The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States is shrinking as many of them leave and fewer arrive. Those who do stay in country, though are staying for longer than ever.
The typical undocumented immigrant had lived 15 years in the United States in 2017, up from seven years in 1995, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. It’s the highest number of years since Pew started tracking that data.
The longer stays reflect the changing nature of immigration to the United States. It used to be that recent arrivals made up the biggest share of undocumented immigrants. But these days, there are fewer immigrants coming, so those who have been in the United States for longer are now by far the majority.
The biggest reason behind this shift is the collapse in immigration from Mexico in recent years as US authorities stepped up border security and Mexico offered more opportunities. As a result, the undocumented population from that country is now less than half.
Meanwhile, the number of immigrants from Central America and Asia are growing. From 2007 to 2017, the unauthorized population from those regions grew by 530,000 people, according to Pew.
These changes call for a major revamp of the US immigration system, which was designed to intercept and quickly deport Mexican men. Though many Central Americans are crossing the border illegally, they’re requesting asylum, a much longer process. And many immigrants from Asia come to the United States legally with a visa and then overstay.
So far though, immigration authorities are still catching up to the new reality. At the US-Mexico border, the lack of detention facilities and personnel to process asylum claims has led to a bureaucratic and humanitarian crisis.