California's Stunning Declines in Crime and Violence, Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice (June 2017) at pg. 7.