Immigrants in the U.S.: A Brief Overview

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According to a recent report from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the total number of immigrants — legal and illegal — living in the United States in 2021 was 45 million.

The report states:

As of 2019, roughly three-quarters of the foreign-born population were here legally. That group includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees, people who were granted asylum and people who were temporarily admitted for a specific purpose, such as extended work or study.

The remaining one-quarter were in the U.S. illegally, “having either remained here when their temporary legal status expired or crossed into the United States illegally,” according to the report.

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In 2018, the foreign-born population was at 47 million, CBO states. The drop in number between then and 2021 “occurred largely because changes in immigration policy, some in response to the coronavirus pandemic, kept the number of immigrants below the number of foreign-born people leaving the country.”

As many changes are made to policies and programs within the administration this year, it’s becoming even more pressing to address the topic at hand. To do so, we must establish a basic understanding: where are immigrants in the United States coming from, and why?


Some people have the choice to leave their host countries while others are left with no choice at all. Reasons may vary from:

  • Economical – those in search of better opportunities for work to support themselves and their families.
  • Political – those escaping political stresses in host country and/or threats.
  • Social – those moving for family-related issues and of the like.
  • Environmental – natural disasters and other issues such as air pollution create a reason to leave host country.
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Other factors to consider that may drive people away from their passport country:

  • Lack of resources access to healthcare, education, jobs, drinking water, food, etc.
  • Lack of safety governmental corruption, high crime rates, overpopulation, disease, etc.

These factors play an important part in where a person or family decides to go, as there may be more opportunities for employment, political stability, less natural disasters, good climate and so on.


The U.S. is one of the most designated places for immigrants across the globe. Mexico is the top sending country and has the highest number of immigrants residing in the U.S., making up 27 percent of all U.S. immigrants.

Other top regions by population coming to the United States:

  • East Asia and South Asia
  • The Caribbean
  • The Middle East
  • Latin America

States that have seen the greatest increase in the number of immigrants are:

  • Texas
  • Florida
  • California
  • New York/New Jersey
  • Massachusetts
  • Washington

The map below visualizes migration patterns and marks the countries taking in the most immigrants, countries with an immigrant population, and countries with the most people leaving their passport countries.

“As a Hispanic woman here in America with many of my extended family members foreign-born, it is saddening to hear about the thousands of immigrants who have established themselves here that will be affected by the recent changes in our political system,” says Sarah Martinez, a young Colorado native. “Everything they have worked for might be taken away. These are people with families and careers. I think there needs to be another solution.”

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The immigrant experience: terms to know

  • Identity: a sense of belonging affected by beliefs, interests, and people within a given society.
  • Cultural mobility: the cross-cultural experience a person may have and how they apply that knowledge to their day-to-day lives.
  • Hidden diversity: the not-so-obvious forms of diversity a culturally mobile person may experience. Much of this is internal and taps into the deeper layers of culture.
  • Unauthorized migration: international migration unrecognized and/or not permitted by officials from one country to another.
  • Naturalized citizen: a person born an alien but lawfully undergoes the process of becoming acquiring citizenship.
  • Asylum and asylum seekers: asylums are places of refuge provided by a country, the seekers are those escaping dangerous conditions and relocating to safety until they figure out what’s next.

For more terms, click here

Asking questions such as these (who, why, where) in addition to defining key terms provides essential tools for better engagement and understanding across the board. Discussions related to U.S. immigration have been heightened in recent years as it affects thousands of people who have come to the country from their passport countries, and it should be taken into account how sensitive the topic of immigration may be for some people.

Having the appropriate background knowledge is essential to breaking down issues that directly affect immigrants in the near future.

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