Eight Million Illegal Aliens in 2000

Census Bureau Finding Raises Concern Over Border Control in Light of Terrorist Threat

By CIS on October 1, 2001

WASHINGTON (October 24, 2001) - When the Census Bureau announced its decision last week concerning statistical adjustments to the 2000 Census, it also released, virtually unnoticed, its estimate that 8 million illegal aliens live in the United States. This number, larger than might have been expected from earlier estimates by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), is especially troubling given the role failures in immigration control played in September's terrorist attacks.

The findings indicate that during the 1990s the illegal population grew by roughly half a million a year. We know this because a draft report given to the House immigration subcommittee by the INS estimated that the illegal population was 3.5 million in 1990 (on line at http://wwwa.house.gov/lamarsmith/INSreport.pdf , see page 16). For the illegal population to have reached 8 million by 2000, the net increase had to be 400,000 to 500,000 per year during the 1990s. Moreover, a net increase of this size implies that the total flow of new illegals entering each year must be more than 700,000, because the INS estimates that several hundred thousand illegals return home each year or receive legal status as part of the normal "legal" immigration process.

The Census Bureau report with the estimated size of the illegal population can be found at: http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/ReportRec2.htm (Appendix A of Report 1 contains the estimates).

Other implications of the new Census Bureau estimates:

  • The Census Bureau's estimates clearly demonstrate that amnesties don't solve the problem of illegal immigration. Although 2.7 million of the estimated 5 million illegal aliens living in the country in 1986 were given amnesty (legal permanent residence), the new estimates indicate that they have been entirely replaced by new illegal aliens and that by last year the illegal population was 3 million larger than before the last amnesty.
  • Although the INS has very serious shortcomings, it is not responsible for this situation. Instead, the problem lies with Congress and previous administrations, Democratic and Republican. All have failed to provide the money or political support the INS needed to enforce the ban on hiring illegals, to track down those who overstay their visas (as was the case with several of the terrorists), and to adequately guard all parts of the nation's land borders.

"These new estimates have enormous implications for the security of our nation," said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. "If a Mexican day laborer can sneak across the border, so can an al Qaeda terrorist. While the vast majority of illegals are not terrorists, the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are able to settle in the United States illegally each year indicates that terrorists who wish to do so face few obstacles. We can't protect ourselves from terrorism without dealing with illegal immigration, and selective enforcement would be both immoral and ineffective."

Since the terrorist threat comes almost exclusively from foreign-born individuals, immigration enforcement must be a central part of efforts to reduce the likelihood of future attacks. In fact, according to INS commissioner James Ziglar, at least three of the terrorists who carried out the attacks of September 11 were illegal aliens, and the INS has no information at all on several others. In addition to concerns over terrorism, the huge number of illegal aliens living in the country also has significant implications for public services as well as for the job prospects of low-wage Americans in the current economic downturn.

Census Bureau Methodology: The Bureau found 8.7 million foreign-born individuals in the 2000 Census who appeared not to have legal status. However, because records for some legal immigrants are not available from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Bureau estimates that 1.7 million of the 8.7 million already had legal status or were likely to gain it soon. If these individuals are excluded, then 7 million illegals were counted in 2000. The Census Bureau also estimates that roughly one million illegal aliens were likely missed in last year's count, meaning
that the total illegal population stood at 8 million in 2000.

Also in the new report on immigrants in the 2000 census:

  • The total foreign-born or immigrant population (including legal and most illegal immigrants) grew enormously, from 19.8 million in 1990 to 31.1 million in 2000.
  • The 11.3 million or 57 percent increase in the total foreign-born population in just one decade is almost without precedent in American history both numerically and proportionately. Even during the great wave of immigration from 1900 to 1910, the foreign-born population grew by only 3.2 million or 31 percent, from 10.3 million to 13.5 million.
  • The immigrant population more than tripled in size during the last three decades, from 9.6 million in 1970 to 31.1 million in 2000.


With regard to the overall size of the foreign-born population, the figures released by the Census Bureau indicate that we are currently in the midst of an enormous social experiment. "No nation in history has every attempted to incorporate and assimilate 31 million newcomers into its society," Camarota said. "And the experiment is by no means over. If policy remains unchanged, at least 13 million legal and illegal immigrants will likely settle in the United States over the next 10 years."