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April 2020, Volume 26, Number 2


The number of unauthorized foreigners in the US dropped from almost 12 million in 2010 to less than 11 million in 2020, as fewer new unauthorized foreigners arrived from Mexico and more unauthorized Mexicans left the US.

The number of unauthorized foreigners dropped significantly in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past decade, but rose in Texas from 1.7 million to 1.8 million. Most departures from the US were voluntary, but almost 86,000 unauthorized foreigners were deported from the interior of the US in FY19.

Almost 40 percent of the 11 million unauthorized foreigners arrived after 2010. Two-thirds of these four million post-2010 arrivals, some 2.6 million, arrived legally and overstayed, including many Chinese and Indian citizens.

CBP. Border apprehensions fell over 75 percent from a peak 133,000 in May 2019 to 36,600 in January and 37,000 in February 2020. Apprehensions fell further after March 21, 2020, when CBP was authorized to return unauthorized foreigners, 60 percent Mexicans and 30 percent Central Americans, to Mexico with two hours of being apprehended.

CBP apprehension data include those caught trying to enter the US illegally and persons deemed inadmissible at ports of entry.

About two-thirds of all foreigners apprehended just inside US borders in FY19 were adults and children, 90 percent of whom were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Trump administration ended catch-and-release policies that saw most family units give themselves up to the Border Patrol, apply for asylum, and be released until hearings on their applications.

Remain in Mexico, returns to Guatemala to apply for asylum there, and tougher credible fear interviews mean very few foreigners are released into the US to wait for hearings on their asylum applications.

DHS completed 135 miles of new 30-foot high bollard fencing that cost $1 million a mile in March 2020, and construction continued during the coronavirus lockdown. President Trump in February 2020 said that his administration would “do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country.”

Many newly fenced areas have a primary and secondary fence, with the area between the fences considered an enforcement zone to apprehend smugglers and migrants. Some smugglers are using ladders on the Mexican side to get migrants to the top of the wall, and then having them use a rope ladder or slide down the fence on the US side.

President Trump requested $2 billion for walls and fencing on the Mexico-US border in February 2020, and announced plans to divert $3.8 billions of Department of Defense funds to build 177 more miles of border wall.

ICE. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency arrested 143,000 unauthorized foreigners inside the US in FY19.

In spring 2020, ICE announced plans to step-up efforts to detect and arrest unauthorized foreigners convicted of US crimes, especially in sanctuary cities such as New York and San Francisco where local law enforcement agencies refuse to cooperate with ICE. Agents arrest other unauthorized foreigners they encounter when searching for criminals. DHS reassigned 100 Customs and Border Protection agents to support ICE agents in sanctuary cities. DHS cited the refusal of local authorities to cooperate as the reason for the re-deployment.

In March 2020, ICE announced that it was suspending most interior enforcement except for foreigners convicted of US crimes in a bid to reduce fear among unauthorized foreigners during the coronavirus pandemic. About 20,000 of the 38,000 foreigners being detained by ICE in March 2020 were convicted of US crimes. Advocates want ICE to release detainees to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

USCIS. The US Supreme Court lifted nationwide injunctions and allowed new public charge regulations to go into effect February 24, 2020. US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the US, and the Department of State abroad, can deny immigration visas to foreigners who used or are “more likely than not” to use Medicaid, housing assistance or food stamps for at least 12 months in a 36-month period. The new regulation does not apply to refugees and is not retroactive.

Previously, foreigners could be denied immigrant visas if they used means-tested cash assistance and were “primarily dependent” on government support.

Past use of in-kind benefits may not affect many applicants for immigrant visas because most foreigners are not eligible for federal welfare benefits until they have worked at least 10 years in the US. However, the revised public charge test may affect future applicants. Half of current applicants for immigrant visas have at least one negative indicator that can be considered disqualifying by adjudicators, including low income, assets, educational attainment, poor English skills, periods of unemployment, and poor health.

USCIS in 2018 predicted that the public charge regulation would encourage 324,000 foreigners now receiving federal welfare benefits to withdraw, saving $2.3 billion a year. Most of those who withdraw from benefit programs are not directly affected by the regulation, but they may live in households with recipients and fear that continued receipt of benefits could jeopardize their applications, as with recent legal immigrant parents who withdraw US citizen children from programs.

The US has been admitting 1.1 million legal immigrants a year. Over 600,000 are already in the US when they receive immigrant visas or green cards and adjust their status to immigrant, while 500,000 obtain immigrant visas at US consulates abroad.

President Trump in January 2020 added six countries to the list whose citizens cannot easily get immigrant visas because of lack of security and cooperation with US authorities. Sudan and Tanzania are barred from the diversity visa lottery. Travel to the US from citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea was restricted in December 2017, and this so-called travel ban was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 2018.

Some 10,000 U-immigrant visas a year have been available to victims of US crimes who aid in the prosecution of their perpetrators since 2000, when the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was enacted. There were 59,000 U-visa petitions filed in FY18, up from 11,000 in FY09, and over 80 percent are approved. Between FY12 and FY18, two-thirds of U-visa petitions were filed by Mexicans, and almost 80 percent of foreigners requesting U-visas had never been in a legal status in the US.

Victims of US crimes must obtain a certification of victimization and cooperation from a law enforcement agency to file a petition for a U-visa with USCIS. Once approved, the applicant may obtain a work permit while waiting for a U-visa to become available.