NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Soaring Estimates Of Illegal Immigrants Enter Amnesty Debate

August 14, 2001

Some of the nation's most respected demographers think the number of illegal aliens living in the U.S. is far greater than previously thought. If so, that could become a central issue in the debate over granting them amnesty.

  • Urban Institute demographer Jeff Passel has concluded -- based on new census data -- that there could be as many as 8.5 million illegals living here, about two million more than previous estimates.
  • Undocumented Mexicans alone make up 4.5 million of that number.
  • Extrapolating from 1997 data, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had previously put the number of illegal immigrants at six million -- of which a little over three million would be from Mexico.
  • Passel reached his estimates by subtracting legal residents from the number of foreign-born people derived from the 2000 census.

The INS updated its estimate in March to between 6.5 million and 7.5 million -- and says it will issue a further update soon.

The Bush administration has been considering a plan to grant legal status to millions of Mexicans -- and possibly others -- now living illegally in the U.S. The last time amnesty was discussed -- during passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1985 -- determining the numbers involved was a major factor in the intense debate.

Source: Eduardo Porter, "Estimate of Illegal Immigrants Reaches as Many as 8.5 Million for Some Experts," Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2001; based on Jeffrey S. Passel and Michael Fix, "U.S. Immigration at the Beginning of the 21st Century," Testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, August 2, 2001, Urban Institute, 2100 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037 (202) 833-7200.

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