Immigration & Border Security

Immigration is the process by which people from other countries come to reside or settle in America. Border security refers to regulating laws at US boundaries and ports of entry.

Data Updated December 12, 2022
Table of Contents

What are the basic facts?

There are many ways to measure immigration and border security in America: visas, green cards, foreign-born population counts, and the types of enforcement observed within US borders. This page showcases some of these measures to help answer some fundamental questions and directs you to data to develop an understanding of how our immigration and border security is changing.

What is the role of government in immigration and border security?

Government spending

In fiscal year 2020, governments spent a combined total of $25.3 billion on immigration and border security.

That's $77 per person.

In 2020, government spending on immigration and border security was at its highest level since 1980.

USAFacts categorizes government budget data to allocate spending appropriately, and to arrive at the estimate presented here. Most government spending in immigration and border security happens at the federal level. The spending on immigration and border security primarily shows funding of three agencies in the Department of Homeland Security: Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Government revenue and expenditures are based on data from the Office of Management and Budget, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each is published annually, although due to collection times, state and local government data are not as current as federal data. Thus, when combining federal, state, and local revenues and expenditures, the most recent year for a combined number may be delayed.

Key Government Actors

Focus
Key Actors
Responsibilities

Protection of borders and ports of entry

Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard

Ensure security of ports and borders, including detection of unauthorized individuals and items

Immigration regulation

Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services

Set immigration policy and oversee immigration document issuance, including visas, green cards, asylum, and citizenship

Immigration enforcement

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Enforce immigration and customs laws, including by removing unauthorized immigrants

Focus

Protection of borders and ports of entry

Immigration regulation

Immigration enforcement

What percent of the US population are immigrants?

Foreign-born population

In 2021, 13.6% of the population in the US was foreign-born.

The immigrant share of the population has nearly tripled since 1970.

As a part of its annual American Community Survey, the Census Bureau estimates the foreign-born population in the US. The agency defines a foreign-born individual as someone who was not a US citizen at birth, so any estimates of population for these individuals will include all types of authorized and unauthorized migrants. These annual estimates are used to determine the share of the population who are immigrants. These estimates can be applied to all levels of geography, including states.

Naturalized citizens

In 2021, there were 24,044,083 naturalized US citizens.

The American Community Survey estimates the citizenship status of immigrants. While there are many ways for foreign-born people to enter, live, or work in the US, they may only become a US citizen after gaining green card status. In 2018, the number of naturalized citizens overtook the number of unnaturalized immigrants.

Unauthorized immigrants

In 2018, there were an estimated 11,390,000 unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

There is no survey or count that documents the legal status of foreign-born residents. The Department of Homeland Security periodically releases an estimate of the unauthorized immigrant population based on calculations using government data on the foreign-born population, naturalizations, green cards, and other immigrant statuses. According to the agency, unauthorized immigrants usually either enter the US without inspection or stay longer than they were approved.

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How many people immigrate to the US?

In fiscal year 2019, there were 2,490,237 new immigrant arrivals, excluding tourists and unauthorized immigrants.

New arrivals

Annual new arrivals trended over 2 million before the pandemic.

Foreign-born people may come to the US for various reasons, including joining family already in the country or as refugees or asylum seekers fleeing danger in their originating country. Not all entries result in permanent residency. Some people may come to the US temporarily to work or attend college. This data combines information from the departments of State and Homeland Security. It does not include entries of unauthorized immigrants, as there isn’t an exact measure of such entries.

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How much are immigration laws enforced at the border?

Border encounters

In fiscal year 2021, border encounters peaked at 1,662,167.

Border encounters, specifically at the US-Mexico border, have increased over the past decade.

Border encounter data is gathered and reported by the Department for Homeland Security. The data represents the number of people who are barred from entering the US primarily due to immigration status. During the pandemic, some were barred from entering the US for public health reasons. Over 99% of encounters occur at the southwest border, and roughly 1 in 3 individuals are from Mexico. While encounters and apprehension may often be the first thing that comes to mind in relation to border enforcement, the US government actively manages immigration with the arrival process and visas, and enforces these laws with removals and returns, in addition to apprehensions.

Removals and returns

In fiscal year 2020, there were 406,478 unauthorized people removed or returned from the US.

On occasion, the US government will remove or return a foreign national. Returns are a specific category of action that refers only to individuals from Canada and Mexico. Removals cover all other countries. Removals are based on an order of removal and have administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry. A removal may be the result of a criminal act.

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