California’s unauthorized immigrant population declines but still highest in U.S.


November 16, 2023


California’s population of immigrants who are in the United States illegally or under temporary permission decreased by 150,000 between 2017 and 2021, according to a report published Thursday. [LA Times]

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center report counts more than 2 million people who have temporary permission to be in the United States among unauthorized immigrants. Those with temporary permission include individuals with pending asylum petitions, temporary protected status and involvement in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

As of 2021, California has 1.9 million unauthorized residents. The total remains the largest among U.S. states.

Between 2017 and 2021, unauthorized immigrant populations only increased in two states: Florida and Washington. The populations rose by 80,000 and 60,000 in Florida and Washington respectively.

Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois trail California among states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations. Nationwide, 10.5 million immigrants lacked legal status in 2021, a decline from 1.2 million in 2007, but a slight increase from 10.2 million in 2019.

Between 2017 and 2021, the nation’s lawful immigrant population increase by about 25%, and the number of naturalized citizens rose substantially, accounting for half of immigrants in the United States.

The amount of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico decreased by 900,000 to 4.1 million in 2021. That is largely because many Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico while few have entered the United States, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew. The decrease in Mexican immigrants partly explains the overall decrease in unauthorized immigrants in California, Passel added. 

Meanwhile, immigration to the United States. from Venezuela, India, Canada and most regions around the world increased.


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