The decline then rise of the unauthorized population

The Center for Migration Studies estimates that the size of the unauthorized population in the U.S, grew by about 6% between 2021 and 2022, to reach 10,940. This was the largest one year increase since the early 2000s when upwards million were added in some years.

After about 2008, the unauthorized population remained between stable and slightly declining. The pandemic years, according to the Center, reverse this trend. The 2022 remains slightly lower than the peak reached in about 2008, which was 11 – 11.5 million.

Unauthorized migration for Mexico has been declining for some years and is the major reason for the decline. Central American migration, on the other hand, has surged.  Over the past 25 years, the Mexican share of unauthorized persons has declined from about 2/3 to 40%. Still, about 10% of the Mexican working age population is in the United States.

The Center used the American Community Survey to estimate the size of the unauthorized population. this is understandably a process fraught with risks of mis-estimation.

Why do I use the term unauthorized instead of undocumented or illegal? Because I think is the most meaningful for the three options.

What is the cause of the surge? The Center does not speculate. I suspect it has to do with the demand and rising wages for workers in occupations often populated wih unauthorized persons. the financial crisis in the late 2000s killed off the rise in this population. It is plausible that the better fortunes of workers in the lower formally educated cohorts are driving the reversal.



The surge in AI jobs and American advantage

The United States has a large lead over all other countries in top-tier AI research, with nearly 60% of top-tier researchers working for American universities and companies. The US lead is built on attracting international talent, with more than two-thirds of the top-tier AI researchers working in the United States having received undergraduate degrees in other countries. (Go here.)

The Wall Street Journal reports, “Amazon has cut jobs across several areas in recent months, citing changing priorities across its businesses that include AI. Google parent Alphabet has been working to marshal resources toward developments in AI while also cutting back on spending. UPS, which plans to cut about 12,000 jobs this year, has been increasing its use of AI and machine-learning tools. And last week, Apple abandoned a decadelong electric-car project and will be redeploying some employees to work on AI efforts.

“In a recent survey Aon conducted among some of its tech clients, about three-quarters of companies said AI skills justify a pay premium, meaning higher compensation for the median new hire relative to that of existing employees.”





Hotel staffing shortages and immigration

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Hotel owners have been on an epic hiring spree. Yet even after clawing back hundreds of thousands of jobs during the past two years, the industry is still light on staff and often struggling to adapt.   Daily housekeeping for all guests, room service and other amenities that were reduced or eliminated during the pandemic are still lacking at many properties.”

A 2010 survey of hotel housekeepers in the U.S. found that two-thirds were born outside the U.S. The largest groups were born in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and East Asia. As of today, easily half of housekeeping staff are foreign born. For the entire U.S. workforce, 18% are foreign born. For all hotel staff, about 20% – 30% are foreign born..

CBO ties population growth to immigration

For the 30 years between 2024 and 2054, the Congressional Budget Office predicts:  Population growth generally slows over the next 30 years, from 0.6 percent per year, on average, between 2024 and 2034 to 0.2 percent per year, on average, between 2045 and 2054. Net immigration increasingly drives population growth and accounts for all population growth beginning in 2040, in part because fertility rates remain below the rate that would be required for a generation to replace itself in the absence of immigration.

This projection accounts only for foreign-born persons coming to the U.S. It does not take account that these foreign born persons are more likely than the U.S.born population to be of child bearing age. Hence their offspring – 2nd generation immigration contribute relatively more to population growth.

The immigration reform efforts in 2007 and 2013 that failed

A retrospective analysis of the last serious bi-partisan efforts at immigration reform, in 2007 and  2013, which failed thanks to intense opposition by right wing Republicans.


When George W. Bush was re-elected president in 2004 with significant Hispanic support, he saw an opening for an immigration overhaul and a signature second-term achievement. He began pressing for action in 2006 in an Oval Office address.

[The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was a bipartisan effort led by Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain. It proposed a path to legalization for many of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including those who had been in the country for over 5 years and met certain conditions like learning English and paying fees and fines. The bill also proposed increases in legal immigration, a temporary guest worker program, and increased enforcement including border fencing. The compromise bill was the result of months of bipartisan negotiations and won initial Senate approval, but ultimately failed to overcome a filibuster and receive final passage in the Senate in June 2007 due in part to opposition from voters and interest groups on multiple fronts.]


The next big push came in 2013 and 2014. The re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 had exposed declining Republican appeal to Hispanic voters and persuaded party leaders that they must embrace an immigration overhaul to halt that slide.

