Illegal Population Stops Declining under Obama

By CIS on February 15, 2012

WASHINGTON (February 15, 2012) – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon release its new estimate of the illegal immigrant population in the United States as of January 1, 2011. (All DHS estimates are for January 1.) Based on a preliminary analysis of some of the same data DHS uses, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that 10.9 million (± 200,000) illegal immigrants lived in the United States on January 1, 2011. If this estimate turns out to be similar to the DHS estimate, it means that the illegal immigrant population stopped declining after President Obama took office after declining by 1 million during the last two years of the Bush administration ─ 2007 to 2009.

  • DHS estimated that the number of illegal immigrants declined by 1 million during the last two years of the Bush administration, from 11.8 million in 2007 to 10.8 million in 2009. The decline was caused by a combination of a weak economy and stepped-up enforcement.
  • Based on data collected by the Census Bureau, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates an illegal population of 10.9 million (± 200,000) at the start of 2011, which is very similar to DHS estimate's of 10.8 million for both January 1, 2009 and 2010.
  • In contrast, DHS estimates the illegal immigrant population declined by 180,000 from 2007 to 2008 and declined a further 850,000 from 2008 to 2009.
  • Our new estimate of the illegal immigrant population, if correct, means that the Obama administration has failed to significantly reduce the illegal immigrant population.
  • Among the things the administration has done to curtail or undermine enforcement efforts are:
    • The president has repeatedly promised to legalize illegal immigrants rather than to enforce the law and encourage those in the country illegally to return home.
    • The administration developed a policy of “prosecutorial discretion” over the last two years that allows most illegal immigrants without a criminal record to remain in the country.
    • The administration has challenged virtually every state effort designed to promote enforcement of federal immigration law.
    • Although Congress has allowed money for more fencing and border control, the Government Accountability Office concluded in 2011 that the Border Patrol has “operational control” of only 44 percent of the border, only 15 percent of which is under “full control.”
    • The administration has suspended worksite enforcement operations in favor of only auditing employer records, resulting in few fines – mainly warnings.
  • The failure of the administration to continue to reduce the illegal population means that 7 to 8 million illegal immigrants continue to hold jobs in the United States at a time when unemployment remains at record levels for the young and least-educated native-born population.

Methodology: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses the American Community Survey (ACS) collected by the Census Bureau and administrative data on immigrant admissions to estimate the size of the illegal immigrant population. In earlier work by the Center for Immigration Studies we have used the number of less-educated foreign-born Hispanic ages 18 to 40 to estimate trends in the illegal immigrant population. For more details on our estimate of illegal immigration see prior reports, Homeward Bound: Recent Immigration Enforcement and the Decline in the Illegal Alien Population at and A Shifting Tide: Recent Trends in the Illegal Immigrant Population at

It is important to note that estimating illegal immigration is always difficult. Furthermore, estimating the illegal population for January 1, 2011, is made even more difficult because this is the first estimate since the 2010 Census. The 2010 ACS is the first one to be weighted to reflect the results of the 2010 Census. This creates a break in the continuity of the data relative to prior years, and adds to the uncertainty about the results.

For a more detailed discussion of how the Obama administration has undermined enforcement and pursed an administrative amnesty for many illegal immigrants see “Amnesty by Any Means” at Also see GAO testimony before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, from Tuesday, February 15, 2011, at: