President Obama and some prominent lawmakers, including Republicans, reached a consensus this week on creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the country and while the public seems to agree, many view the group with a mix of apprehension and wariness.
Here are 5 highlights, based on research from the Pew Research Hispanic Center, to help shed some light on the issue and the 11 million people who may soon be able to call the U.S. home
1) Who are the undocumented?
Many news reports cited the fact that such a plan would assist 11 million undocumented immigrants, a number that, for many, conjures up images of border-crossers entering the country illegally from Mexico. However, Pew reports that illegal immigration, in general, and, specifically from Mexico, has dropped significantly since 2007 possibly due to tougher border security and a weaker U.S. economy.
Mexicans do make up the majority of unauthorized immigrants (58 percent), but a considerable number of people from Latin America (23 percent), Asia (11 percent), as well as Europe and Canada(4 percent) also live in the U.S. without papers.
Most undocumented immigrants live with a family and nearly half live with a spouse and children, which is a greater share than the national population. Last summer, the Obama administration deferred deportation for children that arrived in the country illegally.
Around 9 million families are “mixed-status,” with citizen children and undocumented parents, according to the Pew Research Center.
2) Where do undocumented immigrants live?
By far, California hosts the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with an estimated 2.5 million living within the state’s borders. The high numbers have led the Golden State to enact some of the most liberal immigration laws in the country including a Dream Act that offers young undocumented students financial aid to attend college.
Texas, which has a history of tougher views against undocumented immigrants, follows California with around 1.6 million. Florida, New York and Virginia also have a sizable population but their numbers are declining, according to Pew.
Every state in the U.S. houses unauthorized immigrants but increasingly, southeast and south central states like North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma and Louisiana are becoming top destinations. Despite passing one of the strictest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country, Arizona’s illegal population comes in at number 8 on the list.
3) What jobs do undocumented immigrants work?
Because they have no Social Security numbers, undocumented immigrants tend to gravitate towards lower-skill jobs that do not require formal registration like farming and construction. The agriculture industry relies heavily on them which has led both President Obama and the bipartisan senators to propose a fast-track to citizenship for eligible undocumented agriculture workers including dairy workers.
They also tend to work as brickmasons, drywall installers, dishwashers and other low-skill jobs, but both blueprints for immigration reform recommend a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers.
The undocumented do break into white-collar jobs, with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas as a prime example, but they often cannot advance without accreditation, licenses, or access to board exams. About 340,000 unauthorized immigrants work in management, business and finance.
Most undocumented bring in around $36,000 a year in pay.
4) How many undocumented immigrants leave?
Last year, the Obama administration removed a record number of criminal undocumented immigrants, about 392,000 according to the Department of Homeland Security. The majority were from Mexico but immigrants from locations as far-flung and unlikely as Tajikistan, Israel and Gabon were returned to their native countries.
Some migrants voluntarily return to their homelands but it is hard to estimate just how many. The Pew Center puts the number of Mexicans who voluntarily return between 5 and 35 percent.
5) What does the public want when it comes to immigration reform?
While immigration has taken center stage in Washington, most Americans are more concerned with the economy and the deficit than immigration. Latinos, the community that fueled President Obama’s re-election, also said jobs and the economy trumped immigration, even though many said it was an extremely personal issue for them.
According to the Pew Center, most U.S. adults favor a dual approach that focuses on both tougher border security and a pathway to citizenship.