While talks quietly got underway in the House, a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” emerged in the Senate. On the Republican side, it included John McCain of Arizona; Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising star with Hispanic and conservative credibility; and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Democratic participants included Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, Mr. Durbin and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

What emerged from months of deliberations was the 1,200-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.

[The legislation proposed major changes to immigration policy. It sought to increase border security by adding fences, surveillance drones, and 20,000 more Border Patrol agents. It proposed a 13-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, requiring them to pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and wait 10 years for a green card. The bill expanded opportunities for highly educated immigrants, allocating 55,000 new visas for those with advanced degrees. It also established a guest worker program for lower-skilled workers in agriculture, while mandating the use of E-Verify for all employers. The bill aimed to reduce backlogs in family reunification visas. It also sought to promote economic development in Mexico to reduce illegal immigration.]

In contrast to 2007, the bill cleared the Senate with surprising strength, attracting 68 votes, including 14 Republicans and all Democrats. Mr. Schumer said at the time that the level of support would force the House to take up the issue, a dynamic similar to today, when senators hope a solid Senate vote will propel any plan over House Republican resistance.

.Hoping to rally House Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner used a party retreat in January 2014 to unveil a set of immigration “principles” that were heavy on border security. They also omitted a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, but instead proposed allowing them to remain in the United States and work if they met certain tests, including paying taxes and admitting they broke the law. But within days, Mr. Boehner was backtracking under pressure from the right, and the effort stalled. Boehner refused to bring the bill up for a vote in the House.



Are Dems, Reps or both responsible for polarization?

Washington Post columnist Jason Willick writes that Democrats have moved to the left – more inclusive – while the Republicans have remained evenly divided between inclusive and restrictive members.

Jason cites this research article, saying (I assume drawing from the article) “In 1994, just 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans on both sides wanted immigration levels to increase. They drifted apart gradually in the 2000s and suddenly in the 2010s. In 2022, 41 percent of Democrats, compared with 10 percent of Republicans, supported higher immigration levels.”

I covered this split in 2023 here.

Polarization vs politization?

In reality, while polls reveal a lot of polarization on both sides, what is not well reflected in the polls is the saliency, or the importance of immigration – how important it is to the people being polled – and what they want to do about it politically. We need to pay attention to how groups in America politicize immigration.  When we take that into account it becomes evident that many conservatives tend to have very pronounced cultural misgivings about immigration and are willing to communicate these misgivings politically by supporting Trump.  There is no Democratic politician or Democratic movement that is anywhere near Trump in pushing an inclusive policy.




What is the controversy about parole in the immigration system?

The Senate negotiations over immigration include the subject of “parole.” Here is my posting on the Biden Administration’s use of parole to greatly expand legal temporary entry into the U.S.

Here is what the Migration Policy Institute wrote a few days ago about parole:

“Because of temporary protections, such as parole, extended to hundreds of thousands of arriving migrants, approximately 2.3 million people living in the United States hold liminal legal statuses, a ballooning population in limbo that may prove an enduring legacy of the Biden administration.”

Here is a Congressional Research Service 2020 analysis of parole.

A core issue today is whether the administration is permitted to use parole for large groups of people – which it has, for 100s of thousands of persons – or to restrict its use to a case by case basis. The Trump administration attempted to make it clear that only case by case use is acceptable.

Here is an analysis from the Migration Policy Institute study of border security about the use of parole now at the Mexican border.

“The Immigration and Nationality Act (1965) allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to  use parole on a case-by-case basis to grant noncitizens permission to lawfully enter the country for a  ertain length of time for humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit…

Parole can be used by Border Patrol, OFO, and ICE as part of migrant processing at and between ports of entry (POEs). Humanitarian parole can be used at POEs, at the discretion of an officer, for people without travel authorization who present an acute medical or humanitarian need. Additionally, migrants who arrive at a POE…and express fear of returning to their origin country may receive discretionary parole in addition to receiving a notice to appear in immigration court. Those processed with a CBP One [the new app based interview scheduling system] appointment generally receive two years of parole while those without an appointment typically receive one year of parole.

Between POEs, Border Patrol has used the parole authority for faster processing during times of high migrant arrivals when its facilities face overcrowding. Previously, when Border Patrol capacity met or exceeded a certain threshold border-wide, agents were given the authority to grant eligible migrants a 60-day parole.”

Trump on immigration

According to Politico, Donald Trump spoke on December 16 in New Hampshire about immigration:

“They’re poisoning the blood of our country,” the former president said. “They’ve poisoned mental institutions and prisons all over the world. Not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about, but all over the world they’re coming into our country from Africa, from Asia.”